The Thought Leader's Voice Podcast

Brilliance in B2B Marketing

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Keith Browning joins us on The Thought Leader’s Voice, the flagship podcast series by iResearch Services.

Aptly named one of “Ireland’s Brightest Marketing Minds”, and with over fifteen years of experience in innovative start-ups and at multinational firms, Keith leads brand marketing globally for the Marketing Solutions business unit at LinkedIn. His interests include brand strategy, B2B marketing strategy, and digital marketing.

Keith has created stand-out marketing campaigns across North America and Europe for high-profile brands across the travel, technology, and hospitality sectors. His most recent B2B marketing campaign for LinkedIn – “B2Brilliant” – launched a new suite of tools and tactics to help B2B marketers produce creative campaigns that borrow from the B2C playbook.

Keith is an impassioned keynote speaker with notable engagements at BloggerCONF and Social Selling Summit.

Tune in to the podcast as Keith shares new perspectives on the surge in creativity within the B2B space and how to measure the success of a brand campaign akin to “B2Brilliant”, along with insights on purpose-led branding.

Key Takeaways

  • How does the customer journey for B2 B marketing differ from that of B2C?
  • How can marketers bring emotion and creativity commonly associated with B2C marketing into B2B campaigns?
  • How do the 3Ms (Minutes, Media Channels, Money) factor into the development of effective campaigns?
  • LinkedIn’s international headquarters are based in Ireland, which has become a hub for tech innovation nicknamed ‘Silicon Docks’ – how does this factor into LinkedIn’s overall business strategy and point of differentiation?
  • What are the most significant factors to note when delivering purpose-led branding?
  • What are crucial aspects to consider when creating creative campaigns within the B2B space that borrow from the B2C playbook? How do you go about measuring the success of these campaigns?
  • What does the future look like in the B2B marketing space?

Full Transcript of Podcast with Keith Browning

Rachael Kinsella: Hello and welcome to The Thought Leader’s Voice. I’m Rachael Kinsella, Editor in Chief at iResearch Services and your host for today’s podcast episode on Brilliance in B2B Marketing. We’re delighted to be joined by Keith Browning today. Keith leads Brand Marketing globally for the Marketing Solutions Business Unit at LinkedIn. He’s got particular interests in brand strategy and B2B marketing strategy. He’s a graduate of Dublin City University, Technological University Dublin, and the Marketing Week Mini MBA. He’s guest lectured at TUD and Trinity College Dublin. He’s a regular keynote speaker and commentator for industry publications, including Ad Age. Additionally, he’s an ambassador for the Great Sportsmanship Program. A very warm welcome to you today, Keith, it’s great to have you here.

Keith Browning: Thanks, Rachael. Great to be here.

Rachael Kinsella: So, brilliance in B2B marketing is something that I think you and I are both very passionate about, and I’m really looking forward to getting into that with you today. You’ve been at LinkedIn for seven years now, you must have seen it change dramatically in that time, and B2B marketing as a discipline changing dramatically in that time. Can you talk us through some of the changes that have happened over this time? I appreciate it’s quite a long period to recount, but can you talk us through the evolution of the platform of LinkedIn and a bit about what you’ve been seeing in terms of B2B marketing’s evolution in that time as well?

Keith Browning: Yeah, sure. So, LinkedIn has definitely grown and evolved a lot in the seven years I’ve been there. There’s a few changes immediately that spring to mind. I remember when I joined back in 2015, I think I was only there a few weeks and our members are all going outside to the front of the office in Dublin to take a photo to mark 400 million members. So that was like the very first LinkedIn t-shirt I ever got was like the 400 million member milestone as such. And today, seven years later, we’re more than double that, we’re 875 million members, coming up to 900 million members. So, that’s definitely been a huge change.

And we’ve more business units and more products now too. So again, when I started at LinkedIn, I worked for the Sales Solutions Business Unit and we had only recently launched our flagship sales product, Sales Navigator, but since then, we’ve added sales insights to the business. And in the last couple of years, we’ve added a whole new learning platform. And of course, all of the existing businesses have just grown exponentially in that time as well.

And then finally, I just think LinkedIn as a platform, it’s never been more valuable to our members, I think than it is right now. The pandemic especially, I think, saw a lot of people turn to LinkedIn in ways and at levels that we just hadn’t seen before. So, we’re helping more people find jobs now than ever before and we’re getting better at doing that, so better at actually matching people up to the right jobs. We’ve an incredible learning platform that I mentioned that allows people to upscale.

If you take something like the sales discipline, when the pandemic hit, that literally changed overnight. Suddenly, if you work in sales, you can’t go and visit your customer in person. So, we were really built, I think, for the time we’re living in right now and especially what we went through the past couple of years. So, yeah, we’ve changed dramatically in many ways over the seven years I’ve been there.

I mean, B2B marketing in many ways hasn’t changed a whole lot, at least compared to our B2C counterparts. I’m sure we can get into this in some more detail later. But if you think about how we buy today versus 10 years ago or 20 years ago in B2C, things have dramatically changed. I think, the B2B side, things haven’t changed that much. The internet has certainly meant for some key changes, like we tend to research things before we reach out to a salesperson maybe in ways that we haven’t done before. But generally speaking, we’ve seen much bigger changes on the B2C than the B2B side. So yeah, I’m sure we’ll get into some of those in detail later.

Rachael Kinsella: Yeah, I think there’s a few nuances there that we can explore in a bit more detail. I mean, just sharing some of my experience of being a member of LinkedIn, I was one of the earlier members way back in 2007 sort of time and bringing together people looking for jobs and kind of extending that global community. And then as you’ve developed all the different tools for sales purposes, for creating different communities, and then, of course, the content aspects that came in about 10 years ago, and obviously that’s been a huge evolution for you.

And I think that reflects some of the changing nature of B2B marketing. Maybe it’s brand marketing as a whole, not just delineating between B2B and B2C, but actually, that’s something we can talk about in a bit more detail. But it reflects that need for content and collaboration and community. And talking about those more human, even more personal topics as part of that sales process, as part of the relationship building, which is just  light years away from connecting with people because of who they know and how they might be able to get you a job in a particular jurisdiction or in a particular field.

So, I think that reflects the changing nature of people’s roles within marketing and sales, and you’ve really evolved ahead of that in some senses. And alongside it in terms of, as you say, being set up for current times, having that online global platform is what everybody needs to be able to deliver the sales process to build the relationships too. And looking at ways that you can tie that together with marketing activity, with content, with showcasing thought leadership, for example.

And it’s interesting that you’ve seen it from different sides of the business as well since you first joined LinkedIn. You’re in the marketing solutions business now, so can you tell us a little bit about how you’re working to help marketers in that space? 

Keith Browning: Yeah, sure. Yeah, I mentioned earlier I started off in the sales solutions business line, so that was my first role in LinkedIn. But for the past four, I think, plus years now, I’ve been on the marketing solution side, which is essentially our ads business. So, I’m a marketer marketing to marketers, which is kind of meta and kind of cool because I understand, I think, the industry in a way that I might not have if I was marketing HR tools or payroll software or something else.

But I think it also raises the bar as well. We have to walk the talk to a certain degree and try to lead the industry when it comes to a lot of the things that we talk about. Yeah, so I lead the brand marketing function for LinkedIn marketing solutions. So, when we talk about brand marketing within the business units, really what I’m referring to is like those longer-term marketing programs; so the type of advertising that has to be more creative, more emotive, or at least that’s the intention, and the campaigns are aimed at growing a range of brand metrics for our marketing solutions business unit. So as opposed to maybe trying to bring in leads or bring in sales this quarter, we’re thinking about those longer-term brand metrics.

And then yet in terms of the products that we sell and how they help marketers, I think at its core or at its simplest, it’s about how we connect marketers with that customer base that they want to reach, in very simple terms. And what’s unique about how we do it, I guess, is we have that professional audience that marketers can target. So, our products enable marketers to, I guess, reach and then build a community with that professional audience. And the way we do that in particular to our native platform is it’s about providing a series of tools, I guess, to help you build that community to start to engage with the audience, and that’s our organic tools, I guess.

So, you can start doing that now by setting up a company page and do that at no cost. But obviously when you want to really scale those efforts, we have a series of paid solutions primarily to media that will help you do that. 

Rachael Kinsella: Brilliant. So, you mentioned you’re having to raise the bar in terms of creativity in the way you’re communicating, cut through the content that’s being created, the creative that is being built. And you’re looking at those long-term goals, campaigns, and programs that are going to be sustained. So, you can’t just kind of put all your eggs in one basket and just make a big bang without following through with other activities. So, targeting that to other professional marketers is no mean feat, but also really exciting in terms of you being able to push the bar to be able to really get creative and do something different.

Keith Browning: Yeah, it’s handy. I remember just as you’re talking about it now, when I started at LinkedIn, it was in the Sales Solutions Business Unit, as I mentioned, so when I was consuming content, half of the content I was consuming was content about the sales industry because obviously, I wanted to educate myself as much as I possibly could on that industry where we’re marketing our products as such. So, half my time was spent learning about that industry and that audience, and then the other half of my time was spent reading marketing materials. So now, in this role, I get to combine, which is handy. 

Rachael Kinsella: Brilliant. And also you’ve got the learning tools at your disposal, you’re offering to members now as well which is extremely valuable to be able to hear from experts in that field, to be able to get those bite-sized chunks available for learning when people are so busy and they’ve got multiple KPIs and objectives and kind of bogged down with the day to day to have a platform where you’re able to access bite-sized learning tools and very specific learning tools is incredibly valuable.

So that kind of leads into f knowing your market and knowing your target audience, but then also really raising the bar in terms of creativity. And you recently launched a brand campaign B2Brilliant, including billboards in Cannes, which is an incredibly new approach for this kind of industry, and I would say for B2B, so it’s, first for LinkedIn’s B2B advertising. So huge congratulations on that. It’s exciting to see levels of creativity and kind of bringing together traditional advertising methods with new means of targeting B2B consumers essentially. Can you tell us a little bit more about the thought process for creating that campaign? Why was the timing right? What were the different elements that went into it from a brand marketing perspective and from a creativity standpoint?

Keith Browning: Yeah, sure. So, I think within the ads business we’ve been on a really interesting and an important journey, I would say, over the last year or so. It would have been about this time last year that we were embarking on a journey to, I guess, lay some foundations for the businesses is the best way to describe it. So, by foundations, I mean, who is our audience? You know what is our brand promise or our positioning to them? We just had no clear sense of with no clear positioning in the market. So, the reality was we were trying to be everything to everyone, I guess.

So, around this time last year, we began to process. We started with just a whole bunch of research, quant, and qual. We spoke to customers, we spoke to prospects, spoke to senior stakeholders, within LinkedIn, all the leadership team to essentially attempt to align us around one positioning, so a foundation that we could build everything off. Now, I think one of the reasons we hadn’t committed to a position in the past and ended up trying to be everything to everyone is it always felt like whatever we chose, we were ignoring something else. So, if we decide to position on X, that just led to questions of but what about Y? So, we could never quite get it across the line or gain alignment, I guess, on what we should be positioning on.

So, this time around certainly wasn’t a straightforward linear process. We did end up arriving at a great place, though, which is that we are built for B2B essentially. So, we have a full positioning statement, but the essence of it essentially is we’re built for B2B. So obviously, the implication which is positioning is our competitors are not. So, when you think about some of our competitors, rightly so, they’re built for very fast, easy, one-click transactions. It’s one-click purchase and it’s one buyer as well. Nobody is actually building tools in the same way that we are for B2B. We’re the only ones building tools specifically for when you want to reach business professionals when it’s part of a complex sales cycle when it’s multiple buyers and it’s over a long period. We’re really the only ones building tools that way.

So, we made a decision to, I guess, push all of our chips in on B2B so to double down on that. So, we ended up, I think, with a compelling position that’s it’s definitely differentiated and we can actually deliver on it and which I think is actually a great litmus test for a positioning. I learned this in Mark’s Ritsons’ course a few years back, but it’s this idea of like the CCCs, customer and competitors and company, what we mean by that is it should be something that customers actually want in the first place, so there’s a demand there as such from customers; it’s a relevant compelling offer.

The second piece is that it’s actually differentiated. So, what you’re offering is in some way different to the competitor’s offering. And then the third C being company, which is like that you can actually deliver on it. So those three Cs are a great test to understand if you have arrived at a positioning that has the best chance of working out for you. If you’re only hitting two out of those three Cs, it’s probably time to go back to the drawing board and find something where you can take all three.

So, yeah, anyway, we made a choice to focus on B2B, and that choice, I mentioned the difficulty in making that choice earlier, but that is quite literally what strategy is. So, I think it’s Porter’s definition of strategy, which is choosing what not to do, that’s the essence of strategy, choosing what not to do. And by choosing what not to do, obviously, you can then focus on the undertaking that you should do.

So yeah, with a new position firmly established, that was really the starting point was to get us all singing off that same song sheet as such. And when I say we’re all singing off it, I mean, all of us, which was a key part of the success of this position. So, the various marketing teams across our business were all singing off this same song sheet but also the product teams and the sales teams as well. So, we’re building product from this same foundation the same position and we’re building sales narratives and sales pitches, etc., that the field team are using again off this same idea that the same positioning.

So yeah, with the positioning established and that being the foundation for kind of everything that we’re doing right now, it was then time to actually embark on this customer-facing campaign, which is the one you mentioned. So, when we looked at, why do we need to do a campaign right now, what’s the business problem that we’re trying to tackle, low unaided awareness is really the big one for us. When we look at our brand tracker, that’s the one that stands out. Now with a bunch of other objectives as well, we add a couple of perception metrics, for example, that were part of the effort, but unaided awareness was our primary objective.

Because I think, LinkedIn is a very famous brand, but the problem when we think about it from the from the marketing solutions or out-business perspective is we’re not famous for marketing-specific buying situations. So, when it gets down to that level, we’re not actually thought of much at all. When you think about buying situations for marketers, whether it’s the place I go when I want to find leads or grow brand awareness or build a community or whatever it happens to be, we’re just not thought of all that much for those.

So, when you really get out, I guess, what underlies that unaided awareness problem, there were definitely two things that stood out for us. It’s, firstly, the lack of significant investment. Most of our budget up until relatively recently had been going much lower in the funnel, it was that demand gen type marketing, what leads can we bring in this quarter, and how many of those can be closed this quarter? So there definitely had been a lack of any significant investment at the top of the funnel. So that was definitely one thing on there that underlined the unaided awareness problem.

The second was just an unclear position, which is what I mentioned earlier. But I guess, now we didn’t have any excuse anymore. We had investment and we now had what we believed was a clear position. So, yeah, at the Cannes Line festival, then we launched our brand campaign, what B2B is meant to be. So yeah, hopefully, some of you have seen it, but it’s been in market since June this year at the Cannes Festival. 

Rachael Kinsella: That’s brilliant. I mean, it just shows the importance of doing your homework and building that firm foundation that you mentioned before embarking upon anything. Obviously, you went through your positioning, you went through and you did the research behind it to inform those decisions, you talk to everybody internally to make sure that everyone was aligned in terms of their objectives and how you were going to be positioning yourselves. You looked at where there were gaps that you wanted to fill and where you wanted to move things forward. And that must have been an awful lot of work and taken a substantial amount of time to be able to put all of that together. But it just goes to show the importance of doing all of that before embarking on a campaign of this magnitude.

And also, if you are making that call, that that’s how you’re going to be positioning yourself and you’re going to take a stand and you’re going to put investment behind it, then you need to make sure that it’s backed right the way along and for the long term. So, how do you go about measuring it? Is it looking at how you’ve increased that awareness as the campaign has been live since June? 

Keith Browning: Yeah. So, I mentioned unaided awareness, that was the primary objective of the campaign. So unaided awareness is, as the name would suggest, a measure of awareness, but it’s recall instead of recognition, which is the key distinction. So, if you take the pizza delivery category, if you wanted to mention or to measure awareness outright, so aided awareness, you might say something like have you heard of Pizza Hut or have you heard of Domino’s? And so that’s recognition. If people say, yes, I have heard of Domino’s or I have heard of Pizza Hut, that’s aided awareness. It’s recognition.

With unaided awareness, you’re looking at recall. So, you’re just asking that question outright. The pizza brands are removed from that question or you’re just saying which pizza brands come to mind? So, there’s no prompt as such. So, you’re getting much more of that top-of-mind measure. So that’s unaided. It tends to be more difficult to move for that reason. But that was the primary objective. So, I think setting your objective, so you know which needles you want to move is critical. In terms of how we do it, how we evaluate the success overall, I mean, at a very, very high level, we kind of bucketed into short, medium, and long term in terms of the type of metrics that we look at and when we’re going to have access to those performance indicators as such.

So, the short term is probably the least valuable when it comes to a longer-term brand campaign. But you can begin to see a picture emerge and you can use some of the insights that you find, even in the short term to influence how you think about the rest of the campaign. So, that could be something like a video completion rate or any of those usual campaign metrics, it could be working with a creative partner like a system one to evaluate your creative and then maybe make decisions about changing it in some way or maybe you’re comparing one piece of creative versus the other. So, it’s those kind of things. Eventually, it’ll be brand lift stories from the channels themselves. So, most partners will provide channel branded studies as such.

And so, it’s any of those kind of things, they’re like the first reports as such to arrive across my desk. The second book then is more medium-term. You tend to get these maybe a couple of months down the road and that’s things like the overall campaign effectiveness report. So, working with a third party like a Nielsen or a Kantar or an Ipsos, and you’re essentially looking at among those that were actually exposed to the campaign, did we manage to move the needle?

So, you might look at other reports to understand if the move in unaided awareness had an impact on downstream metrics like search volume. In addition to that, so it’s all of those things that are like you’re in the medium term, you’re a couple of months down the road, you’re now getting a really good sense of did this campaign actually work. At least among those exposed at a campaign, did we see moves in unaided awareness and I know there may be top-of-the-funnel metrics? And then looking at downstream metrics like search volume and kind of saying, did we have a downstream impact here as well? So that’s the medium term.

The long term, for us anyway is the brand tracker. So, we have a biannual brand tracker. The brand tracker is campaign agnostic. So, we run that tracker whether or not we have a campaign to market. So, it’s just about measuring the long-term health of the brand. And we look at it because obviously, we want to see if the moves we saw among those exposed to the campaign, in the campaign effectiveness report carried over to a wider population, which is what the brand tracker is measuring.

So, yeah, at a very high level, that’s kind of how we think about it. We kind of bucket them into these almost immediate or report or metric as we got in the short term, then it’s about the medium term, which is like the campaign overall, and then longer term we’re thinking about the overall health of the brand. 

Rachael Kinsella: Right. Yeah, it’s very smart to put it into those three buckets, as it were, and be able to measure effectiveness of the campaign right the way through. And, of course, that you do the brand tracker and that’s campaign agnostic so you can see where things are being moved by the campaigns when obviously they’re hit. What does good look like to you in terms of your own campaigns and then more broadly across B2B marketing? I’d be really interested in hearing your thoughts on that, looking at the kind of marketers that you work with and the kind of solutions that you’re offering. 

Keith Browning: Yeah, sure. Well, I think it’s probably a similar answer in the sense that when we set out to create a campaign, we’re thinking about best practices, of course. So, it’s the same thought leadership and research that we’re putting out into the world is actually how we’re creating our own campaigns. So, we have a content franchise called LinkedIn Collective, which is a relatively new content franchise that only launched in the past few months where we have this collective as such, or collection of voices from the industry speaking about these issues. We also have a research body as part of our business called The B2B Institute, which is doing some world-class primary research on a lot of topics very relevant to B2B marketers.

So, we’re building our campaigns the way we talk about it to our thought leadership. So, we’re walking the talk from that perspective. From my perspective, I think having a great creative idea is always a good start, something that has gone to actually cut through and get attention is key. I mean, if no one sees the work, it’s already game over.

The second part of that, though, which I think is maybe talked about a little bit less was being distinctive. So, it’s great to cut through but if people don’t know what’s actually your brand, well then it’s pointless too, or maybe it’s worse than pointless; you might actually be mistaken for a competitor brand and you’re actually helping to build their brand. So not only are you not building your own brand, you’re building your competitor’s brand. So, this idea of being distinctive or well-branded is extremely important in addition to creative, which is going to get some kind of attention or cut through.

I really admire brands like Salesforce in that regard. I think over the long term, they just do a great job at building these distinctive brand assets where the shapes that they use, the colours, the characters, so like introducing Astro as this like distinctive Salesforce character, I think, was just such a masterstroke, just such a genius move. And I think it is something most B2B brands would be very reluctant to do.

Rachael Kinsella: Absolutely, yeah, it’s a completely different direction for B2B and a bold move. 

Keith Browning: Exactly, yes, very bold move. And every great story needs a great character. It’s hard to tell stories without characters. Yeah, I think the proof is in the pudding. If you remove the logo from a Salesforce ad, most people will still know it’s a Salesforce ad, whether it’s from the mascot or from the colors of the shades or whatever it is, it tends to be a very distinctive ad. So, I think distinctiveness combined with breakthrough creative obviously a great starting point.

Other than those two, I also like to think about the three Ms, this is my trademark, pending three Ms. But I use it almost as a shorthand when I’m thinking about what are the levers that I can pull as a marketer, I guess, which can potentially increase the effectiveness of my campaigns.

So, the three Ms are minutes, firstly so as being the amount of time in the market. So, extending the duration of your campaign is a key lever, I think, that marketers can pull to increase effectiveness. We tend to just massively over-index on the short term and focus on immediate results, what can we do this quarter? But the lure of efficiency comes at the expense of effectiveness. So, minutes is a key when just duration and market.

The second one then is the actual number of media channels that you’re using. So again, you should be looking to maximize the number of media channels used. We just know from research two channels are better than one and there’s obviously a point of diminishing returns at some point. But when research is like being out of the fieldlook at award-winning, very effective work, they tend to see it’s more media channels versus less. B2B marketers, we tend to focus on much, much fewer channels than our B2C counterparts and we often stick to the same ones as well.

So, B2B marketers are obviously much more likely to use something like email marketing or direct marketing, for example. So, just thinking about increasing the number of media channels that you’re using.

And then the third M is money, which is obviously budget, maybe the most obvious one. But the B2B campaigns that are most effective tend to have a decent budget. So they get more effective as their media spend increases. I’m joking, of course, about three Ms being mine, they come from great research by Peter Field, just showing the specific, I guess, market share gains and penetration gains and profitability gains that can be achieved or can be improved as some of those levers that I mentioned are pulled. 

Rachael Kinsella: Yeah, great way of framing it. And I think going back to those marketing fundamentals always stands you in good stead when you’re looking at what good looks like and also how you can most effectively measure success. So, I think that’s particularly useful for our listeners to take a step back and kind of think of framing it in those terms. But like how you, obviously, emphasize as we’ve kind of discussed throughout this conversation about cut through and creativity and doing things differently, and you gave some examples of brands that are doing well in that sense.

In terms of LinkedIn’s sort of differentiation, your positioning, obviously, focused around B2B, playing to your strengths, you’re here for B2B, your geographical location is in Ireland. So, you’re not in Silicon Valley, you’re not over in Sunny California, although we both spent time over there doing separate things recently, I believe! So, I think that stands out. Is that a point of differentiation for you, I’m very aware that Ireland has become quite a hub for creativity, for tech innovation, for business innovation and your business is a big part of that wave, so do you think that’s a point of differentiation for you? Do you think it’s sort of part of your purpose and your raison d’etre? And what other examples of innovation and creativity are you seeing from this geographical hub? 

Keith Browning:  Yeah, absolutely. I think, Ireland, without going into too much of the history of it, we certainly attracted some of the biggest tech brands in the world to come and set up their international headquarters here. It was a combination of a low corporate tax rate, an educated workforce, great location within Europe. But yeah, we’ve attracted everybody from Meta to Airbnb to obviously LinkedIn and a whole host of others into an area we call Silicon Docks, which is its nickname, obviously, based after Silicon Valley.

It’s a point of differentiation for sure. I mean, in fact, without even meaning to, I just listed half the three points of differentiation for Ireland and why tech brands might choose to come and set up here. But it’s certainly, for me working in LinkedIn for 7+ years now, one of the reasons that, I guess, chose to stay there much longer than I originally intended, like I remember when I started at LinkedIn, in my mind I would probably do two, three, maybe four years at a stretch and then look to move on, but it’s such a great company for many reasons.

But one of the big ones and one of the points of differentiation, I guess, for LinkedIn as an employer, certainly in my case is that they are open to global roles being based in different parts of the world, where a marketer or other folks in our business have a global remit. The role doesn’t automatically open in San Francisco or in Silicon Valley. It can be done from many other places around the world. So, I’ve been lucky enough to be in a global role for the past 4+ years, and as I said, it’s not something that you’re going to get in a lot of other companies. So that’s definitely been a point of transition for me.

In terms of then, some of the great Irish brands, I think there’s a few that I’d call out, certainly in the B2B space, adding Stripe, our word to shout out, I know they’re gone through some tough times more recently and like many companies, but it’s just been such a success. And honestly, I just love their story. It’s these two brothers from Ireland and everything they’re trying to do around democratizing online payments, it’s just been really great to follow.

But I think as a very passionate marketer, I like to go back and look at the history of brands. And I think we’ve done just such a great marketing culture, whatever about tech culture, we also have a great marketing culture here in Ireland. And I think one of our most famous Irish brands, even though maybe technically they’re not Irish anymore, is Guinness, they’ve done some of the most consistently brilliant marketing that I’ve seen anywhere in the world for decades now.

And we talked about distinctiveness earlier, have you ever seen a beer that stands out as much as Guinness, with those black and white colors? It’s just incredibly distinctive. They’ve had that great tagline, “Good things come to those who wait”, referring to how you have to let the drinks settle. They’re maybe the original content marketers as well, something not a lot of folks know. But like the Guinness Book of Records was essentially like one of the original pieces of content marketing. It was designed with that in mind to be left in pubs free of charge and get people chatting and quizzing each other and so forth. So, one of the original content marketers as well. So very, very proud of the history of marketing when in Ireland as well.

And yeah, across lots of industries, I think one brand that never gets a shout-out at all as an incredible Irish success story is Ryanair. So, we talk a lot about distinctiveness, maybe we haven’t talked quite as much about differentiation on this call. But when you look at Ryanair and what they do, they just have these very compelling multi-dimensional points of translation where they’re the cheapest or the lowest cost airline in Europe. But they’re also the most on time and they also have the best safety record. So, it’s not just about the cost, it’s those two other factors are critical too.

And I think what’s really interesting about those two brands are what unites them almost. I’m thinking of a talk I went to in Cannes a few years back by Richard Shotton and he talked about this idea of the Pratfall Effect. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that. But it’s essentially like this idea of brands highlighting their flaws. So, people, obviously, we know that brands can’t be brilliant at everything, just as people can’t be brilliant at everything. But prioritizing one thing typically comes at the expense of something else.

When a business is, I guess, upfront or honest, that can just strengthen its appeal, so it makes it feel more credible and more well-rounded. And I think that unites Ryanair and Guinness in the sense that Ryanair go out of their way to stress almost how awful the experience will be. Like Michael O’Leary is often a masterclass in PR in terms of talking about how we’re going to have standing room in planes now where we’re going to charge you to use the restroom and all of these different things that they say.

But I remember hearing Rory Sutherland talk about that and when Ryanair and other low-cost airlines first took off, the obvious question that customers were going to be asking was like how can low-cost airlines sell flights at such a low cost? People could be forgiven for thinking maybe they’re cutting corners in some way relating to safety, for example, maybe they don’t train their pilots as well as other airlines and that’s how they’re saving money.

So, the best way to show that they weren’t was to point out all of the other things that folks weren’t getting for their money. So just pointing out that weakness in one area, I think, implies strength in the other. And obviously, Guinness, we mentioned earlier on, “The good things come to those who wait”, it takes longer to get a Guinness to not eat or drink, you would think that’s a weakness. But they go out of their way to highlight that. So, yeah, a rich history of great brands, I think, in Ireland and more recently, obviously tech brands for sure including LinkedIn.

Rachael Kinsella: Yeah, absolutely. I think there’s a lot to be said for knowing who you are, being unashamed in that respect, and not being afraid to point out flaws or admit shortcomings, but also from that PR angle, as well as being very transparent about, well, this is how the situation is, this is who we are, this is who we are aimed at, we know our audience, we’re not trying to be anything else, so we’re not trying to be all things to all people, which I think are very good examples of that.

And I guess that kind of leads me on to my final discussion point, which is about authentic purpose, it’s something that we’ve been doing a lot of research about recently. We’ve been working with clients to look at attitudes to purpose and leading through purpose. But it’s almost it’s become a buzzword and people sort of give a little sigh when they hear purpose because it’s so overused. So, in terms of being authentic and tying back into the brand, tying that into brand marketing but in a way that isn’t just lip service.

And I wondered what your thoughts were on the most important aspects of kind of defining purpose at the outset and using that within brand marketing. But also, beyond that, in terms of you were talking about defining organizations in that overall terms or being able to tie it into specific campaigns, activities and objectives. So, I’d be quite interested to hear your thoughts on that, especially having talked about some brands that stand out for the various other reasons. 

Keith Browning: Yeah, I mean, I think there’s just a time and a place, I guess, for purpose. It probably should not be something that every brand does. In fact, you could argue that maybe most brands shouldn’t do it. But there is definitely a time and a place and it definitely can work for some brands. We’ve seen evidence of that.

I think the most important thing is before we even think about purpose, it’s actually just having some anchor, some foundation. So, I called the positioning earlier on, you can call it positioning, you can call it purpose, you can call it a bunch of other things, even value proposition and brand values. And I know there’s a slightly different definition to all of those things that I mentioned, but the point I’m trying to make is you need to have some anchor, it’s something on which you can build everything on; and if its purpose, then so be it, you can get down that purpose part.

I think if you choose to go down the purpose path or if you’re trying to decide whether it’s right for your brand, you mentioned this earlier, but the authenticity piece, I think, is really important. When I think about LinkedIn, from quite literally day one, LinkedIn had this vision around creating economic opportunity for every member of the workforce. So, creating economic opportunity, that drives so many of our day-to-day actions and it drives so many of our business decisions.

And even, I mentioned at the outset of the call all the different products that we have and how we’ve acquired other companies, we’ve grown out new business units, we’ve built new products, they’re all built with that idea of creating economic opportunity in mind. So, whether that’s helping you find a job, whether that’s upskilling you for the next job, or whether for a salesperson that economic opportunity might be landing a business deal, but everything is built with that idea in mind of creating economic opportunity. We want to help people grow and we want to help businesses grow. So, everything is done with that in mind.

I think it feels credible then when we talk about that because we’re walking the talk on it. So, should you be doing it in the first place, going back to the history of your company, what is your raison d’etre, why were you set up in the first place, what was that initial vision, what did the founders have to say about this, I think is a really key part.

What I’d also say is purpose is something that, I guess, should be important to your audience too. So, it needs to be relevant to your business, but it also needs to be important to your audience. And I think when you have those two, it can bring your brand and your customer base closer together. I remember a few years ago, this is going back four or five years ago when I worked for the Sales Solutions Business Unit, we ran a campaign which ended up lasting for three, four years, but it was called the real faces of sales.

And essentially, it was sparked by research we did upfront which showed how salespeople were or portrayed in the media. So, they were seen as these kind of cheesy, slick, used car salesman-type people. And what we found through our research was most business decision-makers actually believed that these media portrayals were inaccurate, that wasn’t the experience that they were having with salespeople. So, that insight is what we use as like the driving force behind everything that we did for the campaign.

So, one of the things that we did, just as an example, is we created a stock library of real salespeople. So, we photographed a bunch of real salespeople, we uploaded them to all of the different image libraries online with the idea that now when you type in salesperson into Google or into one of the image search libraries, our images of real salespeople are coming up rather than that used car salesman type image. So just marrying that, I guess, it turned out that the purpose is actually relevant or important to your audience as well as your brand.

And then the final piece, I guess I kind of touched on this already, but it’s just using it, I guess, to provide a source of emotion almost also, like how can you use it to help drive the campaign and help build that and strong emotional connection to your audience?

Rachael Kinsella: Yes, so having an emotive effect and response from your target audience and notoriously difficult to do in B2B situations, but actually being able to achieve that through authenticity. And I think that speaks to representation as well and diversity, equity, and inclusion. You did a fantastic campaign quite recently looking at the diversity and inclusivity of the LinkedIn membership, and that’s something that really caught my eye as it’s something that, again, I’m very passionate about, and again, we’ve been doing a lot of research and work around.

And seeing people represented on a TV advert with different types of disabilities, people from all walks of life, and influencers who are actually making a difference and building and creating businesses and communities within B2B was incredibly powerful. And I can see that the sales campaign would have been powerful in a similar way because you’re taking away those stereotypes, your myth-busting, you’re casting off the mantel of preconceptions and not such an important part of creative and the work that you do.

So, I’ve seen that in action from LinkedIn and indeed more and more from B2B brands, which is how we’re really seeing that evolution of B2B creativity, B2B branding, the changing nature of campaigns to have this emotional connection when you’re talking about businesses, something that’s really only come to the fore in recent years. And I think is probably a very good signpost for what’s to come in the future.

So, with that in mind, I guess sort of your thoughts about the future, what are you excited about? Well, how do you think B2B marketing is going to be brilliant in the future, are there enormous strides that you anticipate? Or is it going to be more of the same? I’d just be really interested to get your thoughts on what keeps you going and what keeps you excited about the future ahead. Because obviously, you did mention earlier that a lot of organizations are having a difficult time and with dealing with geopolitical situations and the pandemic, and everything else. So, what do you excited about, and what’s good that’s going to come forward to the future? 

Keith Browning: Yeah, great question. I mentioned at the top, I didn’t think B2B marketing had changed a whole lot in the last few years. I do think that’s the case. But I feel like we’re at that point now, we’re at a turning point almost in B2B. So, most marketers believe and I think rightfully so, that B2B marketing is more challenging than B2C. It’s just more complex, the purchase journey is not a straight line. It’s a longer sales process that involves a whole host of decision-makers.

Even how we measure marketing, it just doesn’t register these kinds of challenges. When it’s one-click purchase, it’s much, much easier to measure the success of your campaign versus when it’s a nine-month sales process. So, I feel like B2B marketing is more challenging, but that might sound a little bit dire, but I see it as a huge opportunity. It’s an opportunity for creativity and for problem-solving and it’s something that only the best marketers in the world could tackle.

So, we did some research recently and we found 69% of marketers believe that purchase decisions are just as emotionally charged as B2C. So, it’s how do we bring that emotion and the creativity and the big ideas that we tend to associate with where B2C marketing is in into B2B? Because the economy quite frankly depends on under the success of B2B, that’s where the future growth is going to come from. You see, there’s B2B companies that many folks have not heard of. You look at a company like ServiceNow, most folks probably haven’t heard of ServiceNow, but it’s market cap is worth more than Adidas, Ford, and a bunch of other brands combined. So that’s where the future growth is coming from. And I think that’s a really exciting challenge for both anybody who works in a profession like B2B marketers, to think that we’re going to continue to power the world’s economy and become an even more important part of it.

But it’s also a really interesting challenge for agencies too because just due to the fact that B2B is a bit more complex, it makes it all the more important that we have these very, very clear brand promises. Like I think about an example like the iPod when that was first launched like that technology had been around for a long, long time. Like the MP3 player was around for 10+ years before the iPod launched. But it wasn’t until we had this 1,000 songs in your pocket, this very, very clear promise, taking complex technology and turning it into this very, very clear brand promise that then that technology took off.

So, it represents a great opportunity for B2B marketers, represents a great opportunity for agencies. So, yeah, I think that the future of B2B it’s bright, it’s bold and it’s creative and it’ll continue to power more and more of the world’s economy. 

Rachael Kinsella: I love that. I think you summed it up beautifully. And yeah, it really is packaging and harnessing that creativity and those bold ideas, those bright ideas, and driving that forward from an economic perspective and also from a wider business perspective through B2B in a way that’s not done before. So, I think you’re right. I think, yes, it is a significant challenge, but it’s a fantastic opportunity and gives a lot of food for thought for us, for agencies, for our clients, and many of our listeners who are going to be tuning into this podcast episode.

So, thank you so much, Keith. I really could talk to you forever and a day, you’re so insightful. You got such great perspectives on the work that you’ve been doing. And I think seeing it from LinkedIn’s perspective that you’ve got access to those really exciting businesses and ideas and different campaigns that are going on. So, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. And I’m hoping we can continue to collaborate on some content to draw out some of the themes that we’ve discussed today and to be able to take those conversations forward. 

Keith Browning: My pleasure, Rachael. Great to chat with you today.

Rachael Kinsella: Thanks, Keith. Bye-bye.

Keith Browning: Take care. Thank you. Bye bye. 

Rachael Kinsella: Bye-bye.

Guest Speaker Details

LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/keithbrowningmarketing/

The Thought Leader’s Voice Podcast

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