Are B2B Marketers Acting like Mad Men?

by Britton Manasco | Oct 22, 2008 | Demand Generation

Matthew Weiner, the man behind AMC’s hit show Mad Men, describes the fellows at the Sterling Cooper ad agency as dinosaurs. I’m wondering if many of today’s B2B marketers, who are now obsessing over new technology and its promise of scientific certitude, may soon find themselves labeled mad.

As you may know, what makes the men at Sterling Cooper so fascinating is their outrageous behavior toward their wives and secretaries as well as their boundless enthusiasm for drinking and smoking. But it isn’t just the jaw-dropping political incorrectness that makes them dinosaurs. As Weiner explains in one profile in the New York Times Magazine, they are blithely unaware of the onrushing “creative revolution” that would change the world of advertising in the mid-1960s.

The creative revolution was a response to a left-brain advertising world that had worshipped science throughout the 1950s. Research-driven firms – eager to demonstrate the rational foundations of their work – became increasingly powerful as the economy boomed during that period. Indeed, they devoted vast resources to the study of apparent needs and motivations. 

Madison Avenue visionaries such as Bill Bernbach, Leo Burnett and David Ogilvy challenged this view. Their movement resisted the heavy reliance on market research in favor of intuition and inspiration. Teams of copy writers and art directors were encouraged to collaborate and creative work environments were embraced. Simple, honest and straight-forward messages were encouraged. And customer-leading creativity was more fully unleashed.

I suspect that a new creative revolution is coming to B2B marketing. Why? Because we’re worshipping the science of marketing instead of building the multi-faceted discipline of marketing. We’ve become obsessed with technique and technology, measurement and process. These aren’t bad things. They’re powerful and necessary. But they aren’t enough.

In order to guide a prospect through a complex decision, we must be able to effectively converse and communicate. We must have the content to drive decisions – even if the particular decision we are seeking is an agreement to meet with the rest of the prospect’s decision team.

These are primarily creative – not scientific – challenges. They require us to understand the concerns of our prospects and then, put together the resources that address them. We must produce white papers, case studies, presentations and other relevant content that gives them confidence in our ability to solve their problems effectively. 

It’s not enough to “optimize” our performance in the search engines and “maximize” lead gen if we are unprepared to then turn our early stage leads into true sales-ready leads. Our prospects aren’t necessarily interested in speaking with our sales people just because they clicked on a Google listing. It depends on where they are in the decision process.

In the B2B world of complex solutions, most decisions involve time, resources and considerable attention. These aren’t impulse purchases. Superior guidance must come from marketing in the early stages of the decision cycle and sales as it progresses.

As I see it, what lies ahead is a marriage of science and art, analytical and creative, discipline and dynamism.

Right now, we are spending an extraordinary amount of time getting our heads around new marketing technology, media and channels. Our attention is seemingly monopolized by search engine marketing, social networking, webinars and podcasts.

Sure, we love the fact that the new, new media enable us to measure our results in a way the old media never did. This gives us a heightened sense of control and insight. But there will be no lasting market differentiation to seize unless the content of our conversations also rises to new levels and we help our prospects make high quality decisions.

B2B doesn’t need mad men or mad scientists. What it needs are perceptive marketers who can help prospects better understand the issues at stake and then, provision sales to help buyers buy.