Staff Writer
PR & Influence
Contrarian and Right

Contrarians, of both the dinner party and the marketing variety, can be accused of wanting to be different more than right. Jon Lombardo, Global Lead of The B2B Institute at LinkedIn, began his webinar to Ogilvy and clients on Wednesday afternoon by claiming to be both. In his manifesto on how to be a contrarian in B2B marketing, Jon challenged received thinking on the death of brand, test and learn strategies and hyper-targeting. And to prove his contrarianism was ‘right’, he drew on evidence from consumer psychology, the FTSE 100 and the box office receipts of Frozen 2.

Brand’s death has been greatly exaggerated 

There is a pervasive belief that brand advertising is less effective in delivering ROI than acquisition marketing. Jon makes the point, like Les Binet and Peter Field before him, that this is a fundamental misconception. In fact, a mix of brand-led and acquisition marketing is 6x more effective than just the latter. And the more brand in that mix, the more effective.

This is compelling for marketers. But brand investment, Jon believes, is a case that marketers should be making loudly across their businesses. Tell finance that a well-funded brand captures long-term cash flow. Tell recruitment that a strong brand will attract the best and brightest for lower salaries (we can assume LinkedIn have the data to back that one up). And tell anyone who will listen that the brand might well be the only thing that we can depend on long-term. Because whilst technologies, categories and even CEOs become redundant over time, a strong brand can live on. Jon evidenced one of our own clients’ here – Nokia, the 150-year-old Finnish pulp mill who are now leaders in 5G. And any of our other clients could follow a comparable trajectory. It’s a question of corporate existentialism: who are ‘we’ as a firm beyond our transient, tangible assets? The answer is, surely, brand.

So, brand is not dying. In fact, with proper investment, it’s immortal.

Disney does it better

Martin Scorsese disparages Marvel films as “amusement parks” that are designed to “satisfy a specific set of demands, with variations on a finite number of themes.” Jon may well agree, admiring as he does Disney’s vast franchising of Marvel. And he argues brands – B2C and B alike – should be striving to secure and franchise their own finite themes. Condemning tactical test and learn strategies, Jon says the best bets in advertising, as in Hollywood, are old big ideas that have cut-through before. In an industry suffused with trend reports and customer research, this is indeed contrary. But it’s far from speculative. As Byron Sharp points out in How Brands Grow, it’s more profitable for brands to be distinctive and recognisable than new and different. All Marvel films have the same distinctive tropes, aesthetics and kitsch soundtracks. Scorsese thinks that’s what makes them worthless. Disney’s stock price suggests the opposite.

We know nothing about anyone 

A B2B marketer is understandably cautious about pursuing a mass-media strategy when you have, say, a total market of just two hundred buyers across Europe. But even if in B2B we can’t commit to disposing of targeting strategies altogether, Jon still believes we should question the value of hyper-targeting. Firstly, because the data consumers leave behind doesn’t really reveal anything of any use to marketers (one data vendor had Jon pegged as a mother of three living in Florida). And secondly, Jon – the man living in New York – makes the compelling point that by laser focusing on the two hundred buyers today, you overlook the one hundred different people who will become your next set of buyers. Hyper-targeting is a victim of its own static focus.

Hearing a representative from LinkedIn – a platform that specialises in hyper-targeted CPC tactical marketing – telling an audience of B2B marketers that the future is untargetted blockbuster brand building is somewhat incongruous. But then again, if his marketing principles were more conventional, he wouldn’t be a contrarian. And then we wouldn’t much care if he were right.

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