B2B that Wins. Notes from judgng the 2022 ANA B2 awards

I was honored to be selected as a judge of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) B2 awards. The opportunity to see international, business-to-business (B2B) marketing collected in this way allows for a unique perspective. These highlights* share a point of view on what makes marketing work better.

*No agencies were harmed in the writing of this blog. Names were withheld to protect the innocent.

B2B 2022 Trends and Topics

In previous years, entries have trended toward strategies like thought leadership, account-based marketing (ABM) and influencer marketing. This year, more personalized messaging tactics using video, email and social media content were prominent. Consistent topics appeared across various entries; some are included below:

Jet Set Product Launch

One stand-out campaign approached a new jet launch in a crowded market as an opportunity to be distinctive. While their much larger competitors listed the functions and efficiency of their latest product-number-named jet, this company named the product for its primary benefit — a strong, unique, buyer-relevant claim. The campaign equated the product’s benefits to the attributes of sharks and lions. It gained notice as an incredibly successful product launch and brand-builder for the company.

Share News, Not Noise

Many entries touted the unprecedented times, unique pressures, disruption, new normal and stress of distancing during a pandemic. (As if these topics are something new: they’re not). And worse, some applied this “understanding” as their marketing strategy to connect with audiences. It’s a delicate thing to use traumatic events as a connecting point. However, the bigger issue here is jumping to a common experience that isn’t strongly correlated to the brand or offering in hopes of gaining attention. Unrelated, borrowed interest rarely pays off. When you compound that with not establishing a unique point of view, you end up as part of the noise — or worse, resented for it.

Choose Action Over Words

More of a returning cycle than a trend, sustainability is again top of mind among many organizational leaders. Using it as the focus of a campaign requires a clear and unique position. Sustainability claims must be backed by action or they’ll instead appear to be inauthentic and self-serving. Similar to when companies claim trust, it prompts people to question why it should be said.

People understand when claims are proved by trustworthy (or sustainable) acts. Successful sustainability-focused entries centered on stories of the actions taken and how people benefited versus sharing that they cared about green initiatives.

Let’s Get Real

Saying everything at once leaves no room for the audience to make their own connections to your brand, which rings especially true for video content. The successful video entries were short (or compelling enough to be longer), insightful and actionable with an anchor to a relevant idea. And these ideas must be executed with the right level of finish; authenticity beats over-produced videos. Companies trying too hard are off-putting, often with cringe-worthy acting.

In a brilliant use of envy, one global professional services group’s video campaign featured prominent CEOs sharing pivotal moments in their careers. There was no feature list or product description included, just conversational stories from credible people. I can only imagine some CEOs clamoring to be included as the list grew. In addition to this video’s authenticity, the series was presented in partnership with the Wall Street Journal, lending further third-party credibility.

Be Unforgettable

Marketing led more by obligation than inspiration is easier to spot when presented with a large group of examples. You can almost hear the direction, “Others are doing this, so we should do it.” This obligatory marketing results in forgettable, ineffective work that blends in with all other messages. You can’t overcome a lack of inspiration by over-designing it. Stand-out marketing is inspired by the problem the organization solves for their audience and delivered using the best way to reach and motivate them.

"Dream a Little Bigger, Darling."

A strong execution is always required, but even the “coolest” work doesn’t break through on its own. One entry centered on an excellent piece of illustration. The story told within this single image cleverly repositioned an industry challenge and visually looked amazing. However, the extension to video and other campaign materials did not carry the promise of the original illustration. These additions seemed disjointed, almost like an afterthought. It’s easy to fall in love with a design, but once you capture your audience’s attention, you must guide them forward for it to pay off. Successful marketing considers the entire journey.

Overall, the work represented at the ANA B2 Awards made me proud to be part of a B2B agency. It also underscored the complex nature of the work we all undertake. I hope you find this review helpful.