Why Most B2B Marketing Is So Forgettable

Dave Dye

Having held Creative Director roles with several major international agencies, industry heavyweight, Dave Dye, has been working with the world’s most iconic brands for three decades. With vast experience in both B2B and B2C, Dave has spent his career demonstrating that there is no such thing as dull brands, only dull marketers.
We met with Dave to understand why the B2B space is so full of unimaginative advertising and how businesses of any kind can bring their identities to life without resorting to generic tricks or gimmicks.

Dave Dye Boss to Boss Interview Profile Photo

Is there a difference between B2B and B2C branding?

Personally, I don’t see much difference between the two.

Whether you are selling running shoes or accounting software, the process is the same; you try to figure out what is the best argument for someone to buy, then figure out how best to get that argument noticed and believed.

You’re still talking to human beings. You’re still trying to stop them from whatever they had been doing, to hear your pitch then buy your product, or put it on a shortlist, call your company or whatever your goal was.

So I don’t believe there’s as much of a difference as there’s made out to be.

Do sector specialist marketers have an advantage?

They do in that they talk their client’s language. If you’re a marketing director of say, a company that sells office supplies, you’d feel more comfortable dealing with people who already know all the buzz-words, trends and market place. But that doesn’t mean they’ll create more effective advertising.

Often specialist advertising agencies are better at meetings than advertising.

Personally, I’d rather appoint people who are good at communicating then ask them to study the market.
As opposed to asking people who totally get the sector then ask them to get good at persuading and communicating.

Put it this way; you’re managing a Sunday league football team and someone gives you a choice of midfielders; Thierry Henry, whose experience is further up the field, as a forward, or, a local guy who’s only ever played in midfield. He knows the role inside out, he’s basically a specialist midfielder.

Who would you go for?

Is there a reason why so little B2B marketing engages on a deeper, emotional level?

None whatsoever.

People are people, they don’t put on a different head when they turn up at work. Most of their life is spent as a regular consumer, buying normal consumer stuff; beer, cars, clothes, and when brands talk to them about those things they often try to make them smile or feel something, while presenting information that’s simple because it’s assumed they are busy and don’t want to engage with an ad.

Yet, for some reason, a lot B2B marketing assumes they’ve got lot’s of time to engage with ads, they take life seriously and don’t have a sense of humour. Separating people into product sector or media specialisms can be useful to understand aspects of their mind-set, but you can end up not viewing them as people, just sectors, and it’s hard to have a good conversation with a sector.

It happens in B2C, too – someone with experience writing car ads gets asked to write car ads, because they ‘get it’. But if you want to get someone to figure out how to sell your brand new, shiny car, you probably don’t want someone who’s spent the last decade writing car ads. They’re probably bored to death with cars and their annoying, little micro-innovations. And that lack of excitement about the product will seep through into the ads.

But to me, getting ‘specialists’ seems more prevalent within B2B. There are some great B2B ads, but on the whole it’s not the most inspiring sector. The result is that it’s less attractive to college leavers, which makes it harder to attract the best people, which makes it harder to create great work and change that perception.

It’s a vicious circle.

Some examples from Dave that demonstrate how B2B ads can capture humour and personality

What specific advice would you give to someone looking to create great content for a B2B campaign?


Generally, they’ll be irritated and suspicious. Some annoying company has interrupted what they were doing to sell them something. And what they were doing was almost certainly more interesting to them than your ad.

They suspect you’re going to tell lies and waste their time, so if your ad, content or whatever, is simply confirming their worst fears, don’t bother; save your money.


I always ask my creative teams to picture someone they know, who’s vaguely in our target market; an uncle, a spouse, a friend – and imagine what they would make of your message. Would they find it interesting? Entertaining? Patronising? Unbelievable?

If you don’t think they’d respond well to it, why should people you don’t know respond well?

Could you tell them your message face to face? If it makes you feel uncomfortable then you shouldn’t say it in your marketing.


You’re talking to human beings, they’re a bundle of emotions held together by cello-tape and string.

They’re driven by all the same underlying insecurities, pressures and dreams as any consumer audience.

It’s what makes them tick. At home AND at work.


Don’t get lost in detail and minutiae, (Wait! Are detail and minutiae the same thing?)

Focus on the benefits.

Or, to use a hackneyed old cliché; Don’t sell your grass seed, sell their lawn.

Purpose and story telling has been big in B2C for some time, and is now creeping more into B2B. Is that a positive trend?

Not really.

The problem is thinking that either are some kind of new, all-purpose solution to marketing problems.

What’s wrong with purpose?

Nothing, if your company is driven by one. Let’s say you give X% of your profit to a charity that links to something personal, then amazing, but few companies have anything of like that.

So you get a huge conglomerates talking about their mission to save this or help that, but there is very little tangible at the heart of it, maybe a 0.0001% of profits to a particular organisation. People are smart, they can smell bullshit a mile off.

The purpose of all companies is to make money, which is fine. If you have something beyond that that’s a big part of your company, talk about it. If you don’t, don’t make one up; people will smell it.

And storytelling?

The same; if you’ve got a great story behind your business, tell it. Maybe your founder was washed up on a desert island and discovered some weird fruit that led to an amazing new drink being created? Tell it, it may be the best thing you can say.

Innocent Smoothies had a great story, for example, and it added sales and value to their brand, but most companies don’t so why bother making one up?

Again, people will smell it.

Besides, most people aren’t interested in the heritage or views of their soap powder or photocopier. They’re just tools in a bigger toolbox, with selling written on the label.

I’m generally wary of buzz-words. “Disruption” is another popular one. It’s just another way of saying “stand out” or “different”, but somehow disruption sounds newer and edgier, so suddenly briefs set out to disrupt their market. It’s nonsense really.

Why do most B2B companies spend so much less on marketing than B2C?

I guess their audience tends to be far more focused, therefore smaller, so the media costs are less.
If the media is less then the production budget is also less. It’s proportionate – 10-20% of media.
It’s weird though, because if you’re selling a B2B solution then your audience may be just a dozen senior decision makers. If that’s the case it would make more sense to link a budget to the size of the opportunity to your company rather than the media.

Does it help or hinder when the leader of an organisation involves themselves in marketing?

From my point of view, it’s almost always a good thing.

They tend to have a more focussed, commercial view on marketing; ‘What do we get out of it?’. (They certainly don’t give a shit about the latest buzz-words.)

Some Marketing Directors can get caught up in the details and the internal politics; will their bosses like it? It can lead to them behaving more cautiously, which is understandable, but the primary goal can become not to screw things up, whereas the primary goal of the CEOs is more likely to be how do we succeed, sell more stuff, or whatever.

You have more chance of succeeding if that’s your goal than if your goal is not to fail. In anything, marketing, football, music.

I once had a client who was spending £5 million, £4.6 on media, £400k on production. Before he gave us the go-ahead to spend £400k to shoot the ad he pulled me to one side and asked quietly “Is this going to work?”

Such a simple question, but while the rest of us were preoccupied with all the details, he was bringing it back to what actually mattered – should he spend £5m creating this advert in the hope that it brought business. Or should, as he put it ‘just keep that £5 million and just split it between shareholders?’

I love that, the big picture.

Any downsides to CEO’s getting involved?

Sometimes CEO’s or founders can be a little too invested in their company or brand, and therefore struggle to take honest feedback.

It can sound to them like “I think your middle child is terribly ugly, but I have some suggestions on making them more presentable!”.

It’s not a message they want to hear.

And of course, they don’t have to listen, there’s always a long line of people ready to tell them that middle child is the most beautiful they’ve ever seen.