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Why is most B2B marketing creative ineffective?

The data is in, and it’s pretty bleak. Most B2B marketing creative falls flat, costing you time and resources without delivering the ROI you need. Why is this?

Maybe you’re investing more and more into your ads and overall marketing strategy, but it’s like pumping air into a punctured tire: it holds for a little while, but you’re not getting anywhere fast.

Whether it’s a comfort or not, you definitely aren’t alone.

Research today paints a dismal picture, with data proving that the majority of B2B marketing creative fails. More spend and weak results are the rule rather than the exception, growing tensions between the marketing, sales, and financial teams.

According to System1’s FaceTrace emotions measurement tool, 75% of B2B advertising, across a sample 1600 ads shown to 6 million people over the last 4 years, scored one star or less. This means that in the key metrics for an ad’s success, only 25% even show up on the radar. Far fewer actually hit the mark.

What’s going wrong? The root of the issue really has four parts:

  1. Devaluing the creative side of your marketing approach in your B2B campaign

  2. Missing the emotional component in B2B

  3. A noncommittal approach

  4. Not understanding how creativity translates to financial growth

Creative that sells: How advertising execution affects sales
Nicole Hartnett, Rachel Kennedy, Byron Sharp & Luke Greenacre (2015):Creative That Sells: How Advertising Execution Affects Sales, Journal of Advertising, DOI:10.1080/00913367.2015.1077491

Why it’s dangerous to devalue the creative side of your b2b marketing approach.

Does your business value creativity, or see it as diametrically opposed to concrete data and growth? In other words, is it considered frivolous? The issue here is that the majority of businesses are not marketing-led, and the marketing team is hobbled by a lack of faith in what a truly creative ad can do. It’s a battle between the sides of the brain, with left-brain, ultra-practical minds just not conceiving of why a right-brain, creative approach has value. They prefer a feature-focused approach, stripping emotion out of the equation, mostly because it makes sense to them and feels less risky. How can you go wrong if you stick to the facts, right? This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy with uncreative ads that yield little, “proving” the point that the marketing team isn’t delivering. The value and full potential of the creative is missed, opening the door to critical loss. In fact, great creative is 10-20x more effective at driving sales. It should be considered a top priority, not a waste of time or resources.

The brand that is remembered is the brand that is bought
The brand that is remembered is the brand that is bought

The emotional component is critical in B2B marketing.

Let’s take this even deeper.

The creative aspect of your B2B ads is essential, but its success hinges on the emotional component. Unfortunately, much like creativity, emotion is often undervalued by key decision makers. The assumption is that the target customer/audience is completely focused on raw data, specifications, price points, and all-important features.

What a missed opportunity! Emotion plays into every aspect of the purchasing process, whether people realize it or not. If you can tap into it by identifying what will best resonate with your audience, you’ll rocket past the 2-dimensional ads you’re competing against.

In fact, in the B2B world, the stakes are higher than ever for your potential buyer. In B2C advertising, you might convince someone to buy a coffee, a lawn mower, or a subscription. No big deal, right? In the B2B market, on the other hand, the buyer’s job may be at stake. Investing in your product or service needs to be a win, and there is a serious financial output on the line.

No matter how stoic someone might seem, there are emotional currents flowing deep under those still waters. How can you appeal to those emotions, instilling confidence, peace of mind, and directing them toward a favorable decision? Crafting long-term, thoughtful creative builds trust through consistency and authenticity. As an example, consider QuickBooks’ “Backing you” campaign. It offers clever, humorous reminders of the pain points that business owners face (accounting woes, paper trails, tedious tracking procedures), and offers an easy solution.

If you haven’t yet, you should also take a look at Slack’s latest B2B marketing ad, targeting business owners who know they need something new for their team’s communication toolkit. The emotional component is strong, reminding us of how we’ve all reinvented ways to keep in touch (and work!) during the COVID-19 crisis, and how this is a fresh opportunity, not a necessary evil.

Emotional strategies outperform rational by 7x in B2B
Emotional Strategies Outperform in B2B - Source: IPA Databank, 1998-2018 B2B cases

You can’t afford a noncommittal approach to B2B marketing

Marketing is all about testing. No doubt about it. But it’s also about commitment. If your ads are changed up frequently, and your message, brand, characters, and story arcs along with it, you miss out on essential brand consistency. The majority of B2B sales cycles are 16-24 months; sometimes even longer. Despite this lengthier germination period, marketing creative and strategies are swapped out much too frequently for fear that they aren’t working, killing any chance that they might have had. This doesn’t mean you need to be stale. The top-of-the-funnel ads approach needs to be consistent, driving home the story and emotion that, in turn, makes your brand memorable. The bottom-of-the-funnel ads, on the other hand, can be changed and customized to best resonate with people at different points on the buyer’s journey. Think of it this way. The giants of advertising like Nike (“Just do it”), Audi (“Vorsprung Durch Technik”), and MacDonald’s (“I’m lovin’ it!”) have made themselves a household name with very different brands, but very consistent creative and taglines. They committed. MacDonald’s golden arches can be recognized at a glance, largely because they have been so consistent that they’ve become a part of our national landscape over decades. When you develop your marketing plan, don’t give it just enough rope to tie itself up. Ask yourself if the concept will stand. Could you run it for years to come?

The relationship between long term commitment to creative and effectiveness
Source: Peter Field «Creative Commitment in the IPA Effectiveness Databank” pp 104-118 in Cannes Lions/WARC (2020). The effectiveness code

Creative teams don’t know how to present the long-term value

There’s a breakdown in communication.

If the creative team presents the idea of a fun character, hanging their hat on terms like “brand love” and memorability, nine times out of ten the idea will never leave the ground. Why would a serious company invest in a playful, frivolous waste of time that dilutes their message?

The conversation is doomed before it starts.

These ideas need to have a clear correlation with the dollars-and-cents advantage of a long-term, strategic plan. And the stats don’t lie. Creative marketing that is grounded in the core attributes of a successful ad will move the needle for you, increasing market share and delivering major financial returns.

75% of B2B ads score 1 star or less
75% of B2B ads score 1 star or less

It’s never too late to right the ship

There may be a lot of opportunity to go wrong, but that means that following the right framework for successful B2B creative will make an even greater impact. Proactively evaluating your approach, teamwork, and potential biases can put you on the path to a much more effective plan, increasing your growth and brand recognition. And, you’ll stand out from your competition more clearly than ever before.


  1. Why is most B2B marketing creative considered ineffective? Most B2B marketing creative is considered ineffective because it often devalues the creative side, misses the emotional component, takes a noncommittal approach, and fails to understand how creativity translates to financial growth.

  2. What is the impact of devaluing the creative side in B2B marketing? Devaluing the creative side in B2B marketing can lead to uncreative ads that yield little results, thus failing to drive sales effectively. Great creative is proven to be 10-20x more effective at driving sales.

  3. Why is the emotional component critical in B2B marketing? The emotional component is critical in B2B marketing because it plays into every aspect of the purchasing process. By identifying what will best resonate with the audience, a brand can stand out against its competitors. Emotional strategies outperform rational ones by 7x in B2B.

  4. What is the effect of a noncommittal approach in B2B marketing? A noncommittal approach in B2B marketing can lead to a lack of brand consistency. If ads and strategies are changed frequently, it kills the chance of them working effectively. B2B sales cycles are often long, and consistency in top-of-the-funnel ads is key to making a brand memorable.

  5. How does a lack of understanding of the long-term value of creativity affect B2B marketing? A lack of understanding of the long-term value of creativity can lead to a breakdown in communication between the creative team and decision-makers. Creative ideas that could increase market share and deliver major financial returns may not be implemented if they are not clearly linked to a long-term, strategic plan.

  6. How does the lack of faith in creative ads affect B2B marketing? The lack of faith in creative ads often results in a feature-focused approach, stripping emotion out of the equation. This can lead to uncreative ads that yield little results, reinforcing the belief that the marketing team isn't delivering.

  7. What is the role of emotion in the purchasing process? Emotion plays a crucial role in the purchasing process. It influences every aspect of the process, even if the buyer isn't consciously aware of it. Tapping into these emotions can help a brand resonate better with its audience and stand out against competitors.

  8. Why is consistency important in B2B marketing? Consistency is important in B2B marketing because it helps make a brand memorable. This is particularly important in B2B sales cycles, which are often long. Consistent top-of-the-funnel ads help drive home the story and emotion of a brand.

  9. How does a noncommittal approach affect the effectiveness of B2B marketing? A noncommittal approach can lead to frequent changes in ads and strategies, disrupting brand consistency and killing the chance of them working effectively. It's important to commit to a consistent approach, particularly for top-of-the-funnel ads.

  10. How can creative teams better present the long-term value of their ideas? Creative teams can better present the long-term value of their ideas by clearly correlating them with the financial advantages of a long-term, strategic plan. This can help convince decision-makers of the value of implementing creative ideas.


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