WARC Asia Editor Rica Facundo asks Valerie Beauchamp, Global Head of Agency Education and Development, LinkedIn, for her thoughts on B2B marketing strategy amid the current economic climate.

WARC: How is the economic uncertainty impacting B2B marketing plans in APAC? What was most surprising about the data that you found in the recent B2B marketing survey?

Valerie Beauchamp: I’m excited about two findings in particular. First is that about 85% of B2B marketers in the APAC region are actually optimistic about how their marketing strategy is going to create impact for the next six months (after September 2022). Given that there’s a lot of general uncertainty, that’s a pretty buoying thing to hear from B2B marketers.

Secondly, it’s the continued commitment to brand investment, with six in 10 B2B marketers planning to either ‘maintain’ or ‘increase’ their spend in the next six months. Historically in the B2B space, marketers were facing two choices – upper funnel branding versus lower funnel demand generation. When given a choice, marketers always tend to pick the latter. So I think it’s more indicative of the strength of our marketing acumen now.

As you’ve mentioned, the report said that B2B marketers in APAC are keen to prioritise brand building with close to six in 10 B2B marketers looking to maintain or increase spend in the next six months. Why is this the case?

According to joint research done by LinkedIn’s think tank, The B2B Institute, with the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, at any given point in time, 95% of B2B buyers are not in the market to buy. And so we have to take a step back and think about that purchase cycle of business-to-business transactions. What do I do with that 95%?

Either you have to be absolutely certain at just 5% or you have to recognise that you can do something really valuable with that 95%. What are you doing with those people who aren’t buying yet who will buy at some point in time?

So you have to focus on building mental availability, establishing distinctive assets and ensuring you have a point of view on your company or your product or on your service. So that’s where you get into brand building and storytelling.

But despite more interest in brand building, the LinkedIn report also said that 52% of B2B marketers in APAC are decreasing marketing spend because they don’t see it as a priority during periods of uncertainty. Historically, what is driving that misunderstanding of the value of marketing? Are you starting to see a change in attitudes?

I’m going to use a US-specific metric here but I think it’s fairly true around the world. When was the last time we were totally comfortable in getting a program average rating for a broad demographic for the dollars that we were spending on a 30-second TVC?

Now that the digital transformation of our industry is giving us the opportunity to look at so many different slices of the data, we’ve kind of gone from one side of the pendulum to swinging all the way over to the other side. The challenge is in figuring out which of all those signals are the most important signals for us to pay attention to and which need to come together.

At LinkedIn, we try to hold the industry accountable for the speed with which we went from being totally fine with a blunt instrument that actually tells me nothing about my business, to now I want every single signal I could possibly make but I don’t know how to match it together.

That’s where we’re trying to get better as an industry. From the sentiment survey, it’s pretty clear that B2B marketers want to get better at ROI. In fact, ‘proving return on investment’ was identified as the second biggest challenge in the next six months (from September), behind ‘doing more with less budget’.

Let’s focus on another macro shift. What impact do you think the global great resignation will have on the agency landscape and marketing plans in 2023? Have you seen any correlation with the economic climate?

I haven’t seen anything that directly correlates the talent dynamics to the economic uncertainty. But regarding the ‘great resignation’, LinkedIn prefers to regard this as the ‘great reshuffle’.

It’s that moment in time over the last few years where people are rethinking and reevaluating where they were, how they work and why they work. And so for us, that’s much more about a reshuffling and a recalibration happening than people wholesale walking away from the idea of work.

What we’ve seen in our 2022 Global Talent Trends report is the shifting importance of employer care. Employees who feel cared for by their employer are 3.2 times more likely to be happy and just shy of four times more likely to recommend their employer.

One thing I have personally observed from the agency landscape is that agencies have always been remarkable at marketing their clients’ brands but not necessarily marketing their own. But we’re starting to see that agencies are recognising that their story matters. They are more vocal about who they are, what they care about and what their proposition is to their employees.

Are you seeing the same thing happen on the brand side?

Before joining LinkedIn, I had the good fortune to work with other companies as an agency. What we’ve always understood as marketers is that your corporate brand is your employer brand is your consumer brand. And you see the relationship between each one of those things contributing to brand equity. These things are maybe more blended together than they’ve ever been.

Recently, LinkedIn worked with UOB on a campaign entitled ‘#CareAtUOB’, which reinforced the bank’s commitment to cultivating a caring workplace and workforce to help its people stay mentally resilient through the transition into the future of work. The campaign was focused around employee care, empathy and vulnerability in the workplace, which is something you would have never seen from a bank in past years.

In this climate of uncertainty and need for employee care from companies, what are the ingredients for creating a culture of effectiveness that eventually contributes to building brand equity?

Let me take a step back. There are a few things that are relevant across B2B and B2C. We are all still after the comprehensive holy grail for marketing, which is how do we continuously and comprehensively close the loop to demonstrate marketing as a growth driver, as opposed to letting organisations continue to see marketing as a cost centre?

There are probably a few different pieces in that. One of them is how equipped are we as an industry to move beyond sort of marketing KPIs into business ROI? This is where B2B marketing is a little bit of a disadvantage, just because we haven’t been able to close the loop as well due to challenges in attribution.

What this requires is whether we have the right data sets to do a full end-to-end analysis and do we hold the data responsibility. How do we make sure that we understand the full picture of that individual and everything they’ve experienced from us, and then have we actually leaned into and leveraged new technology to try to bring that around to business performance?

I actually think that most companies, whether agencies or brands, know all the ingredients that are needed to build a culture of effectiveness. But we’re challenged right now as an industry because they’re sitting in lots of different places.

One of the things we explored in the sentiment survey was how B2B marketers feel about ROI. The numbers indicate that we’re not great at measuring ROI yet but we are leaning into new technology. So I think there’s a growing awareness around the things that need to come together to do that.

What I’m hearing from you is that marketers or agencies know the ingredients but what is lacking is how to connect the dots. Is culture then a connective tissue that brings it all together?

Yes but it’s also about capability.

One of the things that we asked in the sentiment survey was about the capabilities you think will be critical to the future of your marketing efforts. It was a little bit related to talent but ultimately, it was creativity, efficiency and innovation.

It’s innovation to identify whether we are looking at the right currencies and right metrics for B2B marketing. Efficiency in terms of being able to illustrate to the C-suite the efficacy of the investments that we’re making and the growth that we’re driving using marketing.

In a separate survey, the majority of regional B2B marketing leaders in APAC note that improving chief financial officer (CFO) understanding is crucial to bolstering budgets, especially when there is greater budget scrutiny in periods of uncertainty.

And then the culture around whether we are an organisation that sees marketing as a growth driver. Do we attract the right talent to drive that?

So ultimately, it’s about culture, the talent reshuffle and capabilities all converging together to get better marketing effectiveness. The issues get inextricably linked pretty fast in the marketing space.

In my head, there’s a map of different components we talked about earlier, such as culture and capability. Where does brand sit in this diagram?

Brand certainty fits within capability – I certainly think it’s a capability. The best marketers understand the killer combination of brand and demand.

Ideally inside an agency, you have capability that is great at both of those things. But the culture piece can’t be totally erased. Even if you have all those capabilities, if your predisposition is all short-term and not long-term, you won’t use any of these capabilities. So even though it’s predominantly capability, if it’s siting inside a culture that doesn’t allow it to do its best work, then it doesn’t matter if you have 100 of the best creatives or strategists. If you’re not actually using them, then what’s the point?

If you had to pick one important metric of marketing effectiveness for B2B marketing, what would it be?

The dream is attribution but we’re not there yet as in industry. So I’ll pick something that sits in the brand space and an indicator of equity, intent or consideration of your brand.

The reason I picked that one is because we’ve seen the compound impact of running branding and demand generation at the same time. The best thing that we can be doing is picking a metric that we know is good for demand and conversion today but it’s also good to help with your business tomorrow.