What I learned from Mark Ritson at Marketing Week Live

8th May 2016

I continue to believe B2B marketers can and must learn from the B2C world. So, as I have done for many years, I attended Marketing Week Live at the end of April. While the entire event was useful and interesting – from the quality of the exhibition through the variety of topics under discussion on the various stages to the sheer energy that permeated the event –the standout session simply has to be Mark Ritson’s closing keynote.

Mark Ritson - 8 concepts 2

I’ve been following Mark for years and what I like so much about him is that he is constantly challenging how we think and what we do as marketers. And he doesn’t pull any punches – constantly entertaining, frequently uncouth (but never offensive), and always spot-on.

Mark’s contention is that ‘The marketing world continues to focus much of its efforts on the wrong issues’.  

His session looked at 8 marketing concepts that are taking up an awful lot of marketing time and attention, most often for the wrong reasons. So, while Mark’s focus is primarily on the B2C world, this is my interpretation of 5 of his marketing concepts in the context of B2B marketing:

  1. Millenials

Consumer marketing is obsessed with Millenials in much the same way as B2B marketing is obsessed with the C-suite. Ask almost any B2B brand who their main audience is and the answer is always the ‘C-suite’.

In B2B, the buying journey is a complex and lengthy one, and there are many more people involved in the B2B buying decision. How can it make sense to focus on a single audience that – like Millenials – are not even homogenous within that segmentation?

Like Mark, I believe this is lazy marketing and only serves to underscore the fact that we don’t really know who we are targeting or why.

  1. TV advertising

We constantly hear that TV is dead. Yet Mark maintains (and has the stats to prove it!) that this is a fallacy and TV will remain the dominant media of our time.

‘Marketers have a self-induced belief that digital is changing the world and somehow traditional is being destroyed.’

For B2B this is all about tactics and channels, and marketing’s headlong rush to ‘go digital’ at the expense of so-called ‘traditional’ tactics and channels. We absolutely need to stop and think about where our customers really are, despite the hype, and do a better job at integrating ‘traditional’ and ‘digital’.

  1. Zero-based budgeting

Many marketers are afraid of zero-based budgeting (ZBB) because they see the ‘zero’ and think of ZBB as a cost-cutting exercise. But ZBB is increasingly being adopted by brands such Unilever and Coca-Cola, and Mark calls it a strategic approach to planning and budgeting.

I’ve written about ZBB in a previous post A bigger budget won’t make you a better marketer and believe we in B2B should be taking on this approach. By forcing us to take a good hard look at what we do and why we’re doing it, ZBB can be an empowering process for B2B marketing.

  1. Brand purpose

Mark believes that marketers have become so busy inspiring people with their brand purpose that they lose sight of what they actually sell. And, to a point, I agree. He gave numerous examples of brand purpose statements that could be interchangeable among the brands.

But I would argue that it’s not the concept that’s faulty, it’s the execution.

Because businesses these days need to look beyond profits to what kind of businesses they want to be. The strongest brands are strong because people know what they stand for and how they fit into their lives. They go beyond what they sell and address the real issues impacting individuals and society, providing people with a clear connection between brand promise and brand purpose.

  1. Digital marketing

I’d like to delete every word I see that precedes ‘marketing’. It was heartening to hear that this same issue pervades the consumer world, with ‘digital’ as the fixation. Mark categorically states that ‘digital is over’, that digital is a silo that artificially limits marketing thinking.

In the B2B world, it’s ‘content marketing’ that’s consuming marketers’ attention. And like ‘digital’ we need to get over it.

It’s all marketing.

But this is just a symptom of the bigger challenge – marketing’s almost complete focus on tools and channels. Practically every discussion I have about marketing ends up being about tactics instead of strategy.

And we all should know by now that without strategy, tactics are just more ‘stuff’ in an already overcrowded world.

So what should marketers focus on? For Mark – and for me – it’s pretty simple but by no means easy. Get back to marketing fundamentals. As Mark says:

‘Put down the tools and come back to strategy. [And] start with the customer…’.

For those of you who are interested, Mark has teamed up with Marketing Week to offer an online ‘mini-MBA’ – a 12-week, CPD accredited, MBA standard course, covering the same core marketing modules as leading MBA programmes.  Click here for more info, should be brilliant!


Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.

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