As B2B buyers evolve, so does their buying process. Learn how B2B marketers can evaluate and refresh their strategies to meet changing needs.
After what has been a year of significant upheaval for businesses both large and small, brand-side marketers are finding that there is a pressing need to reanalyze how they work with their agency partners and rework their technology stacks. What can be taken away from the pandemic? What can be done to help companies become more flexible and nimbler? How is marketing being redefined in the present age?
Asking and answering these questions was at the heart of last week’s third annual Adweek NexTech. The three-day virtual event covered a lot of ground on a wide gamut of topics including programmatic and cross-channel measurement, cookieless targeting, the power of content, building impactful CTV campaigns, and crafting a privacy-forward data strategy.
Centro’s president, Tyler Kelly, led a discussion with Arturo Pena, Vice President of Global Marketing at Cognizant, in which they explored Cognizant’s approach to in-housing, how Basis by Centro and the team have supported Cognizant through onboarding and education, and how uniquely positioned B2B marketers are to reach their preferred audiences. Here’s a recording of their conversation, with the full transcript below.
Tyler Kelly: Arturo, it's great to have you here. Thanks for joining us. [I'll begin by asking] how did you get into the B2B space? What creates passion for it? What’s your background?
Arturo Pena: I have a very diverse background, Tyler. I have a finance degree and I have been in B2B technology forever. I have a few years of sales experience selling software and services in the I.T. space. That actually led me to marketing. I've been doing marketing because when I was in sales I saw the need of having a strategic approach to help the sales organization. And that's pretty much my passion – the connection between marketing and sales. And in B2B, it’s even more relevant.
TK: I agree. Really understanding your customer on the B2B side is difficult. What have you learned through the years about the big difference between B2B and B2C?
AP: You gave me the lead into the answer. The biggest difference that I see is your audience: your targets. Let’s say males between 40 and 60 years old. In B2C, even if you put your media money after them, and you have unintended reach and engagement from younger generations, you’re still generating a long-term positive impact from those unintended actions.
Whereas, in B2B, all of that is waste. For B2B especially, hyper-segmentation is super critical. We must look at both things – the persona (who we go after as a human) and combine that with the account-base. What are the accounts you want to pursue? After all, the people you’re interacting with are not representing themselves; they’re representing a company and their responsibilities within the company. The big complexity, then, is merging the psychology and demographic portion of things to be relevant and to appeal to your audiences from both aspects.
Another beacon point is that the landscape of advertising you must navigate as a B2B marketing leader is actually a B2C landscape, meaning technology, partners, and everything you can do on the media side is B2C-made. And as a B2B company, we must navigate the complexities of that B2C landscape and find what is inherently valuable for a B2B marketing effort. You have to cherry-pick what could work for B2B and what couldn’t.
TK: Absolutely. B2B has greatly changed over the last few years. What have you done to make sure that you’re educated; that you understand the technologies? You have ABM. You have automation technology and other platforms. How did you educate yourself to stay relevant and push yourself?
AP: Well, first of all, I have a great team. I have a media team globally with a presence in APAC, in Europe, and in the United States, but I also have marketing and advertising technology. So, I will open my answer by saying that it has to do with the leadership decision between the CMO and my peers and myself on putting an emphasis on marketing technology and advertising technology. We have a dedicated organization that works with the media team on understanding the landscape.
On top of having the team, making it official. Goal setting, expectation setting. We make it a part of our job – not only mine but everyone on the media and marketing technology side - to look for new technologies that will help us achieve certain things. We have very clear goals where we say: “OK, with every single decision we make on technology, or a campaign, media mix, marketing mix, anything we do, what is our ability to reach out to our intended audiences.” Persona and accounts. How can we generate responses from them? And then how do we move them into deeper engagement because I’m not comfortable with just brand awareness. I need to get something out of the awareness. How do we activate the audience after that and convert the audience? And how do we interlock with sales?
Everyone on my team knows about this approach. We know we have the goal of innovation, but how can we look at innovation? Otherwise, it becomes a question of “where do I start?”. It’s a needle in a haystack. But when you have this type of direction from the company, my team can go and look for innovative ways to help us achieve better results in the goals I just described. And that comes from having the right partners, reading, and being self-sufficient. The teams are comfortable going about it by themselves and we have a quick process in which we can assess whether something is relevant to us. If it is, let’s go pilot that and see if there’s value - or fail quickly - and if it works let’s bring it on. Our marketing and advertising technology team looks at our existing portfolio regularly and assesses what pieces of technology and partners we have that are not delivering value.
You don’t want to break the bank either, so once you start moving into the path of innovation, especially for digital, what are the things you’re going to let go. It’s a trade-off: you must have that discipline in saying you have to let go to have the new stuff.
TK: That leads to my next question. You’ve relied on agency partners in the past. You’ve now made the decision to go in-house. What drove that decision and how has it been going?
AP: Yes, I think I can point to three things. Number one is that we just thought broad-based marketing produces a lot of waste. We wanted to focus our investments and outsmart our competition without breaking the bank.
Second. Digital media first. Or digital-first. In the past, we used to be 75% traditional marketing automation and the rest was digital media. Now we have flipped that around in less than 18 months: 75% of what we do is digital media. We wanted it to be digital-first. Not because it’s a buzzword but because we wanted to be where our audience is without interrupting their lives. Without interrupting their stream of information. Instead, we want to be a part of their stream of information when they’re trying to become more knowledgeable.
And finally, purposeful marketing. We want to ensure every single decision we make and every single dollar we spend is moving audiences through the funnel. We understand some of the audience will stay in the awareness stage because they might not be our ideal audience or they’re simply not ready to engage with Cognizant. But that was a big component for us - from reach to response to deeper engagement to activation and sales interlock – making sure everything we were putting in the market was aligned to these goals.
TK: And what were your decision criteria for selecting the best technology? You actually found Basis –which was amazing to see - but how did you go about it?
AP: Yes!! For those who don’t believe in direct contact, I contacted Tyler directly on LinkedIn.
First and foremost, we were looking for a partner that had a commitment to help us do this in-house at some point in time. We knew it was not going to be a case of decision made today, tomorrow we’re operating in-house.
Number two, we wanted an AdTech play versus services. For us, the vision and roadmap of the technology were very critical. We conducted a clear assessment in which we looked at technologies that had a foundation in growing a flexible platform.
And that leads me on to the third point – a flexible platform. Our ability to add and drop tactics, partners, inventory as quickly as possible. Because, again, we’re on this journey of testing and keeping the best in terms of the goals that we’re pursuing.
The last portion was media management. As we increase the volume of things we want to test, this could become anarchy. We needed a single place where we could manage everything that goes in and out, beyond excel sheets.
TK: That’s great, and we here at Centro just did a study with Forrester that shows how Basis can increase ROI by 48% which is a huge number. Are you guys seeing benefits today? Are you seeing more control and more transparency? Or even more dollars going into media as a result of your decision?
AP: Yes, yes, and yes. This is a journey that we started 12 months ago, but at the time we didn’t know the cost of putting advertising in the market and the returns of that advertising. Today, we have that transparency and we’re able to see what campaigns, channels, tactics, and partners are delivering the highest results. And again, not just impressions and click-through rates. Of course, that helps the media planners and media strategists, but how do we connect that to activating our audience? As we now connect these dots, from plan to execution to measurement, we’re able to at least have transparency. Now we’re moving into a place where we’re going to start measuring ROI because we’ll connect our pipeline contribution to what we do on the media side. Leadership sees that and we’re able to place our investments in a more strategic way.
TK: It’s fantastic to hear you guys have been so successful down this path but I should bring up the dark side. I’m sure this process hasn’t all been rosy. What have you learned through bringing things in-house, whether hiring, staffing, training, change management, etc. Where have the difficulties been?
AP: We hired a lot of talented media strategists and planners from the agency world, and I think one of the big challenges that we’ve found through this process is, again, that B2C and B2B are not the same.
A lot of agencies will have a lot of talented people with most of their experience on the B2C side and some other B2B experience that is really just at the top of the funnel: brand awareness, which is ultimately very similar to what you can do in B2C. When it comes to the middle and bottom of the funnel – driving audiences to a pipeline conversation – that's where it’s been a challenge to train and make our strategists and planners aware and knowledgeable about connecting the dots. It’s just so easy to go back to the more impressions I get the better. The more clicks – no matter who clicked – the better. So that has been a challenge: shifting the minds of our team working on media strategy and planning.
The second biggest challenge we’ve encountered is that it’s not that easy to go and find partners we can put in our DSP platform – in Basis – that are going to work best for us. A lot of the back and forth with these partners and publishers is very B2C-oriented again. And when we go and ask about things that we care about, for example, “here are the global 2,000 accounts that I want to reach out to in the UK – help me understand how you can help me”, it takes just longer. When we wanted to onboard a partner in a week, it’s taking twice or three times as long.
These learnings are pushing us to document and start creating best practices internally to accelerate the pace in which we can bring in partners that can help us reach, engage, and convert the audiences we care about.
TK: And how do you approach education? That is the key. It’s going to be hard to find all these people and talent is scarce right now. Do you have an education program? Is that something that is ongoing?
AP: Centro helps us with the training in anything and everything related to the world of DSP, direct buys, media planning, and the technology itself. It has been very helpful because with much of the experience we’ve found – and a lot of the talent we’ve found – there was on-the-job training only. But now with the help of Basis, we’ve done a bunch of training and we’re going to be able to go to the next level up and spend more time on the strategy portion, empowering us to do more competitive analysis.
Again, if I go back to B2C, all the competitive tools that are out there are very B2C-oriented, so finding what we can leverage today and make usable for B2B – that’s the direction we're going to move the training in. On the planning, execution, and optimization side, we’ve got good maturity - our planners and strategists have done a good job with you guys through the training.
Now we want to move up. And so what does media strategy mean for B2B? It has a lot to do with market research and competitive analysis. Looking at intelligence tools and intelligence partners and talking to them and saying “100% of your platform may help a B2C company, but for us, we need to cherry-pick and say well this is not relevant for me, but this portion is – how can we complement with other things, whether that is more qualitative work or additional partners.”
TK: Lastly, if you could give the audience three nuggets of knowledge that you’ve embraced across this process over the last six to eight months. What would be your top three?
AP: We haven’t hadn’t a chance to touch on this, but data. For B2B, it is critical to move into first-party data because you have two worlds. You have the world of the persona you’re going after and the world of the company that they represent. So, one big nugget is having technologies and intelligence so you can create segments you can push out into the different advertisement placements that you’re putting in the market. Having the data and owning the data is super important – we’re creating a data lake that allows us to gather demographic and behavioral information so that we own it and then be more assertive and precise in the way we place our advertising. I want to get more out of every single dollar we put in the market. That’s a big takeaway for us.
The second. Account-based everything. A lot of account-based marketing is known as one-to-one. For B2B, there are a lot of technologies and tactics that you can use to do one-to-few, one-to-many, if you keep your audience constrained to the accounts where you want to create awareness, engagement, and conversion. Account-based everything is a lens that can be applied to processes and technology.
And the last portion is continuous innovation. As I described at the beginning, having a team that knows where we’re going and allowing them to bring ideas to the table and create healthy competition, healthy innovation in-house is super relevant. At some point, my goal is to be way better than any other agency could be if they were working for us. Why? Because with our business, we’re getting good at digital media so knowledge is key in all of us.
To learn more about how Basis can empower you with improved transparency, better targeting, and so much more, get in touch with us today!