Hey B2B Marketers, It’s Not All About AI

There’s so much chatter about AI, it was refreshing to hear people talking about people at this year’s B2BMX conference. Across sessions and conversations, our team heard many impassioned appeals to tap the power of actual relationships with, you know, humans.

It definitely resonated.

We’re still in process mode, but here are some of the big takeaways from the event:

1. Have some fun (and maybe get a little weird).

“We have to do things that are different,” said Dan Gingiss, chief experience officer at The Experience Maker. “We have to touch on people’s senses and emotions so they remember us.”

U.K. spirit maker Sipsmith, for example, created a pop-up that allowed visitors to create their very own bespoke gin drink, right down to the tonic, the garnish and even the name. That can be harder with B2B brands, “but not impossible,” he said. Case in point: Cisco released a guidebook to protect against cyberthreats — but as a comic book.

“You don’t have to choose between entertainment and education in our B2B,” said Ann Handley, chief content officer at MarketingProfs. “Weird gets a bad rap.”

2. Show up as a human.

It’s a very tumultuous time for marketers, said Jay Mandel, founder of Your Brand Coach. But he also issued a blunt warning: “Stop thinking AI is the answer.”

Marketers need to build a realistic buyer’s journey. “No one is a captive audience going down a funnel these days,” he said. Marketers should tell a story, with your customers as the hero. And your marketing has to feel authentic. “You need a movement — a movement aligned to your core values and those of your company.”

B2B marketers shouldn’t be afraid to show their humanity, said Handley. “We have to show up as people. We talk about data, tools and technology. But we need to show up authentically.”

3. Your content better be good — and it better provide real value.

B2B marketers should think about “what customers want versus what you want to put out there,” said Phyllis Davidson, VP, principal analyst at Forrester.

There’s a real lack of content strategy, which means that “the content that most of us as vendors create is not really loved by our audiences,” she said. Forrester found that 61% of vendors say B2B marketers offer too much material — and over 50% of buyers called it “extraneous.” The risk? 77% of customers are unlikely to expand contracts if content isn’t valuable or helpful. That number jumped 10 percentage points between 2022 and 2023.

Her advice? Be more like Taylor Swift: “She’s a risk-taker. She’s experimenting. She’s doing what we all should be doing.”

That experimentation will no doubt include AI, with content creation requiring increasingly less intervention from people. But, it turns out you “still need humans in the equation,” Davidson said.

AI can (obviously) generate content — but it’s “content that looks like everyone’s content,” said Jake Sanders, content marketing manager at NinjaCat. The antidote? Talk to your customers, find out what they want and then deliver the content they want.

4. It’s not about brand versus demand.

“We’re at the stage in our B2B marketing maturity that we can put down our swords and agree that demand is most effective when it’s supported by brand,” said Ruth Stevens, president of eMarketing Strategy.

Brand awareness opens doors and builds trust. While B2B marketers have been “focused on the get,” it’s that trust that retains clients.

What does all that mean? Keep an eye on AI for sure, but humans (and their weird and wonderful ways) will always be what makes marketing really work.