In Cannes: five days in six key highlights

By Transmission |
9 minute read

In Cannes: five days in six key highlights

Transmission returned to the sunny shores of Cannes for a powerful agenda exploring the current state of B2B marketing, how we as an industry can move the creative needle, and what the future could have in store.

2023 saw the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity return bigger and more relevant for B2B than ever. Brands from across the globe came together to celebrate what game-changing creativity looks like in B2B industries – and of course, Transmission was there to put our stamp on the occasion.

Our return to the Croisette included a week-long programme packed to the brim with provoking panel debates, intimate fireside discussions, and honest conversations with some of the world’s leading B2B brands to get to the heart of the creative and brand challenges, opinions, and opportunities that lie ahead.

Here, we give you a run-through of the top six things we learned from our five days in Cannes:

1. We’re all aware of CMO-CFO misalignment

If we had to pick one reoccurring theme from our time on the French Riviera, it’d be that senior B2B Marketers are all too cognisant of the CMO-CFO divide.

It’s something our ‘Closing the CMO-CFO brand value gap in B2B’ report covers in detail. And in our week's opening panel with The Wall Street Journal, ‘Advocating for B2B Marketing Dollars During a Downturn’, our panellists went so far as to describe the relationship as “rocky at best”. So, how can CMOs bridge the gap in this undeniably difficult relationship?

Our exclusive dinner discussion with LinkedIn explored this topic and many others with an expert panel from The B2B Institute, HP, and an ex-CMO at Salesforce and Skype. Each panellist left their piece of advice to end the night, with one stand-out insight being, “A great CFO once said to me, “Just do what you said you were going to do”. It’s simple, Marketers need to deliver, be consistent, and prove it.” Easy, right?

Now, many of you are probably sitting there thinking you already do that – or if you don’t, that it’s easier said than done. And we get it. Budgets shift, hurdles happen, and things just get in the way. But that’s all the more reason why transparency and buy-in early on in the process are so vital.

When you get everyone on board with a single vision and a set route for achieving it, it becomes infinitely easier to resolve any potential roadblocks. Setting objectives at an organisational level from the outset is a crucial step in aligning the marketing and finance functions. However, an integral part of getting the most out of brand-building programmes requires CMOs to make the case for greater creativity.

2. The value of brand creativity in B2B is still up in the air

It’s the same conversation we’ve been having for years in B2B. Why do B2B business leaders seem so reluctant to recognise the value and importance of brand and creativity? How can B2B get out of its risk-averse ways? And is it really better to be safe than sorry? One thing was for sure, there was definitely an appetite for braver brand marketing in the air throughout the week.

In a CMO lunch hosted by B2B Marketing, we found that mismatched opinions of brand’s value on the business are driving part of the creativity issue. And perhaps tellingly, our report uncovered the startling finding that 84% of CFOs are still under the ‘product delusion’.

Unlike our B2C cousins, senior B2B leaders don’t seem to fully understand the value brand initiatives play in keeping their business front of mind in their audience – with questions around creativity coming as a direct consequence of this line of thinking. This is reflected by the fact that 76% of B2B CFOs still believe it’s better to have a safe and reliable brand than a bold, disruptive one.

Companies like Pepsi and Burger King have no problem investing in brand because they understand the value brand initiatives have in keeping their product front of mind in their audience. It’s a long-term play that reaps dividends beyond a year or two. But it takes patience and a commitment to marketing spend that businesses are often reluctant to give – a challenge compounded by the nature of today’s world of immediacy.

If we want to secure those hard-earned marketing dollars for our brand programmes, one piece of advice from our session with The Wall Street Journal was to bring CFOs early in the creative and innovation process. This could help show where the money is being spent and that Marketers aren’t just throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

Inviting them into the creative room would help foster a greater appreciation of the thought, strategy, and hard work that goes into building stand out – especially in B2B markets that are hyper-competitive and lacking distinction.

It’s all about showing our Finance counterparts that, in a sea of sameness, it pays to be bold. That being brave with brand isn’t a leap of faith when it’s an authentically creative expression of your brand’s mission. And most importantly, it’s about showing that bravery isn’t investing in brand itself – it’s leading the charge.

3. Brand budgets won’t increase until CFOs trust their CMOs

As an industry, we’ve long talked about the need for CMOs to speak ‘CFO-ese’ to build a stronger business case for greater brand budgets. But as with all relationship-based challenges, it needs to be a two-way street.

In our report, we found that more than half of CFOs don’t view brand marketing as a critical activity. Difficulties in measuring the commercial effectiveness of brand play a huge part in the uphill struggle CMOs face to secure greater brand-building budgets, sure. But this challenge becomes more acute when considering, “the CFO is there to support the CEO. To build that alignment, you need to support the CEO. Make that triangle work”, according to one of our panellists in our session with LinkedIn.

Another of our speakers stressed that “Marketing needs to increase its financial literacy; Finance needs to increase its marketing literacy.” For CFOs, that starts by reframing expectations about what brand marketing programmes can achieve – and more importantly, in what length of time.

A lot of the discourse surrounding Marketers’ inability to tie brand to revenue growth is centred on the fact that it doesn’t have a clear ROI that fits inside a fiscal year. This ties into a key theme throughout our week at Cannes in that CMOs don’t feel like they’re being given adequate time to measure their brand programmes.

Our report found that 57% of CFOs think the optimum measurement period is under 12 months compared to the 52% of CMOs that say it’s 12-18. To overcome these unrealistic expectations from their finance counterparts, CMOs need to start educating their CFOs on the brand metrics to measure, in dashboards that clearly track uplift, in timeframes that give brand a chance to shine.

However, budgets and measurement challenges are only half of the question when it comes to getting the most out of brand in B2B. Standing out and differentiating yourself in the marketplace has never been solely about spending more – it’s about taking a creative approach to brand building. So, on that note, let’s explore what came out of the several fascinating sessions exploring the state of B2B creativity at Cannes.

4. B2B’s obsession with targeting could be killing our creative concepts

Another interesting point to come out of our time in Cannes was the view that hyper-targeting and hyper-structured processes could be “beating the joy” out of brilliant creative ideas.

B2B purchase decisions involve a complex and long-winding journey as groups of decision makers research and discuss their options over months to years. The processes organisations take to ensure their products and solutions are bought have been built to accommodate this reality – with targeting and personalisation natural responses to an increasingly non-linear buyer journey.

But how many creative ideas are borne in rigid, highly structured environments? The stereotypes about creatives speak for themselves, but David Ogilvy put it best:

“The creative process requires more than reason… The majority of business men are incapable of original thinking because they are unable to escape from the tyranny of reason. Their imaginations are blocked.”

Our industry’s focus on targeting the right person, at the right time, with the right message, on the right channel works when a business is actively looking for a solution. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of broad, creative ideas that pique our audience’s interests and build the familiarity necessary for consideration.

When your audience knows who you are, they’re much more likely to trust what you offer. Think about the dozens of sales messages you receive every week from companies you’ve never heard of. They could be selling the best solution on the market. But direct comms without the emotional and memory priming brand building facilitates is never enough to make you part with your money.

In B2B, we always hear about the ‘rational decision maker’. Spend per purchase is higher and there’s more on the line if you make a mistake. The thing is, The B2B Institute found that B2B marketing strategies that appeal to audience’s emotions drive seven times larger business effects than those without.

Rational persuasion works well in short-term sales activation. But for long-term brand building where businesses need to create the right mental associations, brands need to be engaging and attention-grabbing. Not only does this highlight the need to be known in your market, but it also underlines the role that creativity plays in trust-building and decision-making processes. 

Unfortunately, it looks like CMOs have an uphill struggle on their hands, with 68% of CFOs of the belief that brands grow best through relevancy and not reach. If you’d like to learn more, we dive deeper into bridging the creativity gap in B2B here.

5. All aboard the B2B Endeavour

Day three saw us set sail on a series of focused discussions around all things B2B marketing. Hosted aboard Transmission’s ‘B2B Endeavour’ yacht, the exclusively curated agenda saw us hold panel discussions, interviews, and networking sessions with our partners from B2B Marketing, Snowflake, LinkedIn, and VidMob.

First up was a fascinating debate hosted by B2B Marketing and Snowflake with CMOs from NetApp, AutoStore, and Lookout around planning marketing solutions for a new era. Without change, yesterday’s innovators become tomorrow’s dinosaurs. So, we explored how marketing leaders are embracing AI to unlock greater creativity and productivity, as well as the team structure reshuffles a focus on RevOps could bring.

We also covered topics like embracing ESG for more sustainable growth, how buyer enablement works, how it differs from sales enablement (hint: it’s a key part of the modern purchase process), and whether Marketing needs to own future planning and foresight. An extremely insightful start to the day!

After, we looked at the role of data and metrics in brand and demand effectiveness alongside senior experts from Snowflake, Henkel, and Enfuce. In what was an absorbing discussion, we covered the need for greater recognition of the right KPIs (and timeframes!) for brand-building programmes, how data can best shape our strategic approach to audience segmentation, targeting, and personalisation, and what effectiveness really means for both kinds of campaigns.

Then, following a short break for networking and a delicious lunch, we discussed how to create buzz that drives results with LinkedIn, Korn Ferry, and HP. The conversation was framed through the lens of ‘left brain’ and ‘right brain’ marketing – exploring why having a balanced approach to campaign planning that addresses both our rational, analytical and more emotion-driven, creative sides is the key to long-term success.

It was an enlightening talk about how left and right-brain thinking can shape strategy. And most importantly, how marketing teams can start showcasing results to the business that go beyond standard brand uplift, impression, and click metrics.

Finally, we held a panel discussion on ‘Measuring marketing activation effectiveness’ with VidMob and Enfuce to wrap up our time at sea. We explored which B2B marketing channels and platforms are helping or hurting the impact of our marketing efforts – including a conversation around the unknown errors and oversights marketing teams make when creating and activating programmes in-market, and strategies to ensure we improve the value and ROI of activation spend.

6. Generative AI won’t replace us (yet), but it has its place in the creative process

Before we had Word, we had teams of Copywriters tapping away at typewriters for hours on end. Before Photoshop, we had designers cropping images with razor blades, waxing down elements of an ad – only to start the process again if the client decided they wanted something to change. And before generative AI, we have, well, what we have today.

AI felt like the topic du jour at this year’s Cannes Lions, with industry behemoths in and around the Palais each giving their perspective on what to expect from 2023’s next big thing. Obviously, Transmission was involved in those conversations in an exciting discussion with Google titled, ‘The Commercial Value of Generative AI in Creativity’ alongside our Creative Director, EMEA, Andrew O’Sullivan and VP Media, Paul Cowin.

In a thought-provoking session exploring what some view as an existential threat to creativity, we covered the risks and realities of its use for B2B Marketers and creatives today, as well as what it means for the creative process and human creativity on the whole. First up, an exploration of what it means for time.

New technologies have always come in, disrupted, and eventually settled into workflows to make them more efficient. And it’s a sentiment Andrew echoed towards AI:

“If you ask any creative what they could do more with, it’s time.” He went on to say, “The insurgence of AI now facilitates more time to think, imagine, and create.”

Until now, the adcept stage of creative thinking often involved creating scamps to portray the big idea behind a campaign. However, with generative AI, creatives across the industry will no longer need to rush to create tens of ideas, go through rounds of amends, and spend hours producing variations of the same ad.

The view that the back-and-forth early in the briefing process could be gone for good was a common opinion among our panellists. Generative AI can help us create the perfect vision in minutes, allowing creative teams to show clients a close-to-final idea in a fraction of the time – allowing for rapid iterating before adding a vital human touch. It blurs the boundaries of what’s possible by giving us unparalleled freedom in the creative process. A freedom that could be crushing.

AI has the potential to take time-intensive, labour-heavy tasks off our plates, enabling us to focus on our actual roles. In fact, one of our speakers explained it was the thinking behind Google’s integration of their Bard offering into Google Slides. However, how will creatives fare with absolute free reign and a blank page in front of them?

Only time will tell. But we’ll leave you with a poignant quote from Andrew to sign off:

“If you work with AI to create something great, you have nothing to fear. But if you’re creating something average, you will be replaced.”

Want to get to the heart of our discussions at Cannes?

Download our ‘Closing the CMO-CFO brand value gap in B2B’ report to how to start addressing the B2B brand fears, doubts, and uncertainties held by B2B CMOs and CFOs today.