The decline of B2B and the rise of B2H communications

In 2014 we saw many companies and brands not traditionally viewed as highly creative win at Cannes International Festival of Creativity. Phil Thomas, CEO of Cannes noted the trend of more B2B companies winning awards in his 2014 wrap-up. Was this an anomaly or was the beginning of a trend in communications?

We would argue it is a trend and that it started before Cannes; it has changed the way we are working with many of our clients at H+K and is one of the drivers behind the ‘Center of Creative Strategy’ in our agency. It is the rise in business to human communications (B2H).

It started and was made famous by the ‘Volvo Trucks, Epic Split’ campaign featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme and two carefully driven Volvo trucks. To date it has received 80m views making it the most watched automotive commercial on You-Tube ever.


We expect to see this trend continue this year and will no doubt see many more Lions awarded to unexpected companies. What is driving this change? There are three areas or trends and a fourth fact that is making it possible.

1. Blurred audiences.
We can be a different and yet connected audience simultaneously.
The way we consumer and categories content has changed.

The lines between our professional and personal lives continue to blur; we can move from the latest Netflix series to a white paper on Government policy by clicking a tab on our computer, from Facebook to the Fast Company with a swipe on our mobile and from the BBC iPlayer to Skype at the press of a button on our TV. Content is on demand and we can choose to consume it when and where we choose. Flexible working and an always-on world means that we are finding new variations in our work life balance; we can be a mother and a CEO simultaneously. The one thing that remains constant in both our professional and personal lives is that we are human.

Behavioural science shows us that the drivers of our decision making processes remain remarkable consistent. We are not more ‘rational’ decision makers in our professional lives that in our personal lives, in fact in both areas we are making decisions with the same drivers, with emotions being a greater driver that we might at times like to admit.

2. Audience investigators.
Transparency of the internet is demanding authenticity in communications and a need to communicate a clearly defined purpose.

It is no longer only investigative journalists that are finding out the truth about a brand or company. Anyone with access to the internet is now an investigator of your story. 

As Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever described it:

‘Businesses are under the same scrutiny as governments, and so if you want to be successful in tomorrow’s world, you have to reach higher levels of trust, which requires more transparency.

This is driving the need to align your communications and to connect with all your audiences to tell your real story, your real purpose and the reason that your company exists in the world beyond delivering shareholder value. It no longer makes sense to have different communications strategies for multiple stakeholders. We need strategies that align corporate, CSR, internal and consumer communications, one that humanizes the brand.

3. Changing influence.
Everyone is an influencer; from the media to our children; from experts to our friends.

The insight behind the Volvo Trucks campaign was that purchasing decisions around trucks was as much driven by friends and family as the dealer. The impact of tapping into a wider influencer group was proven with surveys showing that almost half of truck drivers who had seen the ‘Live Test Film’ indicated that they were more likely to buy a Volvo next time they buy a truck.
Another example is the award winning campaign ‘Dumb Ways to Die,’ a campaign for Metro Rail based in Australia to promote safety on the railway.

The campaign won many awards at Cannes in 2013 but the value of influence was made clear to me while preparing a presentation at home. I live in a small village with 400 houses in the Buckinghamshire countryside. My two daughters aged 9 and 5 attend the small village school.
Whilst preparing my ‘Cannes Wrap Up’ presentation I was playing the freshly awarded ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ film in my study. On hearing the soundtrack my two daughters came in and sang along. I stopped the film and they continued to the end.

“But, how do you know the words” I asked,
“Oh, we all sing this song and play the game at school Daddy,” was the answer.

Perhaps more impressive is that if I stand on the white line at the edge of the platform my daughters pull me back from the edge, lecturing me on the dangers of standing close to the tracks. 

Everyone is an influencer.

dumb ways to die

These three trends mean that we have been developing new communications strategies for our clients. They connect with multiple audiences and place the companies ‘Purpose’ at their heart. Our business to human (B2H) communication strategies balance human and cultural truths with brand and category insights and deliver a consistent message across all channels. No matter what the sector the most effective communications have creativity, innovation and insight at the core.

io. A new consultancy in the oil and gas sector (client) 

But there is one more fact that is enabling more creative work, our clients themselves. It is not just the agencies that have seen this opportunity but also clients. This means that we are able bring learning’s from our B2C clients to bear on their campaigns and in many cases their internal structures are more ‘nimble’ that their B2C cousins allowing us to deliver these integrated campaigns more effectively.

Our Visa Europe client, Diane Scott, Director Media & Corporate Affairs put it perfectly when commenting of the Holmes Report on Creativity, 2015.

‘We’re all aware of today’s trends: doing more with less, audience fragmentation and blurring, proliferation of channels, time poor journalists and the rise of ‘citizen journalism’, increasingly discerning audiences, the list goes on.  They mean that as a client we have to be braver, we want to test and learn and we want to work with agencies that challenge us.  I want to see agencies step forward with big ideas and the same level of creativity whatever sector or audience we are working in.  I believe this represents an exciting opportunity and it’s good to see agencies progressing in the right direction.’

This is the age of B2H communications and long may it continue.

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search