At Embrace, in our work with global B2B companies, we’ve found great value in testing creative work to generate real insight and opinion from the people that matter. Yet a surprising study by market research company DVJ found that over 50% of marketers in Europe don’t test their ads before launch and rely on ‘gut feel’ instead. When priority is given to what the client and creative team ‘like’ over what the target audience responds well to, the results can fall flat. Consumer advertising is littered with ‘tone deaf’ examples, from the 2017 Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner, seen by many to trivialise the global protest movement, to this year’s John Lewis Christmas ad, which sparked controversy for not featuring any males in the household group. 

It's hard to please everyone that has an opinion on the big consumer brands, but the world of B2B marketing is very different. You are dealing with specific audiences, from asset managers to health care professionals. By enlisting them to feedback on your creative ideas, it’s feasible to do targeted research and find out what will land and what misses the mark.  

Reasons to invest in market research 

There are two main reasons to test creative. Firstly, it helps you validate a positioning or creative concept. Rather than relying on gut instinct alone, you can run your ideas past real target audiences before allocating budget to it. It also helps you refine the concept, so you can fine tune creative assets down the line to make sure they’re working hard and can stand the test of time. It’s easy to skip the testing step, but then two years down the line, you may not be hitting targets. It far better, if you can find the budget, to do some testing and support the ongoing success of your campaign or activity.  

Overcoming assumptions  

We’ve had some eye-opening results through market research that have blown away our assumptions and trumped our learnings as creatives. For example, in split testing a campaign for a dressing used by health care professionals, we had a favourite that we thought was clever and snappy. But feedback came back that it came across as ‘arrogant’ as it didn’t give enough credence to their hard-won expertise. Using information from the survey, we reworked the campaign with a new focus on their knowledge and working practice.  

Doing more ethnographic research allows us to get past our own assumptions and bias as creatives. Marketing guru Mark Ritson says the first rule of marketing is you are not the customer. Creatives and marketers need to let consumer insight guide them, rather than making their own judgements on behalf of the target audience. We follow his school of thought, that we need to assume we know nothing – empty ourselves, and then it’s our job to fill that hole with data.  

We often work with in-house marketing teams who have a deep understanding of who they’re talking to. As a creative agency, we can use this in targeted research as part of our process to deliver highly effective assets.   

Uncovering cultural differences 

Creative testing can help you find out what works best for different audience segments and markets. With multi-country campaigns, it allows you to adjust the creative to local nuances, while keeping the ethos of the brand at centre stage. In our work on brand proposition with one of our financial services clients, we had whittled down a few routes, and tested it with the target markets across different territories to check if it was resonating. It was interesting to see the differing opinion between the US, Europe and APAC and the cultural differences that came into play. It gave us some interesting insights to help us to refine the narrative.   


Testing creative in B2B can help to: 

  • Validate a positioning 
  • Refine a creative concept 
  • Get past our own bias and assumptions
  • Find out what works best for different audience segments and markets
  • Successfully adjust creative to local nuances

By providing hard data to base decisions on, research like this proves to be a sound investment. It guards against costly missteps and supports more effective campaigns that resonate with the people who matter – the target audience. 

If you’d like to talk to us about creative for B2B marketing, do get in touch.