Redefining: B2B

In the latest edition of our quarterly Joined-up Thinking magazine, experts from across MSQ have looked at the issues redefining our industry in 2021. We’ll be serialising the magazine over the next few weeks – with today’s article by Stein IAS Chairman Tom Stein, focusing on redefining B2B.


The term struck me when I first heard it and it has stayed with me ever since. It was expressed during a call with the CMO of one of the world’s leading communications network brands – a long-time, class act B2B marketer. It was used by said CMO to describe what has happened in B2B marketing over the past 10 months. “A great reawakening,” were his exact words

Many B2B marketers on the brand side and many agency peers deeply involved in B2B have expressed similar sentiments, in similar terms. “Renaissance.” Renewal.” “Resurgence.” Strong words, all. But they all somewhat miss the point.

B2B marketing has not in fact “reawakened.” In truth, it was never awake enough to be reawakened. These past months, though, it has in many ways (and long last) awoke. And the pandemic has been the great big bucket of ice water responsible.

B2B as an industry sector does not move as quickly as B2C. Then again, B2B is neither as flighty nor as beholden to the flavor of the day as consumer marketing. But B2B has evolved and with increasing pace. The ascendance of digital marketing and advent of martech have been the forcing factors. But the factor that has accelerated its evolution is the same one that has accelerated dynamic change in many industries – the pandemic.

The B2B world has been tested by the pandemic. B2B marketers have been tested by the pandemic. Largely and perhaps counter intuitively, they have been vitalized by the pandemic. Presented with an enormous challenge – the loss of traditional, mainstay physical channels (think no further than the sprawling trade shows long synonymous with B2B) – B2B marketing has had to reimagine itself.

So then, what is B2B no longer? It is no longer a sales support function. It no longer lives a tier below the perceived high-impact functions in an enterprise. It is no longer short on style and mired in technical detail. It is no longer tactical and short-term, only as good as the last batch of leads thrown into sales’ mawing abyss.

What is B2B reimagined? It is the companies that saved the global economy (not to mention millions upon millions of lives) during Covid. The life sciences that successfully engineered the “moonshot” of vaccine development and deployment. The fintech platforms that kept markets moving. The supply chain businesses that bent but never broke. The food processing companies that kept the world fed. The technology companies that put digital acceleration in hyper drive.

More specifically, what is B2B marketing reimagined? It is brand strategy that went from the bottom of B2B CMOs’ care-abouts* to the top, because there is no place for lazy, inside-out positioning and messaging in today’s world. It is brand activism, because social justice matters every bit as much to B2B businesses as to consumer businesses. It is creativity and content experiences delivered at a higher level than ever before, because empathy, humanity and trust have risen to their rightful level.

It is brand-to-demand equilibrium – the acknowledgment that building brands for the long-term drives growth over the long term. And that demand creation fills pipelines while contributing to brand momentum. It is digital transformation and acceleration – digital marketing transformation, digital business transformation, digital CX transformation. It the ethical sourcing of data, used to actually provide value to customers.

Most of all, B2B redefined is B2B people who imagine themselves just a little bit differently. With justified confidence and a hint of swagger. With great, collective pride in what has been accomplished, while always acknowledging the necessary accomplishments ahead.

I’ve been involved in B2B my entire career, one that’s spanned more than three decades. I long imagined this moment would come for B2B. Now, it has. Reimagine that.

Tom Stein is the Chairman and Chief Client Officer of Stein IAS.

This article appears in the upcoming version of Joined-up Thinking Magazine. Get hold of an advanced copy by emailing