Not everything that can be counted really counts


As marketers, our goal should not be to count clicks; it should be to build collective confidence in the products we are selling say Mimi Turner, Head of EMEA for the B2B Institute at LinkedIn and Jann Schwarz, Founder of the B2B Institute.

In the 2011 movie Moneyball, Jonah Hill’s character, based on real-life baseball analyst Paul Podesta, delivers a monologue that is as relevant to marketers today as it was to baseball players when it was originally delivered to Oakland Athletics manager Billy Beane in 2001.

He says: “There is an epidemic failure in this game to understand what is really happening…and that leads the people who run Major League Baseball teams to misjudge their players and to mismanage their teams. People who run baseball clubs think in terms of buying players. But, your goal should not be to buy players. It should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to be buying runs.”

Podesta went on to reinvent the way that baseball teams picked players using this totally different frame of view.

What has this to do with marketers? Well, there is an epidemic failure in our industry to understand what is really happening, and this failure does lead the people who run marketing budgets – especially B2B ones – to misjudge their campaigns and misinterpret their outcomes.

The point of marketing investment should be to build mental availability across buying groups, so that those groups develop, over time, a sort of “collective confidence” in a product. “Collective confidence” is what happens when potential buyers have a general awareness of the brand and understand the problem it solves.

But many people who run B2B marketing budgets think that marketing is about buying engagements and clicks. To misquote Jonah Hill’s character, the goal for marketers should not be to buy clicks, it should be to buy collective confidence in our products. And in order to buy that collective confidence, we need to buy the memory structures that connect the buyer to the brand.

We already know that if a brand isn’t in people’s minds when they enter a buying process, it will not make the Day One shortlist. As results from a famous B2B buyer study by Bain have shown, 90% of buyers who go through the whole buying process including discovery and evaluation, eventually choose a vendor from their DAY ONE list. If you aren’t on that list, you aren’t going to be chosen.

And, unlike a personal purchase which ultimately has to be agreed by just one person, B2B buying decisions are dispersed, complex and professionally consequential. Making – or recommending – the wrong purchase decision has career-limiting outcomes! Because of this, the tendency to make a ‘safe’ group decision vs a novel one is very strong.

This behavioural bias (loss aversion) exposes unfamiliar brands to a much deeper degree of scepticism and interrogation than ones that a buying group already feels comfortable with. It’s not surprising that the best B2B tagline (that never was) is “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.”

There is safety in numbers in choosing a brand that many others have already chosen, hence the asymmetric value of being a category leader. Having collective confidence in a product is a big step towards de-risking the purchase decision – because it reduces anxiety.

If you want to build collective confidence in your brand, you have to communicate the value it creates for the user in a low cognitive-load way that can be understood by people who are only vaguely paying attention. This is best achieved by making a promise that your customers value and understand.

As our recent Customer Promise research from WARC, The B2B Institute and Roger Martin showed, building collective confidence in the form of having customer promise that customers value and understand is incredibly effective. Crucially, as you can see from the chart below – referencing the Creative Effectiveness Ladder – the value of a clear Customer Promise compounds over time.

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In B2B buying, the group buyer dynamics make it important for the many different people who end up playing a role in the purchase to have an idea of what that customer promise is. Otherwise that product – however good – risks being rejected by the immune system of the group.

The next phase of our research will evaluate a dataset of B2B campaigns over the past ten years and look at the kinds of promises that drive a general sense of confidence, and will be able to compare how customer promises work across B2B and B2C.

To build collective confidence with B2B buyers before they begin a buying process should be the ultimate objective of every B2B marketing strategy. That means focusing on memory structures and optimizing for the kind of customer promise that cuts through.

If we want to de-risk the B2B buying process and navigate the complex buyer group landscape, we have to reinvent B2B marketing so that collective confidence is the outcome. And we won’t do that by harvesting clicks. We have to stop buying players. And start buying runs.

To find out more, see “Making a Promise to the Customer: How to give campaigns a competitive edge” by WARC, The B2B Institute at LinkedIn and Roger Martin.

And listen to our Promise to the Customer podcast series on WARC Talks:

  1. Explaining the framework
  2. Proving it works
  3. Applying the model in real life
  4. Where next for the research?

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