MarketingProfs B2B Forum 2023

Feeling B2B with Ann Handley: A B2B Marketing Expert Interview

Are You Feeling B2B?

Have you ever thought about what makes B2B marketing special? 

Because there is something about it, isn’t there? There’s a certain…feeling to B2B marketing that those of us who live in it day to day inherently understand. 

We collaborated with MarketingProfs B2B Forum partner, TopRank Marketing, to explore that feeling with top experts in B2B marketing today.

Check out this special “Feeling B2B” series, hosted by TopRank Marketing co-founder Lee Odden. 

Join Ann Handley to learn why B2B marketing is so unique, why she could never be an actuary, and what she loves most about programming B2B Forum.

Video Transcript for Feeling B2B with Ann Handley

Lee Odden: Welcome to the Feeling B2B show, a limited interview series featuring conversations with some of the top B2B voices in the marketing industry. Brought to you by the fine folks at MarketingProfs B2B Forum. I’m Lee Odden, your host, and today we are speaking with none other than the Queen of  content and B2B marketing, as far as I’m concerned, Ann Hanley. Ann is a longtime friend, dog mom to Augie, tiny house owner, and marketing influencer, loved by millions, millions.

Ann Handley: Millions! Wow.

Lee Odden: Yes. But wait, there’s more. Ann is also a Wall Street Journal bestselling author, global keynote speaker, publisher of an exceptional marketing newsletter which of course you can  find at, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs. And of course, she’s the brains behind the programming at the MarketingProfs B2B forum coming up in October. Welcome to Feeling B2B Ann. 

Ann Handley: Oh my God. I am feeling it after that generous intro. How are you today, Lee? 

Lee Odden: I’m great. Are you ready to talk about your B2B feelings? 

Ann Handley: I am ready. We’re going to get all up in our feelings today.

Lee Odden: So let’s kick it off. What do you love most about B2B marketing? 

Ann Handley: Geez, what do I love most about B2B marketing? I mean, honestly, we have what, three, four hours to talk about just this first question, right? No, I mean, there’s so much that I really deeply love about business to business marketing, but I think the thing that I love the most is that it’s always changing. If you had asked me this question five years ago and you said, let’s talk about tactics and opportunities, I would have a very different answer than I do here in 2023. So I think the evolution of B2B marketing, the way that it constantly challenges us as B2B marketers is one of the things that truly keeps me engaged and energized. I would never have a career that was over 20 years if I worked in say, I don’t  know, finance or if I were an actuary, no shame to financial people, CFOs, or actuaries, but I just wouldn’t be engaged in quite the same way. I feel like I would’ve done a midlife career shift already. I would’ve been like, all right, I get it. Let’s move on. But the thing about B2B marketing is that you never, ultimately, you really never get it totally. And what I mean by that is that because there’s always new opportunities, there’s always new tools and tactics and challenges that come up, and that’s truly what fuels me. And I also think about what fuels all of us as B2B marketers. 

Lee Odden: Absolutely. It’s always exciting times in the B2B world, and there’s always something new,  something changing, like you say, and what’s not to love about that? We all know about that quote from  Maya Angelou. People will forget what you said, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. Something to that effect. What role do you think this idea of feelings plays in modern B2B  marketing? 

Ann Handley: Yeah. Oh my gosh. I think it’s enormous. We often associate B2B marketing with much more straightforward. It’s all about the data, and it’s all about we sell solutions and we sell software, or we’re in manufacturing and we sell a service, or whatever the case may be. But I think ultimately, the opportunity in B2B to think about telling the stories in a way that will truly connect with those that we seek to serve is so much richer than it is in almost any other kind of marketing. If you are going to CVS and you’re going to pick out a piece of chewing gum, you’re not going to think about how Big Red versus Juicy Fruit makes you feel, right? Instead, I think it’s much more about just sort of what your, it’s more of a snap in the moment decision, right? Also, there’s no great stakes. 

But I think the opposite is true in B2B marketing where we do need to think pretty deeply about how these services and solutions, if you will, fit into our lives. How will they make our lives better, not only as people, but also within organizations. And so the stakes are higher. I think that the emotional resonance ultimately can be a lot deeper. And what does that mean? I think it’s incumbent on us to think about how we bring in some emotion into B2B marketing because people’s lives and their jobs are on the line every single day. And so that’s a pretty high stakes environment. There’s lots of feelings all up in there. So what does that mean? I think that there’s lots of opportunities to really embrace emotions in B2B marketing. 

Lee Odden: Yeah, totally. Totally. We’ve all heard that adage, people, they make decisions based on emotion, justify with logic, and I dunno, when you think about the buying committee, there are other humans involved. There’s consensus that you have to achieve when making recommendations and things like  that. There’s emotions involved with that. The more people that are involved, and I love what you said about storytelling, because there’s another expression, facts tell, story sell. Right? And what better  method is there to connect with people on an emotional level than through effective storytelling? 

Ann Handley: Yes. Yes. I’ve never given a speech, I’ve never written a newsletter, a blog post, or published anything that a few years down the line when I bump into somebody at an event or when I have a conversation with somebody—what they remember from all of those interactions with me is usually a story that I told. And if you extrapolate that more broadly, it’s exactly what you just said. It’s like stories sell. They stick in our brains. We remember them at a much higher degree than we do just say a bunch of facts or features about a B2B solution or a B2B tool. And so I think it’s incumbent on us to really harness that power and that opportunity.

Lee Odden: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. For a lot of content creators and marketers, gen AI, generative AI, artificial intelligence, represents a sort of threat, but in some ways you have embraced it. I’m curious, what advice do you have for coming over to the dark side? Just kidding. What advice do you have for marketers trying to make sense of AI and content?

Ann Handley: Yeah, I don’t think of it as a threat, honestly. I did go through this sort of Kubler-Ross five stages of grief or seven stages of grief where I got to some pretty dark places when chat GPT came on the scene.  November 30th, 2022 is a date that is burned in my brain because I remember that feeling of, okay, well, it’s been a good run. Guess I better go become an actuary now because my life in B2B marketing is done. It’s over. I have nothing left. If I am showing up as a writer and a creative every day, and if that’s what ultimately engages me, then what does that mean in a world where the robots are writing for us? And so I had to work through that on my own, but ultimately what I came to is that I came out the other side with a definite feeling of acceptance. 

But more than that, I would say actually some excitement around it because I see it as much more of an  opportunity for us to create in a way that is unprecedented really. And I know those are some big words, but I really do believe that I think of generative AI more as an efficiency tool that I do as a straight up writing tool, what we call them writing tools, because that’s an easy way to talk about them. But I see them much more as efficiency accelerators more than anything else in B2B marketing. So yeah, so  that’s how I think of it. Again, we could talk about this for another three or four hours, but at a high level, that’s how I think about it. 

Lee Odden: Sure, sure. No, thank you for that. I think there are a lot of folks in that situation of trying to make sense out of this technology, what does it mean to them? And we’ve both been around for a little while, and we remember when things like social media were brand new, and there was a sort of phase that a lot of folks went through where they’re like, it’s just, what is it? Who cares about the old taking photos of my food? And obviously it’s a pretty big platform and it’s ubiquitous in how people communicate these days. And I think gen AI is the same way. It’s that we’re just getting started really with the plugins and add-ons and things that really can help optimize tasks and creativity. I got to give a presentation on gen AI and content when I was abroad recently, and the thing that stood out with a lot of people was this idea of gen AI makes you more what you are, kind of like if you were a broke jerk and you get a lot of money, you’re just a rich jerk. If you put crap into a gen AI platform, you’re going to get crap out. So a lot of people that are sort of not really seeing it, aren’t really necessarily maybe bringing  the imagination, I feel like, to the situation and having the imagination of what’s possible. And that’s the people that do are really seeing those productivity gains and creativity gains. 

Ann Handley: Yeah, I love that. Yeah, I think that is so accurate. I love what you just said about how it amplifies more  of who we are at our core, and I think that’s where I had to get to when I went through those five stages of grief to get to acceptance. And now I’ve used it very much as a or am using it very much as a, well, I call it my fairy godmother. It’s the kind of thing where I have no idea how to start this presentation. True story. Recently I spoke to a group of entrepreneurs, but also their spouses at an event in Missouri. And  I’m used to speaking to business audiences, but I thought spouses, I have no idea how to speak to this audience, but who really helped me there to talk through almost like a fairy godmother, to help me talk through what does this audience need, what are the elements of what I talk about with AI that actually would be relevant to a broader audience, enormously helpful. 

Now, I could have done some market research. I could have called up some of the spouses and spoke to  them one on one, and yeah, that probably would’ve been great too, but it was an enormous time saver just for me to ask chatGPT, what should I be thinking about with this audience? And that doesn’t mean that it did the work for me, but it gave me a starting point. And that’s the piece that is so critical. It can really give you a launch pad to make your ideas bigger or make them richer. And that’s where I think the true value is for so many of us. I think that’s what we need to unlock as B2B marketers.

Lee Odden: Absolutely. So on top of the awesome advice you’re giving right now, there’s going to be programming at the B2B Forum on gen AI, right? I mean, I started to see, or I’ve noticed that quite a bit in the program, lots of folks talking from various angles, which is great to see. So people can look forward to that. If you want to get your questions answered about gen AI and content and B2B marketing, B2B Forum is the place to be. What are you looking forward to most this year? 

Ann Handley: Well, a couple things. I mean, we have fantastic momentum this year. Last year was our first year back in person after a few years off because of Covid. And so last year it was a little tricky. It was a little hard for us. It was a building year, but this year we are on track to sell out. I feel really great about that. We’ve got some really nice momentum. 

Lee Odden: Congratulations. 

Ann Handley: And along with that, thanks. Along with that, I think we’re seeing a lot, there’s just lots of new ideas and new sessions at the Forum, like you mentioned that there’s a whole lot more of AI that’s sort of woven throughout the program because that is very much how B2B marketers are experiencing AI right now, right? It’s not like we are all suddenly switched to become just AI centric and AI focus. We have to figure out how we take these tasks that we do every day and figure out if this is a good match for AI or not so much as we are experiencing AI woven throughout our jobs. That’s very much how the program is designed too. 

But the second thing that I’m really excited about is I  think that we’ve got a nice mix this year of some high level sessions that may be great for leaders of teams. They can go and get a very broad look at some key leadership lessons, some key leadership ideas. Katie Robert is leading a session around leadership and how do you talk to the people who manage the robots, I think is the name of our session, or how do you manage the people who manage the robots? So it’s very much from a leader’s standpoint. We have a couple of other sessions that are really focused on leaders, because I wanted teams to be able to come to the B2B Forum and experience the tacticians on your staff, can experience more of the instruction that they need, the tactics and the tools to succeed in their roles and to lead themselves further in their careers. But also, I wanted to offer programming for the leaders who are bringing those teams to make it much more of an exclusive or inclusive experience for those teams. So that’s one of the ways that we’ve really thought about the  program much more intentionally this year.

Lee Odden: No, that’s so smart because beyond just bringing your team to an event and having the shared experience, the bonding, learning about new things at the same time, I love that idea that you’ve got content specific to those leaders because obviously they have different responsibilities and there are different expectations than someone who’s solely focused maybe on implementing. So that’s super smart. 

Ann Handley: We have just some fun surprises because Lee, this is me, number one, but it’s also the B2B Forum, and it’s like one of the things that I obsess over, and you know this because you’ve been there for so many years, is that I don’t want anybody to walk into the Omni Boston and think that mistake it even for a  second as any other business to business event. I don’t want you to be on the show floor and be like, am I at a Gartner event? No, Shane Gartner, a lot of love for you, a lot of love. But I wanted to feel very much like this could only happen at a MarketingProfs event. And the way that we execute on that is through a million little touch points. But the team here is so fantastic about really embracing the culture of the B2B forum that I think is really special, and it’s so different from anything else out there. 

Lee Odden: That’s great that you brought that up, because that is one of the things that really differentiates B2B Forum is that there is a rich culture, there is a rich community connected to the event, and you hear a lot of people use that expression, these are my people. And the attention to all the details is pretty awesome too. There’s funny placards in the bathroom too, just signs and goofy sunglasses and all kinds of marching bands and you playing in accordion on stage. I mean, there’s just so much that you’re not going to find anywhere else. So it’s pretty cool. 

Ann Handley: Yeah. Yeah, it’s fun. And I think that’s not just because we are silly people. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. We’re all very serious marketers, but at the same time, no one wants to go to an event and feel like you’re not having fun. And so I think the more you have fun, the more receptive you are to all that’s going on. And so it’s not accidental that we incorporate all these little moments that are memorable and do provide a richer experience for attendees, because we want you to remember, and we want you to be open to learning and open to making new connections and networking. And the only way to do that that I know of is to make people feel comfortable and seen and welcoming. And so that’s why we do all of  those little things.

Lee Odden: And you’re bringing it back home to Feeling B2B, right? It’s an experience and people feel it, right? So speaking of feeling, I want to make sure Augie feels included too here. If I were to bring a treat, a special treat for Augie, what would be his favorite? 

Ann Handley: Oh my goodness. Wow. This boy has never said no to…I mean, I was just trying to think of a food he doesn’t like. If it exists, I have yet to find it. He is like a, I call him my stomach on legs. He’s just all into food. So yeah, not so much of a toy guy, but anything.

Lee Odden: That made it a lot easier. So everyone, thanks for joining in. You can see and learn more from Ann at the MarketingProfsB2B Forum in Boston or online October 4th for workshops, October 5th and 6th for the main conference. You can get all the information about the event, about the speakers, the program, venue, hotel, all that stuff at Of all the, I mean, you’re probably one of the easiest people to find online, but I’m going to ask anyway. Where would you prefer people to find you? 

Ann Handley: Oh my goodness. You could write me a letter. That’s basically how I like to be found now. I’m kidding. No, you can find me at, I’m at @marketingprofs , or also at 

Lee Odden: Super. Fantastic. Well, I appreciate the time. Thanks so much, and I look forward to seeing you in a couple of months.


Published 9/29/23

B2B Forum is packed with marketing insights, strategies, and tactics taken from the real world experience of over forty industry experts, packaged into context you can actually put to use.

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