Don’t Skip this Part: Business-to business clients represent the majority of my content strategy and development income. Their products aren’t sexy—like perfumes or sports cars or luxury spas. Nope. Instead, my clients sell things like software and transformers and widgets. But—putting sexiness aside—my clients are passionate about their products. And I love them for that. I’m just frustrated that many of them are keeping these products hidden among the weeds of commodities by being too wary about breaking out of the very expected—and very ineffective—ho-hum marketing. This letter is sent to them from me, with much respect and with a great deal of hope for better things to come.
Dear Business-to-Business Marketer,
First, I hope it’s okay to just refer to you as B2B. I feel like we know each other pretty well since we’ve been working together for so many years. So, let’s just go with that.
When I first started out in marketing, most of my peers were scrambling to work with the really cool business-to-consumer clients. They wanted edgy projects. They wanted to be around the “in” crowd. They wanted awards, for Pete’s sake! I mean, why else should they work ungodly hours without getting some form of recognition and having a WHOLE lot of fun? But as for me, I chose to hang out with you guys. Because I saw you as a different kind of “cool.” I admired the way you could get so excited about a new type of fastener or a software dashboard or a transformer. You had me at, “Hey, want to take a factory tour?”.
But after so many years together, I’m beginning to get frustrated. Why? Because I just can’t seem to convince you that not only is it okay for you to be human in your marketing efforts, it’s also a necessity if you want to differentiate yourself and if you want to be heard in a marketing environment that’s more crowded and MUCH noisier than a Food Court at lunchtime.
I know you’re busy, so I’ll make this quick by focusing on three things you and I can do together to make you a freakin’ ROCK STAR in your industry:
1. Deliver the unexpected. There’s always been this joke that B2B means boring-to-boring. (For the record—I never thought that was funny.) And, truth be told, when you look at a lot of B2B marketing, words often used to describe it include “dense”, “dry”, “confusing”, and—yes—“boring.” That’s what’s expected—so that’s what’s produced. But what if you did something that went beyond just being informative and actually provided some entertainment value. Now, I don’t mean creating something silly or anything that denigrates the quality and purpose of your product. What I DO mean is creating content that your customers actually consume and enjoy and remember. Think it can’t be done with “unsexy” products? Take a look at this B2B tutorial created by Method Integration about how to add a case to CRM software:
Making B2B marketing content memorable and impactful requires more than being like everyone else in your industry. Dare to step out of the box—even just a little.
2. Drop the business jargon already. (Seriously. Drop it.) In their book, Content%20Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your BusinessContent Rules (affiliate link), Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman provide a much-needed list called “Eighteen Business Buzzwords We Need to Ban Because They Make Us Sound Like Tools.” Among those buzzwords are “synergy”, “revolutionary”, “robust”, “drill down”, “solution” and “end-to-end.” Any of them sound familiar? Yep. Thought so. We’re so hell-bent on wanting to sound smart and being recognized as knowing just as much, if not more, about our industry than our competitors that we end up sounding like—well—nothing special at all. By using the buzzwords of our industry, we sound like EVERYONE ELSE! Not cool, B2B. Not cool at all. With a little bit of effort, we can work together to find new ways of talking about our products and services that spark interest and engagement. Think that might set you apart from your competitors? I certainly do.
When Cisco wanted to explain the necessity of having a dependable network and to introduce its ASR 1000 Router Series, it could have used all kinds of technical jargon. But, guess what? It didn’t. Instead, it came up with a series of commercial spots focusing on “uber users.” Ones like Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny and even Cupid. Take a look:
3. People do business with people. On more than one occasion, I’ve had my proverbial tail feathers trimmed by a B2B client because they feel like I’ve written copy that’s too conversational. They equate it to being flighty or too soft. They’ll even say things like, “I really love it—but it just doesn’t sound like our [incredibly dry and tedious] brochure.” I wanted to say, “Well, yes, that’s the point. This new copy actually makes you sound HUMAN!” But, I try to be a bit more diplomatic than that.
The best B2B marketing out there is tapping into emotion. Sometimes humor is used (see Cupid above) and sometimes a more serious approach is implemented. In a study conducted by the CEB Marketing Leadership Council (in partnership with Google), researchers found that “personal value trumps business value” when it comes to making purchasing decisions in a B2B environment. In other words, emotion plays a VERY significant role in B2B marketing–even more so than reason.
GE is a company who’s really doing B2B marketing right. They are using emotion to market a variety of services, including this spot to promote GE Industrial:
What GE has realized is what all of us in B2B marketing should understand: People do business with people. And, because of that, we’re going to be more effective in our communications when we talk with our current and potential customers like human beings instead of job titles. We all know GE is smart. We know it’s a reputable company. We know they take what they do seriously. Just because they talk to us in a non-techy way doesn’t make us feel any differently. In fact, it sets them apart from their competitors and makes them stand out and rise above. And, let’s face it: If it’s working for GE, taking a more human approach in our marketing efforts is at least something to consider, right?
Okay. That’s it. I’ll stop. For now, anyway. I love you B2B. I really do. And I want to see you succeed and remain relevant in a marketplace that demands more and more from us in terms of creating experiences instead of just content in our marketing. So, give all of this some thought. Sleep on it. Mull it over. And then give me a call so we can get to work on some cool stuff.
Your devoted fan and advocate,