By Dave Stevens
Last weekend, I headed up to Edinburgh to spend a couple of days enjoying the Fringe Festival. If you’ve not been, it’s well-worth a visit. There’s a real sense of carnival to proceedings. There are hundreds of shows that you can dip into covering comedy, drama, dance, and magic. And even the environment is benign. At this time of year, Edinburgh is mildly warm and there’s at least a 30% chance of it staying dry.
The excursion to the Fringe has become something of an annual tradition for me. Each time, I try something new (this year, some modern folk / jazz dance combo that I don’t think I’ll be trying again), but for the most part this yearly trek is a chance for me to enjoy some good stand-up comedy.
Stand-up comedy is something of a British tradition and in the last couple of decades in particular has focused on political and observational humour. However there was a new trend that I saw in many of the comics’ shows this time. Stewart Lee talked about his life as a dad effectively acting as a taxi service for his son. Toby Hadoke showed us pictures of his children and his new step-son and images from his wedding day. Reginald D. Hunter told us about his relationship with his father and siblings. Stand-up has gone emotional.
And it works. People relate to people. The audience is pulled onto the comedian’s side when we hear about their struggles to bring up a family and hold their own in difficult relationships. It’s natural that we connect. That’s what we do every day ourselves.
Why then hasn’t the emotional wave embraced B2B marketing? B2B communications are still typified by jargon, capability statements, and formality. Case studies talk about processes and services rather than people. Social media is focused upon building followers rather than relating to them.
I think there are three reasons why B2B marketers hold off from going emotional. Let’s look at each reason in turn.
1. B2B is a different sell to B2C. It’s likely to be of high value and therefore is a decision that needs to be rationalised. What is being purchased is more frequently a bespoke or complex item or service. It will probably involve a decision from a group of buyers rather than just one individual. All true. But if anything these points require more of an emotional push not less. If something is a high value, complex, or bespoke purchase, surely the buyer(s) want to know the people behind it? Don’t they want to understand that suppliers know their stuff, that they are passionate about their subject, and that they care about their customers? If there is more than one buyer decision maker, that just means that suppliers should be communicating with them all at an emotional level. Of course suppliers need to have product specifications and case studies and testimonials – but the way they are presented, the language that they are presented in, the channels that are used, the stories that they present – are more important in B2B marketing than in B2C, not less.
2. B2B leaders don’t get marketing. Marketing is still a young discipline in B2B – in many companies, it’s only twenty years old. therefore, it’s not given much attention or love. For the same reason, it’s also easier to do B2B marketing as it’s always been done and with no extra money or resources. All true. But you don’t need to spend more money or throw more resources at something to communicate at an emotional level. And you can still use the same channels and content. You just have to market in a different way. Consider the images you use to represent your company – and make them more human. Make the language you use more personal. Interact rather than broadcast.
3. B2B products and services aren’t something to get emotional about. Everyone can understand how you can wax lyrical about the latest shiny Apple (or Samsung) phone, the latest Virgin Airways service, the new Paul Smith shirt – no wonder these are the brands marketers flock to work for. It’s easy to communicate on an emotional level about them. Not so B2B products and services like consulting, private banking, a new server. Well no. I disagree. You just have to get to the heart of the need that a product or service is meeting. And then it’s very possible to see it on an emotional level. Why does your service make the world that bit better? And because the emotional heart of B2B is less apparent, B2B marketers should invest more heavily than B2C marketers in communicating out what it is.
In my view, there’s nothing to stop B2B marketers from getting more emotional in their communications. And every reason why they should. So go on. Get shedding a tear or two this week and see what a difference it makes to your results…
Categories: b2b marketing marketing social media marketing Uncategorized
Dave is an experienced global B2B Chief Marketing Officer / Marketing Director with an established reputation for delivering commercial results in start-up, mid-tier, and blue-chip businesses across technology, and business services and professional services sectors.
Dave has worked for major brands such as Telefonica O2, EY, and Barclays and held posts from Chief Marketing Officer to Director of Online, has run his own business, and managed a P&L for a major corporate. He is chair and co-founder of the Business Marketing Club (www.businessmarketingclub.org.uk) - a network of B2B marketers. In 2019, he was named one of the top 100 B2B European marketing leaders (https://www.hottopics.ht/34199/top-100-b2b-european-marketing-leaders-2019/). He is a graduate of Cambridge University, a Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) Chartered Marketer and holds a MBA with Imperial College, London. Dave is a keen cyclist and adventure traveller, is married, and lives in Buckinghamshire. You can read his blogs at www.DaveStevensNow.com.
My colleagues and I often speak about this, Dave. So much of what goes for B2B marketing is just ghastly boring. If someone manufactures industrial pumps, for example, which don’t immediately evoke images of beauty and creativity, then they are conditioned into believing that the pumps have to be communicated in a way that is dry and devoid of all emotion. It doesn’t have to be that way! We need to bring real life into these communications, too. Human beings are emotional beings – even when they’re at work, and there are countless studies that show decision-making (even that of the most rational people) is heavily influenced by emotions, often subconsciously. This is an area that is under-valued in B2B marketing, and sellers of B2B products should challenge themselves (and their agencies) to do something about it! A critical reason for this is differentiation. Creating an emotional connection through your communications can show how you are different than your competition. Instead of looking like your competitors and talking up the same rational benefits that have all been said before, B2B companies should be making it easier on their customers with an emotional incentive that clearly shows how and why they are different.
Right on the money, David. From a neuroscience perspective, it is by now well proven (in the current theoretical paradigm, that is) that humans can reason their way through the various aspects of a decision, but are unable to make an actual choice until a positive emotion is generated around that particular choice. When parts of the brain required to register such emotions at a conscious level are damaged, patients can spend hours analyzing all of the various aspects of which bus route to take, yet never arrive at a definitive decision. Introducing an emotional connection to a B2B decision-making flow may, therefore, be a useful aid to influencing the prospective buyer.
I agree Dave – just because it is a big ticket “sensible” purchase doesn’t mean that you don’t get passionate, emotional and personal about it. I worked with someone once who got very excited about a new email marketing system that he had purchased – perhaps you know him 🙂 In my new world of Data Centres, certainly no one wakes up with that Christmas morning glee of “whoopie my data goes to a new data centre today” but my guys are genuinely passionate about the sites and woe betide anyone who might point out that they perhaps could offer a few ladies size work boots on the construction site (that would be me).
However in all seriousness, I sometimes think that in B2B separately sales/business people are passionate about the service/widgit/thingy and marketing are passionate about the service/widgit/thingy but as soon as the two try to be passionate and excited about it together the old prejudices and misundersandings and as you point out the immaturities of our profession in B2B come out to play. Day3 of a job, someone in sales half-jest and full earnest told me that marketing was here to do parties and F&B. Until that perception is fixed, no one – neither sales nor marketing – is going to get excited about B2B marketing