Curing the B2B Blues: How to Make Business Marketing Feel Just Like…Marketing

B2B marketing tends to get a bad rap as being risk-averse; while the category as a whole tends to err on the conservative side, marketers in this space are often faced with limitations that prevent them from going full steam ahead with ideas and concepts that feel fresh and unconventional.

To be fair, B2B marketers don’t exactly have it easy, as the products they’re selling tend to be complex and multilayered, making it all the more difficult to come up with a snappy tagline and call it a day. Because of this, it’s no wonder that B2B marketing often becomes overly reliant on stock imagery featuring light bulbs, handshakes and jigsaw puzzles.

Even so, many B2B marketers have recently adopted a “B2C” approach to better level with their audience. This strategy has become more and more widespread as these marketers choose to appeal to the human side of their targets instead of getting caught up in industry jargon, which can make even the most dedicated C-suite executive’s eyes glaze over. Sure, B2B marketing brings with it its own complications, as it normally involves considering numerous stakeholders within a value chain as opposed to individual consumers, but that doesn’t mean it has to be void of emotion or empathy.

Perhaps one of the most recent examples of this “B2C” approach comes from MailChimp, a marketing automation platform that caters to small businesses. A few years ago, the company launched an elaborate campaign that didn’t simply tout MailChimp’s tools, but instead completely reimagined the brand’s oddball name in a variety of ways to pique consumer interest. For instance, three eccentric (but polished) short films called “JailBlimp,” “MailShrimp” and “KaleLimp” screened in select theaters across the country, while bags of crushed potato chips – aptly called “FailChips” – were handed out at select events.

The bizarreness of each activation was enough to drive many people to look up the strange names online, with each search query eventually pointing back to MailChimp itself. Each execution ultimately tied back to one singular message that MailChimp wanted to spread, which is that “being yourself” – even if it means making fun of your own name – is the best way to build relationships with customers, fans and anyone else. While the campaign as a whole was surely unconventional, especially for a B2B company, it helped cut through the clutter and establish the MailChimp brand in a truly innovative way.

Personalization is another way that B2B brands can add a human element to their marketing efforts, particularly if they have a specific audience in mind that would be receptive to tailored communications. Speedpay, an electronic payment service for businesses, recently employed account-based marketing – which involves targeting a clearly defined group of accounts via personalized campaigns – in an effort to win back a handful of key lost clients.

In a campaign created by Brownstein Group, Speedpay painted itself as a jilted lover by embracing the stereotypes that come with a breakup via a series of humorous gestures – including a video of a quartet singing “Baby Come Back,” flowers and candy – in hopes of proving the company has changed for the better and is worthy of a second chance. Considering all outreach was personalized via hand-written notes to resonate with each individual account, the campaign had a decidedly “human” feel to it, which ultimately helped Speedpay successfully grab its exes’ attention.

While personalization of this nature does require B2B brands to go after a small subset of businesses or executives instead of casting a wide net, it provides marketers with the opportunity to invest more money and time into creating something customizable that in turn will be more likely to turn heads. According to a survey from the Information Technology Services Marketing Association, account-based marketing “delivers the highest return on investment of any B2B marketing strategy or tactic.”

Additionally, injecting a bit of humor into B2B marketing can go a long way. Speedpay could have played it safe and made an earnest plea to its former clients, but instead it chose to go the faux breakup route in an effort to break the ice and have a little fun. While humor is often par for the course for consumer-facing brands, B2B brands tend to shy away from it for fear of not being taken seriously. While this is an understandable concern, a little levity can be a differentiating factor that helps establish a distinct brand voice.

Take Upwork, a global freelancing platform that businesses can use to find talent. To catch the eye of companies like Dropbox, Airbnb and Microsoft, Upwork launched a series of cheeky ads last year that were full of pop culture references and irreverent humor; for instance, one joked that the platform could help Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson find a web developer to create a website for his 2020 presidential run.

At the end of the day, it’s no secret that B2B marketers face a different set of challenges than their B2C counterparts, and not everything that works for one will work for the other. But it’s important to keep in mind that B2B companies are selling to people, no matter what their title at work may be.

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