Commercial insurance, corporate banking and commercial real estate are just three of a number of B2B sectors that many see as traditional and somewhat staid. As far as marketing their products and services goes, the usual wisdom is that B2B marketers should stick to the tried and tested formulas of getting their messages across and sales people in front of decision makers. Leave the cool B2C kids to create innovative campaigns that help build brands and promote goods and services to the average person in the street.
After over 17 years of marketing and communications experience across some of these so-called boring B2B sectors, as well time on the ‘trendier’ B2C side, I frankly disagree.
Sure there is a place for the traditional tools of the B2B trade, well–executed outbound communications and client-facing activity and of course vitally these days the importance of inbound marketing and the need for a strategic digital content plan. No argument there. My point is for those trying to effectively promote and differentiate their B2B business offerings in often packed market places, the targeted end decision makers should be treated like human beings, not just a COO, or CFO in a grey suit.
Whatever your sector, your client is first and foremost a real person, with the same hopes, problems and ambitions of other real life people. Yes, they are busy, so to make you and your brand stand out, in my opinion, you have to try and do these three things 1. Help them 2. Inspire and appeal to their personal ambitions, and 3. Entertain them.
1. Help them
Help them is the obvious one, whether your product is a bank account, or the latest software, can you make their lives easier and solve a problem for their business? With the vast majority of people starting with an internet search to solve whatever business-related issues they may have; then making the relevant information readily available is an absolute must. (There are many SEO posts to help with this) However, whether you are trying to engage prospects through inbound marketing, traditional advertising, events or push communications, sometimes having the information available on its own just isn’t enough. You can be sure that half a dozen competitors are also creating content to lure customers into their sales funnels, while all are claiming that their product or service is the ‘bee’s knees’.
2. Inspire them
This is where it starts to get interesting and actually when your aim is to inspire people, then you can start elevating your brand away from the so-called boring B2B sector and start thinking creatively and innovatively about the activity, content and channels to really engage your audience. From campaigns that I’ve been involved in, a few stand out. HSBC, like many banks on the commercial side, claim to have the international connectivity, experience and presence bla bla bla. However, communications that particularly hit the mark both internally with staff, as well as externally, were not based on these obvious ‘facts’, but instead around appealing to the personal ambitions and successes of the business owners whose blood, sweat and tears are put into making their businesses, a success. It must be personal.
Of course the people you inspire don’t just have to be the end decision maker signing the cheque. When speaking at the recent Festival of Marketing, I had 30 minutes to convince the audience as to why on earth CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services firm, would not only use Instagram as a channel, but along with other B2B brands such as Maersk Group and FedEx were actually doing it pretty successfully. As per headline, surely they should just stick to LinkedIn and Twitter?
The answer is of course that if you look at commercial property in a technical context of rents and yields then it is could be seen as pretty dull and could only possibly be interesting to people within the industry. However, if you look at property in the context that it is the foundation of urban environments of where we all live, work and play, then it suddenly transcends the traditional B2B conversation and becomes relevant to every single one of us. Instagram has become CBRE’s fastest growing social channel. Through showcasing inspiring cityscapes, iconic buildings, funky office & leisure spaces and by telling the story behind a city; CBRE has been able to involve its own people, humanise its brand and engage new audiences such as Millennials, who can’t easily be reached by social channels like Linkedin.
3. Entertain them
Finally, entertain. Ok entertaining doesn’t have to mean ‘funny’ and maybe ‘engage’ is a better word. Every one of us is targeted with tens, if not hundreds of brand and marketing messages every single day from the second we wake up and grab our smart phone of choice. All brands must find other ways to stand out and retain our attention for more than a few cursory seconds.
You could look to General Electric dubbed the “exciting, boring brand” and its content and community engagement strategy, or its experiential marketing initiative dubbed Healthymagination. Intel humanising its brand and breaking perceptions through its #Ilooklikeanengineer initiative. Everyone remembers the Volvo Truck ad where Jean Claude Van Damme does the splits, but cleverer than that was the follow-up ‘behind the scenes’ video, where he discussed the technical engineering elements behind Volvo and retained an audience a lot larger than normally would tune in to hear about a Volvo truck’s horse power.
Of course not everyone has budget to match Volvo, but the message remains the same, no matter what sector you are in, a large corporate or start-up, there is no excuse to leave innovation at the door. You must think creatively about how to engage your core stakeholders whether they be journalists, prospects, existing clients, or your own staff. Hey and if you can have a little fun as well, then even better. On a personal level, without doubt the most fun I’ve had in the corporate world was a press and marketing campaign announcing that CBRE had moved the World’s largest toy transporter, Mr. S Claus to Hong Kong. This was a campaign that involved and engaged all key audiences including clients, the media, staff and charity partners and the video is still used by the Hong Kong government today in its ‘move your business to Hong Kong’ roadshow (They may not have fully appreciated the humour within).
I’d love to hear any further examples of innovation or creativity within so called boring industries.
Why not give Paul a shout on firstname.lastname@example.org for a friendly informal chat about your business needs?