Time for B2B agencies to discard their capes. B2B doesn’t need saving from the dark forces of boredom.
How shifting the focus of B2B marketing for emotional resonance makes for effective brand building. alan. agency's Head of Strategy, Chris Illman, shares his thoughts.
Choose a B2B agency. Google one randomly.
Now look at what they say about themselves.
I’ll make one bet. Somewhere in the proposition blurb, they talk about making B2B more ‘human’. More ‘Emotive’. Ridding it of the mundane. Chasing away the boring. That kind of thing.
Everywhere, the same spiel. This isn’t a dig at any agency in particular. Even here at alan. agency, we talk about it from time to time. But, increasingly, this collective obsession about making B2B ‘emotional’ appears naive.
“B2B should be more B2C”
Do B2B brands really need to start channeling their inner John Lewis with marketing? Do they need to pull on the heart strings ? Or get a sense of humour? Or be adrenalin pumpingly dramatic. Should they purposefully save the planet? That’s how to build a brand, right? Not necessarily.
Don’t get me wrong, B2B can be all of the above. There are many examples of times – from Volvo to Slack – that B2B has been adrenalin fuelled, funny, heart warming. We’re all for that, when the time is right. If the business problem and the audience need calls for it, bring on the dramatic Hollywood marketing in B2B.
But, the truth is, B2B often doesn’t need the glamour treatment.
And this is absolutely fine. Because it doesn’t mean the output won’t be ‘emotionally resonant’’.
Actually, B2B can supersede the John Lewis Christmas ad for emotional resonance
Imagine putting two campaigns side by side – one is the John Lewis Christmas ad by Adam and Eve’s finest creative minds, the other an annual Global Risk Report – and asking 100 people which has the greater emotional resonance.
It’s very possible all 100 would plump for John Lewis, thinking the risk report was dry as hell.
But imagine the 101st person you ask is a Chief Risk Officer. And let’s say the report was packed with startling truths that compelled her to look at her problems in new ways.
Inspiring and guiding her to take decisive action on important matters she’d been deferring for months… After the initial gasp of breath at seeing her fears set out in black and white, she’d surely feel a sense of relief. Confidence. Optimism. The report would engender emotional resonance beyond what some hokey, formulaic Christmas ad could give her.
Moreover, it would give the CRO a warm, fuzzy feeling about the helpful brand that had delivered the thought provoking content.
That’s emotional resonance. That’s salience. That’s brand building!
It didn’t need Hollywood advertising. Just a humble report – produced by an agency who, crucially, took the time to understand the CROs real headaches, and gave her the substantiated insights she needed to confidently catalyse the necessary changes to her business.
B2B marketers don’t need to cater for the ‘100’. They just need to focus on impressing the ‘one’ that really matters.
How companies need to enable and empower their agencies Impressing the ‘one’, however, is easier said than done. An intimate understanding of the persona is required. And the problem is, agencies are being left out in the cold in this regard.
Many B2B companies have a tendency to shy away from giving agencies access to customers. Even conducting full scale rebrands, we’ve experienced resistance from clients in involving customers for user testing.
This is like decorating your house in the dark. Whether for a rebrand or hero thought leadership, it’s a bad idea. Agencies need to fight for the access to the end audience they need, and marketers need to do everything they can to provide it. If they can’t access their own customers, investing in the necessary research is a must. A rebrand is something you’ll do once a decade at most. Put your best foot forward.
Empower agencies with that access, and we’ll give the CRO figure reading the report something that makes them feel seen and understood, and by extension all the right feelings and associations about your brand.
Conclusion: A shift of focus for B2B agencies
It’s time for B2B agencies to change both mindset and message. It’s simply not true that B2B needs saving from the dark forces of boredom. Nor should it envy or try to emulate B2C marketing.
Instead of focusing on becoming ‘human’ or ‘emotional’, it should instead pride itself on meaning and substance. Only through hyper-relevance can we deliver the startling revelations necessary to turn a drab risk report into a heart stopping piece of brand building.
But if we don’t lavish our CRO with epiphany-inducing truth, even she would rather watch the John Lewis ad. And that’s failure.