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Humanising B2B marketing through content: Can B2B ever be sexy?

B2B content marketing might be viewed as boring and technical compared with B2C which is often thought of as “sexier”. But that doesn’t mean B2B marketers can’t take a leaf out of the B2C book.

One way to overcome this challenge is to humanise the brand so consumers will be able to easily identify with it.

During the panel discussion at Marketing’s recent Content 360 conference, Rashish Pandey (pictured left), Cisco’s director of marketing – Asia Pacific and Japan, said while brands continuously churn out “glossy futuristic brand videos”, at the end of the day, with the removal of the logo, all of them look similar to one another and the average client will not be able to tell the difference.

Bearing this in mind, Cisco took a different route when it launched its brand campaign in 2017, featuring Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage, who shared about “The Network. Intuitive”, Cisco’s vision for the new era of the network.

For the first time, Pandey said Cisco featured a human in its brand campaign to talk about what being human and a human network meant.

It also engaged Star Wars actor John Boyega to touch on its Software Defined Wide Area Network technology in 2018. This is because Boyega is someone who consumers can relate to and is also seen as a futuristic icon. Pandey added:

You need to take a different stance. Instead of talking about speeds and feeds, talk about human interest stories that move people.

He said that in B2B marketing, the main thing that matters is the relationships companies build with their customer base over time rather than the number of transactions they make. According to him, a lot of business that Cisco acquires comes in as repeat businesses or referrals.

“Given the fact that we have strong established relationships with our customers, the amount of personalisation we do in our marketing communications is a lot more than what you are typically able to do in a B2C context,” he said.

Humanising the brand story is a strategy that also works for Fuji Xerox Singapore. According to its head of marketing segments and communications, Ho Nget Vooi (pictured centre), it is not easy to get consumers interested in processes such as workflow automation, and merely showing a picture of a machine, will not make it “sexy”.

She added that in a B2B environment, the content produced needs to be relevant to the business and a lot of it is business centric-driven unlike B2C.

“Humanising the story is what works for us and very often we try to do that through the voice of our customers. I think a customer’s story and the benefits and rewards of it are more interesting than just showing a machine per se,” she said.

While it is crucial to ensure your content resonates with your target audience, brands should not be afraid to add humour into their content marketing.

Kate Mallord (pictured right), LinkedIn’s senior content marketing manager for Asia Pacific, said during the panel discussion that content which consistently performs on its platform comes from brands that are slightly more playful.

“They will add a bit of humour into it; they don’t take themselves so seriously, just as you don’t take yourself seriously,” she said.

She added that in the B2B world, many of the successful CEOs come across as real people because they emulate a human voice. Citing Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, for example, she said that everybody wants to meet and learn from him because, despite working for a B2B company, individuals such as Nadella are allowing themselves to be human.

Getting buy-in from management

One challenge many marketers face is getting buy-in from management about their marketing efforts, and, are often being questioned about their ROI. Cisco’s Pandey said the most important thing is for the marketing team to build trust with its senior leadership and, “you do that by starting where they are, not where you are”, when it comes to understanding content marketing.

He added:

Earn the right to do business with your leadership team, get their trust and then talk about more exotic stuff.

“Your top management doesn’t need to know about content marketing. They need to know what marketing is and what marketing is capable of doing,” he said.

Besides earning its trust, it is also important for marketers to engage the senior leadership team on a regular basis.

According to Fuji Xerox’s Ho, the top leadership is often only concerned about how marketing will drive market share and profitability. As such, it is important for marketers to educate them on what marketing is about and not just the minute details.

Piloting new initiatives is also an effective way to get management buy-in. According to LinkedIn’s Mallord, most leaders want to show they are experimenting and trying new things.

“You can certainly appeal to that side of them. While business as usual is important, senior leadership can elevate themselves if they pilot something new which delivers business results as well,” she said.

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