Are you telling stories that connect, or are you just marketing and promoting to your audience like an algorithm would?
Amid the chaos all around us, we're craving connection. So B2B marketers are well-served to heed the clarion call to market like their B2C cohorts and tell stories that evoke emotion and make their customers feel that they are being heard.
There's a pretty simple, well-known fact: People buy from people. Fully 58% of B2B marketers say they believe that humanizing their brand will lead to higher sales, according to a recent study by Allison+Partners.
Wondering how to put that belief into practice? Simply show up as a human when communicating about your company. That goes for the language and tone you choose, as well as the messaging of your stories.
It also means banishing phrases such as "leveraged this" or "leaned into that." Or, going to the extreme, "accelerated the awareness of an iconic product." Yikes! If you work in branding or marketing, we bet you've gotten used to those phrases and become tone deaf to how inhuman they sound.
Get over the notion that you need to "sound professional." That can lead to a string of buzzwords that make no one sound human. Grandiose language, longwinded sentences, and academic embellishments are also not warm and fuzzy and do not connect on a personal level.
As a reporter shared with us recently: "One of these days I will find the courage to tell marketers that they'll actually be getting their messages out more effectively if they simply speak in clear, descriptive English."
Let's look at Basecamp as an example. Its marketers use a style that matches the company's mission: to make complicated stuff—such as project management—simpler. On the homepage, they address today's reality of working remotely:
"Before Basecamp: You're wondering how you'll quickly transition your team to remote work. People are stressed, work feels scattered, projects are slipping, and it's tough to see + manage everything.
After Basecamp: Soon you'll be feeling like "hey, we got this". Everything will be organized in one place, your team will be working together (even though they're apart), you'll be on top of things, and a sense of calm will set in."
Who wouldn't breathe a sigh of relief after reading that?
After asset management company State Street launched the SHE fund (SPDR SSGA Gender Diversity Index ETF) that tracks large-cap companies with a high proportion of women in executive and director positions, it used Fearless Girl—the statue of the little girl staring down the Wall Street bull—for a larger initiative: to ignite the conversation about the importance of gender diversity in corporate leadership. Within hours of its overnight secret placement, Fearless Girl had over 1 billion twitter impressions and ended up generating over 10 billion social, print, and digital media impressions over six continents. The SHE fund grew 8% to $315 million after the campaign; and, since 2017, of the 1,463 companies that were identified as not having a woman on their board, 789 have added a female director and 2 others have committed to adding one.
The lesson is that marketers who can spark joy, connection, or laughter will be the most memorable, and they will have a tremendous advantage in bringing their customers along for the journey.
So, where do you start?
Be funny! Feature people! Borrow tropes from the movies and TV to get your point across. Crib from the tactics used by the best direct-to-consumer brands! Cross-pollinate!
That's all good advice, but making the pivot from product feature-fueled stories that begin and end with ROI to ones filled with human characters can be hard.
Here are seven ideas:
1. Find the hero in your company—even better, someone deep within your organization—who most resembles your customer.
2. Revisit your founder story. A founder story can resonate with clients and prospects; it can provide emotional buy-in and offer a window into the soul of your company. It needs to connect with what you offer, to whom, and why you are different.
3. Run storytelling workshops with a diverse group of team members to ensure that your company story will resonate.
4. Celebrate your customers. Go beyond the case study.
5. Share something silly that starts a conversation leading back to your brand.
6.Identify enemies, obstacles, puzzles, and traps. Show how you help overcome them.
7. Check jargon at the door. When you use jargon to describe who you are, or what you do, or how you work, or why your solution is better than your competitor's, you wind up sounding like everyone else.
Humanizing your B2B marketing will result in more innovation and more empathy from your people. You'll also have a heck of a lot more fun telling those stories along the way.