Stop Settling For Bad B2B Marketing

I got my start in marketing at a business-to-business (B2B) software-as-a-service (SAAS) company, all those years ago. Back then, digital marketing and social took a backseat to trade show appearances, celebration events and lots of handouts. And I mean lots. I’ve spent my time writing case studies, applying for awards, making up “fun” conference abstracts and writing concise collateral that summarized our projects on glossy one-pagers. It didn’t seem too interesting to create or to receive the products of my labour. But I was following instructions, and as long as my supervisor seemed pleased with the efforts, I couldn’t complain. There were, after all, bigger powers that be.

Fast forward to today — I am consulting B2B and B2C clients on digital marketing. I want to do good work. I am no longer interested in dull, soulless marketing that plagues the B2B industry, especially at the small- to medium-sized business level. My time costs a lot more than it did when I worked for the SAAS. And I’ve picked up more than a few nuggets to know that glossy one-pagers are not going to cut the mustard.


The Struggle to Be Human

The ultimate challenge, I pondered, thinking about each of my B2B clients, is the teeter-totter of keeping the brand human, while remaining professional. That sounds right, doesn’t it…? Let’s unpack this.

What does it mean to be “professional” as a B2B company? Having worked with many firms and interacted with even more, I intuitively have a few boxes that a B2B company has to check, for me to want to trust them and hand over my money.

The most important is value-add. I don’t really care how formal or informal your brand decided to sound, or how boring or unconventional your stock photos appear. I am far more interested in what you have to offer to me as a prospective customer. Is it informative? Does it answer the question I’ve typed into Google? Does it offer insight that I wouldn’t find elsewhere? Does the piece of content combine experience with ability to stay on top of new trends? If the answer is NO to any of the above, you’ve wasted my time. And that’s not a good note to start off on.

One of my favorite B2B companies that does this extremely well is HootSuite. I subscribe to their white papers and gladly hand over my email address, time and time again. I understand that not every company can afford a room-full of analysts like HootSuite can. But every company CAN craft one piece of content, extremely well. Especially if this piece of content is about something that already gets traction with prospects. That’s a valuable conversation that a brand is participating in, even leading.

The thirst for good conversation didn’t go away with Facebook, LinkedIn and all the other platforms. Even their algorithms are tailored to favor engagement and connection. So why do we insist that B2B marketing must be a town crier standing in an empty square? Even though your business model is business to business, your content is business to person. There is a live human on the receiving end of your marketing, who has emotions, aspirations, a vision for the future, drive, passion and a sense of humour. It just so happens that they are also a decision maker. I long to see businesses address other businesses with these human considerations in mind.

Promoting your product or service is meeting my needs on a very surface level. Offering me your insight, your experience, showing your commitment to my success — these are the things I crave. I have a certain formulation of my need or problem — and if you are able to give me a deeper understanding of my own situation, I am much more likely to become a loyal customer who respects and promotes your brand for you, free of charge. Validate me.Validate my challenges and offer advice. Connect the dots — yes, they lead to your product, but the journey is just as important as the destination.

The Struggle to Be Productive

The other reason B2B marketing is often so poorly done is because you are allowing your brand card to trump your talent. B2B marketers are forced to mold into a brand-approved shape that is usually micromanaged, censored and edited until nothing of the person’s own personality remains. We are misguided in thinking that if everyone in the company is a carbon copy of each other, it will look like we’ve got our ducks in a row.

On the receiving end, the interaction experience is boring and off-putting. When you extinguish the passion, you kill authenticity, and in today’s internet world, authenticity is everything. Look at the biggest social media superstars of the day — Garry V, Casey Neistat — they brought a refreshing, original and personable angle to their work. Somehow, they’re not exactly out of work for it.

Allowing experimentation, calculated risk and personality in your B2B marketing won’t hurt you. Rather, it will strike a much-needed balance, a refreshing harmony of jargon and personability. Something else will improve — the productivity and enthusiasm of your marketing department. By allowing blurs in the dichotomy off at-work/off-work you are allowing people to do what they love, what they promised you in their job interview.

The Pain of Being Ahead of Your Time

What I am proposing here — an engaged, lively, human B2B marketing strategy focused on value — is still largely ignored outside huge enterprise. The wind, however, is changing. Millennials are increasingly occupying decision-making positions, and they love valuable interaction. They’ve grown up influenced by brands that made it look like they cared. That mentality will be carried over from the B2C into the B2B world. However, there is a lot of resistance in the industry to adopt a more human approach. The name of that resistance is fear.

Fear is what has held every good marketing effort back, until someone finds the guts to break the current paradigm, shift gears and ‘reinvent’ the field yet again. My plea is towards every B2B marketing company that feels like they have to be a stone-cold, pragmatic, soulless entity in order to sell — ditch the fear, step out of your cocoon and try something new. Even if very slowly, even if only for a little. If you don’t start now, in five years, you’ll fall irreparably behind. To the future you — “I told you so.”