There is a video I show to anyone who asks me what good B2B marketing looks like. Called "The Wolf", it’s a digital campaign developed by tech giants, HP, about that most exciting of topics: printer security.

It starts in familiar territory with every B2B marketers favourite tool, data. On the black title screen appear two phrases in white:

  • There are hundreds of millions of business printers in the world.
  • Less than 2% of them are secure.

And that is it. With two pieces of approximate data, everything that takes place in the video has been established in fact. The rational case for purchase has been made.

Next, we hear a voice over. The first line is where it becomes clear that this is no ordinary B2B video:

“A sheep never realises a wolf around until it’s too late.”

This isn’t a data-heavy white paper that has been shortened into a video graphic or a talking head case study. This is a story – one that draws you in, that entertains and makes its point oh-so-clearly. It’s not a creative ‘out there’ story created for the sake of shares. Here is a company promoting the security of its product by telling a story about a breach of security. It links directly back to what they want to sell. But it also creates emotion, which is one of the real triggers for people to change their behaviour (in this case, to consider their printer security).

OK, it stars Christian Slater and is edited by an Academy Award winner so no doubt the budget would bring water to the eyes of most marketers. However, the fundamentals of it can be replicated by any B2B company. In short:

  • Tell a story that relates to what you do/sell/think
  • Think about what your audiences are like outside work (HP may well have found IT and security experts watch Mr Robot)
  • Consider moving beyond your usual corporate style
  • Use only the most compelling data
  • Do something different from your competitors so it stands out

Most B2B campaigns do not follow these rules. The problem is that doing something new like this has inherent risks; there is no way to know if it will work. In what can be a conservative environment, it’s easier to do what has been done before, knowing approximately what the results will be. But, continue to do that and your marketing will be less effective each time until it’s costing more than it delivers.

All B2B marketers know this. We start with big plans. Over the years, as stakeholders push back, we sometimes lose the passion to suggest something new, knowing it will be watered down or called off. What if that didn’t have to be the case? Based on ten years of experience marketing complex organisations, here are five tips to try to persuade your business to be bolder with B2B campaigns.

1. Make the case for differentiation

Scientific evidence proves that outliers are more memorable. The following short examples could help convince your stakeholders that copying your competitors isn’t the best approach:

  • As far back as 1933, German psychiatrist Hedwig von Restorff, showed the power of distinctiveness with ‘the isolation effect’ - try Googling it if you haven't read about it before.
  • For something more recent, marketing company Manning Gottlieb OMD carried out brand recall research, as outlined in this Campaign article.
  • In his book, Pre-suasion: A revolutionary way to influence and persuade, Robert Cialdini outlines a Northwestern University study which found that the same item was made more attractive when introduced to a larger group of options that were all similar to each other. He explains it more clearly on pages 80 to 81.

2. Go further so you can dial back

If you know the right approach for a piece of content marketing is to create a story-led microsite and are worried it will be agreed but then diluted over time, suggest something beyond what you want.

The Internet of Things, augmented reality and virtual reality are all viable option for creating B2B content. Can you make a compelling case for any of these too? Then if your idea is cut back to the microsite you will still be creating something different to what has gone before.

3. Ramp up the creativity

An econsultancy and Adobe report into 2017 digital trends found 82% of marketers think creativity is highly valued within their organisation. So carve out time for it. I know I sound insensitive and that it is nigh-on impossible for most marketers to create the time. But it’s an investment, not an indulgence. It will both improve your marketing work and help influence people.

Get out and about. Find a place that triggers different thoughts. I go to exhibits in London or walk around a local market in Brighton. Read around your topic in places that you don’t often look. See what innovation consultancies and PR companies are doing to create ideas (a quick search finds this practical piece in Creative Review and this in Harvard Business Review explaining what business creativity can look like). Carry marketing or psychology books in your bag for when the train is inevitably late. Watch documentaries. Do free online courses to be reminded of the possibilities of digital.

Let your mind drift. Eventually, it will come back to the point, with a fresh perspective.

4. Simplify your idea

Enterprise released a documentary about a US town where an unusually high number of hockey players hail from. What does this have to do with people hiring cars? The brand is repositioning itself to being a complete transport solution. They are ramping up their content marketing to match, focusing on creating emotional connections based on their ability to help people go on a journey – like the hockey stars profiled in the film. Ad week did a great piece explaining it.

The point for here is that a good idea with the right level of creativity can be explained succinctly. If it takes more than two lines, you’ve not got it yet.

5. Inspire

If all else fails, use Christian Slater. Try showing The Wolf or other content from outside your industry that you think will emotionally engage your internal stakeholders. Show your marketing savvy and your creativity. Do something they’re not expecting to make the case for doing something unexpected.

 

By Julia Burns, founder of LightningBug


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