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Battling mediocrity in BtoB marketing.

A quick scan of B2B companies reveals that the bar is often quite low when it comes to branding, positioning, and sales enablement. Websites provide no surprises, offering too much sameness, especially now that a passable site can be created simply by choosing a WordPress template and inserting stock photos.

Aside from looking like distant cousins that all sprang from the same progeny, B2B companies also tend to say the same things. The vocabulary for describing a B2B company is too often limited to a glossary of ubiquitous business terms such as “cloud based”, “real time”, “data driven”, “easy to use”, “all-in-one solution” and “smart”. Clinging to this limited vocabulary creates the opposite of differentiation and often ends up sounding like what I call “marketing gobbledy-gook”.

Emerging companies often imitate larger, well established competitors. But it’s a mistake to imitate companies that already hold a dominant market position and don’t prioritize branding. Many established companies have such an entrenched franchise they don’t see the need to inject imagination into their brands or messages to turn heads.

As emerging competitors copy the legacy players in their market, we see a sad proliferation of the lack of imagination. And, as advertising agencies observe this dull landscape, few get excited about braving a new path because they have experienced that there simply isn’t the appetite. So the best creative talent often chooses to put their energies elsewhere.

But don’t lose heart, you can turn your ship around. There are options and choices to take a different path.

  1. Sell it to the leadership. It can be difficult to sell a steak to someone who is happy with hamburger. Or worse yet, can’t tell the difference. Your company leadership must understand that if the face of your business has no soul, no voice, no sense of humor and nothing to be remembered for, then it is just another “me too” company coasting on its success, and vulnerable to attack from an emerging competitor with a winning smile and a joke up its sleeve. Sirius Decisions provides an excellent justification for the development marketing concepts that relate to prospect personas in ways that are personal and emotional, moving beyond the features and functions of your offerings. Educate your leaders through objective evaluations of your brand against competitors. Help them understand the possibilities of improving the personality of your marketing. Often, a significant shift in a brand pays for itself in less than a year when future incremental sales are taken into account. And, the overall “cost per sale” metric can be lowered over time when marketing is more effective.
  2. Build a fresh team. The best way I’ve found to justify bringing in new blood to refresh a brand and the creative marketing platform is: “It’s hard to read the label when you’re in the bottle”. People within your company are simply too close to the status quo to think differently about the problem. Build a team that includes fresh perspectives, as well as those with deep knowledge of your business, especially when it’s highly technical.
  3. Set yourself up for success. Follow a rigorous process. Include your company leaders in the process and show them a rational approach. This will help them to separate their own personal preferences from the ideas you develop to target buyers. It can be helpful to formalize personas to remind them that they are not the target audience. Begin your process by establishing a deep understanding of your competitive space and your audiences. Define the emotional drivers for your buyers that are not being addressed. Then, unleash a great creative team on the task of bringing this to life in a way that elicits the feelings you want to generate.
  4. Borrow from B2C. There’s a predictable look and feel that most B2B companies use to appear “legitimate”. But even engineers, who tend to want just the facts, appreciate a more accurate description of product benefits or a crystal clear description of what you sell. Stay abreast of the best B2C marketing to understand what’s working there. Then, look for opportunities to cross-pollinate B2C techniques into the B2B space.
  5. Humanize your brand. The more you can inject a personal human quality into your messages and the visual images your brand relies on, the easier it will be for buyers to imagine having a relationship with your business. Too many B2B brands portray themselves as sterile, objective tools. They lack the imagination to relate to buyers in ways that are more intimate and understanding.
  6. Launch your new marketing platform with fanfare. Do not dribble bits and pieces of your new brand out into the market as they are completed. You will get better results if you have an intentional deliberate launch strategy for turning heads with your new brand and marketing image.

As you raise the bar to improve the freshness of your marketing, at times you’ll have to ask your team to try again. It’s not easy to break through the barrier of sameness and do something heart-stopping in B2B marketing. Your new brand platform should make the hair stand up on the back of your customers’ necks. It should make them smile from somewhere deep inside. It’s not easy. But the payoff is rewarding.


This article first appeared in B2B Marketing.