After a week at a prestigious marketing conference, I came away stunned by marketers’ lack of imagination in effectively communicating the differentiators of companies which are often technical, numerical or ethereal. In B2B offerings, how many times do the buzzwords ‘cloud-based’, ‘real-time’, ‘analytics’, ‘ROI’, ‘end-to-end’ and ‘data driven insights’ come up? Answer: Too often. Yet marketers fail to see that what they think is special about their product is just plain boring. Don’t B2B buyers want more? Don’t we all want our imaginations to come alive with new possibilities as we ponder our futures, even in business? Aren’t the people buying our B2B products also the ones who buy Cheetos and tickets to Star Wars?
This is not a new challenge. As marketers, we’ve forever struggled to get our audiences to visualize and understand concepts like how big an acre is, how much energy is in a kilowatt or how much data you can pack into a gig. Even if you were an engineer, you’d probably welcome a fresh option for understanding these qualifiers and differentiators. Below are four ideas for spicing up your technical information to help your buyers feel better about what you’re serving compared to the feelings they get from your competitors offerings.
These are confusing to people who aren’t intimately familiar with your business and the science behind it. Most B2B customer journeys involve multiple decision-makers. And not all of them will be experts in your flavor of technology. If a financial decision-maker comes away from a conversation feeling stupid because they didn’t understand some of it, they’re less likely to advise the company to put their money there. Put your message into words that an eighth grader can understand. And if you must use acronyms, spell them out the first time you use them. Business magnate Elon Musk sums this point up best: “The key test for an acronym is to ask whether it helps or hurts communication.”
Avoid talking about your product or offering and instead focus on describing what it does for your buyer’s personal existence. Create audience-centric scenarios or stories that convey empathy with your audience. Avoid product-centric overviews. This requires we understand what our audience truly cares about on an organizational, team and personal level. That’s different from what we think they should care about or what we want them to buy. High-performing marketers integrate data on what buyers are doing – in their jobs and online – with knowledge of why they’re doing it. This process yields insights into their true needs and how to best meet them. When we can understand our buyer’s basic drivers – such as the desire to achieve, get more sleep or nurture a child – then we can get their attention on a human level by relating our offering to meeting their needs. Vistaprint did this effectively in its video 'The postcard'– which generates a relationship between its brand and the precious connection to family and our common heritage.
Avoid simply showing data visualization and benchmark studies about why you’re better. Unless your customer asks for it, it’s not going to move them to buy. Instead, attach your brand to a disruptive, memorable idea. Intel did this through its ‘blue men’, who performed onstage in TV spots during the 1990s. Later, it focused on making engineers feel like rock stars. It continues to lead this effort today by finding creative ways to connect with buyers. Its ‘If cables were people’ campaign continues to create human connections, tell stories and make us laugh.
Yet, sadly, we see too many companies putting their money and faith in tools and technologies, and too few investing in breathtaking creativity. I predict the pendulum will soon swing back to the realization that we must balance our investments in data, analytics and predictive modelling with equivalent emphasis on creating ideas that will be remembered.
Creative director, Guy Bommarito, says “Creative ideas start with the known and the familiar. Then they surprise. Without the surprise, you don’t have an idea. You just have what someone else has already done.” How do you know when you’ve got a great idea? Guy says, “The same way you sense the difference between truth and a lie — as in ‘That guy says all the right things, but there’s just something about him that I don’t like.’ You look for the answer in your gut. Yes, it's subjective, just like humor is subjective. Not everybody laughs out loud at the same comedians. But that doesn't diminish a successful comedian's consistent success at delighting substantial audiences in memorable and even brand-building ways. Creativity? Same thing."
Find ways to get your message across through pictures. There’s a reason infographics have been replacing paragraphs of copy for a while now. It’s because very few people are going to read what we have to say. We must show messages in pictures – and if we can make those pictures move, even better. The closer we can get to spoon-feeding technical information in bite-size, easy-to-consume images that come to life and make the process fun, the more successful we’ll be at getting our point across. A great example of this is SaveMyRoad. This idea could have been a snoozer of a whitepaper for engineers trying to figure out what products to buy to make highways last longer. But, instead, a gigantic amount of technical data comes to life in an educational and visual web experience that both customers and sales teams appreciate.
We’ve all known for years that we can’t bore customers into buying our products. Let’s put imagination and creativity back into the B2B marketing formula to show how we’re different and special. Technology can only take us so far.
This article originally appeared in B2B Marketing.
Use these steps to create a “message framework”, for consistent selling to customers, employee recruitment and communicating with the press and industry insiders.
B2B companies tend to all say the same things. They use a limited vocabulary of terms that end up sounding like what I call “marketing gobbledy-gook”.