By: Paul Cash, Author of Humanizing B2B, and CEO and co-founder of Rooster Punk
Customers aren’t rational in their decision making – in fact, they’re the opposite; they buy on emotion and justify with fact. It’s this illogical, but human part of B2B that’s the missing piece of the marketing puzzle. To slot it into place you need to start turning your attention away from your products and towards your customers, colleagues and everyone else connected with your business. It’s their fears, ambitions, desires and imaginations that should be the cornerstone of your marketing, not your product ‘speeds and feeds’.
If you build a humanized brand you’ll create an organization that’s fit for the future, not only externally for your customers but also internally for your business culture. You’ll have the opportunity to become a leader in your category, exceed your revenue targets, and show up in the market in a way that makes you more than just a company that sells a product.
So how do you do that? In the years I’ve spent helping companies to humanize the way they market their products, I’ve come up with five principles to shift a brand from cold and technical to warm and appealing.
1 It’s about people, not products
At my marketing agency, Rooster Punk, when we talk about products, we mean not only physical items but also services and solutions – however you package up what you sell. And when we talk about people, we mean not only your customers but also your colleagues.
Let’s start with your colleagues: your sales team, customer service staff, technical people, engineers and anyone else who comes into contact with your customers. These are the front line ambassadors of your business, which means that having the humanizing mindset shouldn’t just be for the leadership team but for all employees. Everyone should feel like they have an important mission to take to the world when they interact with your customers.
The second aspect of people is your customers. Understanding their needs is the starting point of what makes you a human brand, so you have to be able to empathize and engage with them, not just sell features to them. In fact, the most significant change in B2B marketing over the last few years has been the shifting expectations of customers, and this is something that many companies have failed to keep up with. The things that customers want from you have changed beyond recognition; they demand a seamless service as the norm, and have a heightened expectation of what a brand should be.
For many years now, all sorts of clever consumer brands have been busy building emotional connections and delivering outstanding experiential marketing, from shopping in an Apple store to buying with ease on Amazon. This has given B2B decision makers a new marketing baseline which they expect to be met in their business lives as well. It doesn’t matter whether they’re evaluating marketing software or buying a new outfit on Asos, they see themselves as consumers as much as customers or clients. Frankly, they’re wondering why you’re not exciting and educating them the same way as these consumer brands are doing.
2 Companies need a purpose that’s actioned
The most successful companies put an overarching purpose at the heart of their business. In fact, research by Deloitte states that purpose-oriented organizations report 30% higher levels of innovation and 40% higher levels of workforce retention than their competitors. It gives the example of Unilever, whose 28 ‘sustainable living’ brands, such as Dove, Vaseline and Lipton, delivered 75% of the company’s growth and grew 69% more quickly than the rest of its businesses in 2018. Soap, petroleum jelly and tea are everyday essentials, but a sense of purpose has given them a differentiation. The same can be said for B2B brands. What’s more, an Edelman survey in 2019 showed that 61% of C-suite executives will pay a premium for a B2B service from a brand with a clear vision. This makes finding your true sense of purpose a strategic imperative, but despite this, the vast majority of B2B companies don’t have one that’s more than a statement on their boardroom wall.
Your purpose is the meaningful difference you want to see in the world – the reason why your company exists, above and beyond making a profit. When it’s articulated and executed with authenticity and integrity, it becomes the wind in your company’s sales.
3 Emotion is at your marketing core
If you’re trying to influence a complex sale and you know there are ten other people who will have a say in whether or not you win the contract, your chances of speaking directly with more than two or three of them are nil. The majority will either be too senior for you to access or be unknown to you. So how will they decide if they want to buy from you? What will form their opinion? We can tell you that it won’t be one of your white papers or speeds-and-feeds downloads, it will be your website or what other people say about you.
They’ll receive a shortlist of options from the front-line decision maker, head to relevant websites and check them out. If two are bland and factual, but the third one builds an emotional connection with them and gives them a sense of what the company’s about, that will be the one they prefer. They’ll use lazy brainpower, making snap decisions, believing they are being rational and conscientious (they won’t be).
The way your brand shows up is crucially important on an emotional level because the more people who are involved in a purchase decision, the less control you have over the process. Your product has to speak for itself through your brand. The entire decision-making team isn’t going to wade through reams of factual information to make an informed decision; they rely on the three people you have direct contact with to do that. The result is that a two-year sales process can be won or lost on the impression that a c-suite executive has when he looks at your website for the first time. ‘I don’t like the look of those guys, there’s something about them that doesn’t feel right.’ It can be as whimsical and as career-defining as that.
Using emotion in your branding isn’t just a case of finding a funny image or story and putting it on your website. It’s about igniting emotion with everything you say and do. And it’s about getting to know your audiences, using language and ideas that resonate with them, and finding ways to bring them into your story without them even realizing. Most importantly, it needs to be consistent, using what you know of your customers and your purpose to offer value in a human way. It’s not about you or your products; it’s about the people who buy them and the emotional connections you create.
4 Likeability is transformational
Have you ever worked for weeks on a pitch to a potential client, or painstakingly built a relationship with a prospect over months, only to lose out to another company for some reason that you never got to the bottom of? Have you ever built a new website to explain your product or service in glowing detail, complete with a comparison of features and benefits that your competitors offer (inferior, of course), only to see your sales go down and theirs go up? It’s incredibly frustrating. What’s going on?
It’s the likeability factor. The reason you lost out is almost certainly because your potential customer just liked your competitors more. People want to do business with people they find amenable and trustworthy, even if their products aren’t as good as the other person’s. It’s what the non-reachable executives in the buying group that we mentioned earlier did when they were asked to pick from a shortlist of suppliers – they chose the one they liked the most.
The important aspect of the likeability factor within the context of humanizing B2B marketing is that it’s important you act human. Robots are neither likeable nor trustworthy. Consider how you put your brand across in all your communications; what are you doing that’s empathetic, honest and engaging? Because what you’re trying to do with likeability is to create a bond or connection that will sway people’s decision in your favour.
5 Storytelling is your vehicle
Storytelling isn’t called a science for nothing. In fact, when we hear or read stories we automatically produce neurotransmitters that create different emotions within us. Being on the receiving end of a story releases dopamine, which improves focus, motivation and memory – all feelings you want to induce when you’re selling to someone. Stories that are emotionally intense generate oxytocin, which increases generosity, trust and bonding – this allows your audience to feel a connection with your brand. And when you make people laugh with a story, even in a gentle way, this stimulates the production of endorphins, which encourage your prospects to feel creative, focused and relaxed. Phillips calls these three chemicals the ‘angel’s cocktail’.
There is also, however, the ‘devil’s cocktail’ to consider, which is a mixture of cortisol and adrenaline. These cause people to become intolerant, critical, forgetful and to make bad decisions – not a drink you want your audience to be consuming when they’re engaging with your marketing. And yet, which state of mind do you think is produced by graphs, charts and data sheets with complicated explanations of product features? And which is encouraged by the telling of an engaging, interesting and emotionally charged story? The fact is that when we tell stories we’re not marketing to people, we’re marketing to chemistry.
Your customers are increasingly interested in the human beings behind the public persona of your business, and they’d love to hear compelling stories about them or those you have an effect on through your work. This kind of approach helps them to feel less as if they’re being sold to and more as if they’re being treated like family. No one wants to think they’re the target of a sales pitch, but they always enjoy a good story. After all, when you recommend a product or service to a friend you don’t rattle off a list of features, you share how it had an impact on your life – you’re telling a story without realizing it.
We created these five principles to show you that humanized B2B marketing is not as complicated as it might seem. Putting people instead of products at the heart of your marketing, creating an actionable purpose, treating emotion with the respect it deserves, becoming a likeable brand and learning how to tell great business stories – these are the cornerstone activities of making your company human.