B2B More Human launches with webinar

B2B marketing has long been viewed as B2C’s less sexy cousin. Cold, clinical and cognitive, its preoccupation with product-driven campaigns too often leaves brands out in the communication cold.

mark-making*’s B2B More Human aims to bring it back to the boil. Following last week’s live webinar, we sat Ali down to download the essentials for anyone who wants to set their course for B2B brand success.

This photo is well-known at mark-making*. Tell us – who are these fresh-faced youths?

Aha! Yes. This is a picture of me and Steve – my business partner and Co-founder of mark-making* – back in 1995. This is us having a little tea break in my Mum’s back garden, just a few months into the business. She was a physio back then, but she was taking a career break, so we commandeered her treatment room as our office just after we graduated.

And what was the business like back then?

We were essentially a graphic design house, but what really powered those early days was our shared interest in problem-solving – cracking communications challenges through design and words. The projects were small, varied, and not particularly lucrative, but it was exactly the experience we needed to grow in confidence. So much has changed since then – the work we do and the types of organisations we do it for – but the fundamentals of marketing are essentially the same, and I think our original strapline ‘blood, sweat and ideas (since 1995)’ is as apt as it ever was.

These days, the agency is focused primarily on brand building for B2B. And more recently you launched something called B2B More Human. What’s that all about?

Well, we’ve always had a real soft spot for B2B. Because it’s absolutely packed with untapped potential. And because of, as I’ve mentioned, this shared curiosity and drive to problem solve that Steve and I have, over the years we’ve really invested in unpacking what makes B2B brands thrive. 

Clearly, there are only so many brands we can work with directly, and that’s always been a real frustration because we know the impact our approach has in driving the success of these organisations. So the idea behind B2B More Human is to share what we’ve learned across 30 years by distilling everything we know into a playbook for ambitious brands. But it’s also a rallying cry for the whole sector to take a fresh look at B2B, and recognise that a different approach can get them the results they want.

And why is it, from your perspective, that B2B needs this rallying cry? What makes it so different to B2C?

It’s not different to B2C in every way. It faces the same challenges that every brand does – the need to be meaningfully different in the eyes of their customers in order to be chosen. And the need to be memorable in order to come to mind in the first place.

But B2B brands have it even tougher than B2C, because of the 95/5 rule*. And that’s the fact that B2B customers are only in the market to buy a brand’s products or services 5% of the time. You only need to think about it for a few seconds to confirm how true that is. How often, for example, is a brand looking to engage a law firm? Or lease a van? Or buy accounting software? Annually, if you’re lucky? Every few years? So when that opportunity comes around, you have to be thought of to have a chance of being bought. So being memorable becomes even more crucial.

And what we’re saying with B2B More Human is that being more human and living the principles that underpin that idea is the route to being both memorable and creating meaningful difference. And when you add those two characteristics together, you dramatically increase the potential for your brand to be the one of choice.

In your webinar introducing B2B More Human, you referenced a success story with tech firm, Preservica.

Yeah, so Preservica is a great example of how this approach works so brilliantly. They’re specialists in digital preservation. And when you focus on the product level, it’s complex stuff and it becomes pretty difficult to succinctly communicate the significance and value of the offer. But take a step back and think about the human impact of the work they do in protecting the digital world that’s grown up around us and suddenly you’ve grabbed hearts and minds and the sell becomes easier.

So what, in summary, are the key aspects of this approach that you want B2B brands to put into practice?

We’ve called it ‘distinctly (un)radical’ because it’s a no-nonsense, totally accessible approach to sustained success for B2B brands. And at its heart is the central premise that human nature hasn’t changed since we first rose up on two legs. As we’ve touched on already, we are, and always have been, a glorious mess of contradictions, overwhelmingly driven by our emotions.

So with B2B More Human, what we’ve done is to build a structured approach around four guiding principles – people before product (which I’ve already talked about); keeping it real, which is about the importance of authenticity, accessibility, and the appeal of imperfection in building a connection with people; head and heart, in other words balancing the emotional and the rational; and dare to be different, which stresses the value of harnessing creativity and shunning sameness. Because too often, B2B is guilty of ‘blanding’. Don’t get me started, I could really go on about this one!

Actually, I do want to dig in for a moment to two of those. Firstly, in the webinar, you talk about Jennifer Lawrence and the Pratfall Effect.

Ah yes! Jennifer Lawrence and her tumble on the stairs on her way to collect her Oscar. That’s a brand-building moment right there. From the glossy perfection of Hollywood to a deeply human moment. It let people in to the real person and her star immediately soared. She became more revered because it happened, not less. And that is because she became instantly relatable.

It’s a human phenomenon that B2B brands need to embrace if they want to thrive. Of course they need to present as capable and professional. But so often, that drives them into presenting as robotic and clinical. And that’s not what people respond to.

And who are Party Cannon?

These guys are brilliant. A death metal band from Dunfermline, touring the festival circuit and presenting themselves with the most cheerful identity imaginable. The conversation around their logo alone has accelerated their fame. And when you see it alongside the copy-and-paste branding of all the other bands – it’s the perfect illustration of what we’re pushing B2B brands to recognise.

So for anyone out there who’s leading a B2B brand’s marketing and wants to adapt their approach to make it more human, what’s the first thing they should do?

Well, the first thing is to find out where they are right now. And we’ve created a simple assessment tool that you can access for free when you download our guide to B2B More Human. You answer a series of questions to get a visual snapshot highlighting where changes could be made to show more of your brand’s human side. Then, from there, it’s about understanding the root causes of any particular shortcomings, before developing a plan of action to address them. Of course, we can help with all of that if people need outside support and guidance. Just get in touch.

And finally, Ali, what’s the most human thing you’ve done of late that initially felt like it could present as a weakness, but ultimately added up to a strength?

Ha! Great question.

I had a video call with a new contact just this morning. She’s a super-experienced CMO who I’m slightly in awe of, so I was excited at the opportunity to chat. 

I could see her but couldn’t hear her. I was doing all the ‘shall we ring off then rejoin?’ gestures and silent mouthing. We both dropped out of the call – at which point I realised she couldn’t hear me because my sound was turned right down. I did consider keeping schtum, but came clean. I’m not sure whether that presented as a strength, but I suspect the honesty was appreciated and the subsequent conversation was great!

You can get your guide to B2B More Human, here. And Ali’s recent webinar is available to watch again, here.

*Source: John Dawes, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute

About markmaking*

mark-making* is an award-winning creative agency specialising in branding, campaigns and communications