Does “B2B” stand for “bored to bits”?
We do a lot of B2B work at our agency. In fact, many of the smaller to mid-sized shops I know have some sort of B2B client on their daily “to do” lists. And while I’m not sure of the stats, I would guess that a lot of marketing majors end up in B2B.
So why, then, are so many of us apologizing?
Let me explain.
Every month or so, I venture to seminars and meetings run by the Business Marketing Association chapter we belong to. It’s great. There’s finger food, brain food, and plenty of schmoozing to go around.
And, I hear a lot of this:
“Yeah, well, what we do isn’t very sexy. We sell _____ to _____.”
You can fill in the blanks with whatever/whomever you want, as long as it’s B2B-ish: Semi-conductors to electronic behemoths… Polymers and resins to bottle cap manufacturing conglomerates… Coatings and sealants to captains of high-sea industry.
Often, these comments are accompanied by a sheepish smile or a head drooped in career shame. Why?
Perhaps it’s because when most of us think of advertising, what plays on the mini TV set of our minds is the consumer stuff—packaged goods, electronics, entertainment, beer—all the lavish, multi-gazillion budget, Madison Avenue productions.
There’s a stigma that attaches itself—tooth, nail and tentacle—to B2B advertising. A lot people think that it’s just not that creative. They’re right.
You were probably expecting me to defend B2B right there. “No! B2B is fascinating… the critics are cheering… it is TOO creative!”
Sorry, most of it isn’t. In fact, some is downright deadly. But I think that’s changing.
I’m seeing more and more B2B-type messaging seeping into mainstream advertising. General Electric has been telling us that their turbines power the generators that keep our Buds cold and people gainfully employed. And Boeing’s spots feature an endless stream of employee spokespeople proudly telling us “why they are here,” as ultra-cool aircraft fly overhead.
Hmmmm… strangely B2B messages, posted in the consumer world for all to see? It’s nothing too terribly new, but it signifies something important: The wall that separates the lands of business and consumer marketing is crumbling.
Decaying walls are OK by us. With much of our B2B work, we intentionally “go consumer” when developing product names, logos, packaging, and, yes, even ads. In the vast wasteland of much B2B advertising, our clients stand out and consequently sell more. Isn’t that the point?
I must take a breath here to give a round of applause to the clients who let us take those kinds of creative risks. Fortunately for everyone’s jobs, it has worked.
Why is B2B and B2C starting to meld? I think it may be because the line between our work life and regular life has gotten fuzzier. Our tablets and mobile devices are making sure of that. We consume messages and media all day and well into the night—the 9 to 5 mentality and view of the world has changed for most of us.
Just think of some of the more lame B2B stuff you’ve seen lately. Could you imagine even THINKING of using those headlines, images or messages with a consumer?!? We’d be too worried about boring them into a coma. So, just because he or she is dressed in business casual, do those mundane messages mutate into something mesmerizing?
Granted, business people are concerned with ROI, costs, efficiency, and the rest of the bulleted list from a Wharton School of Business syllabus. In all your communications with business types, you have to sell the benefits, of course. But, there’s no reason you can’t be interesting… or at least try to be.
Remember, business folks are consumers, too—who buy TVs, gum, toys for their kids, clothes, and more. Why wouldn’t they respond to something as familiar as a creative, consumery approach?
Here’s a good test for your next B2B marketing assignment. After you or your agency have created a communiqué, promptly remove your marketing hat, don your business headgear, and ask yourself, “Would I read this?”
– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group.