According to B2B Marketing, 2021 is ‘The Year of the Human’ and an opportunity for brands to reconnect with customers, build trust and relationships, and elevate buyer experiences through stronger engagements. As B2B experts in the art of natural storytelling, communications and building brilliant relationships, we thought we’d explore this trend for our first instalment of ‘Skout likes’. After all, in B2B, we don’t talk to the company, we talk to the people who make it tick.
Adding the human touch
A quick Google search is all you need to find out why putting the human at the centre of B2B marketing is a ‘hot topic’ for marketers this year. Over the past decade there have been many best practice articles that have encouraged B2B businesses to connect with their customers on a human level, but this is easier said than done. Research reveals that while 97% of B2B marketers believe that it’s important to humanise their brand, two-thirds have either struggled or don’t know where to start! However, the events of the last eighteen months, as well as the acceleration of technology, has pushed marketers to start thinking seriously about how to connect with customers in more innovative and personal ways in order to remain competitive and open the door to new opportunities. Simply saying your business is human doesn’t quite ‘cut it’.
As mentioned, one of the driving forces behind the human era of marketing is digital transformation. Advancements in digital tools, data platforms and automation has enabled marketers to take advantage of a spectrum of marketing techniques that can be used to generate new leads while nurturing existing contacts. But, has this come at a cost? In short, yes and no. All-in-one marketing solutions such as HubSpot, have allowed businesses to communicate with their customers with little human interaction, increasing the risk of messaging and tone of voice being lost or confused. On the flip side, automated workflows, for example, have given marketers more time to focus on creating exciting campaigns that engage their audience while analytics and business intelligence tools help provide more understanding about a buyers behaviour. Moving away from the buying process for a moment, it’s also important to think about how digital transformation has impacted the human-to-human relationships with existing clients. Undoubtedly, platforms including Microsoft Teams and Zoom have helped businesses maintain relationships throughout the pandemic and in some ways have actually improved them. At Skout, for example, we have been able to have more ‘face time’ with our clients and business partners and have leveraged these tools on an internal level, opening new channels for team communication. But, with video meetings now common place in B2B, there is less chance of forming the kinds of organic relationships which were previously forged outside of a virtual setting.
Another factor encouraging B2B businesses to market themselves as more human has undeniably been the impacts of Covid-19 and the influence this has had on the customer. Remember, while you’re still trying to sell to businesses, the decision-makers investing in your product or service are ultimately the people. Put yourself in their shoes; just like you, they have battled through the challenges of the pandemic, and have possibly experienced both financial and personal difficulties. No one wants to engage with a company that is unrelatable, corporate and faceless. Humans want to deal with other humans and are more likely to interact with businesses that show understanding and empathy. Forbes recently said: “A good marketer should highlight the human side of a business, whether that’s showcasing employees and the people behind the product or perhaps referencing a brand’s humble beginnings. Pulling back the curtain on your company will be key as brick-and-mortar companies continue to take their business online, enterprises from all industries undergo digital transformations, and the world continues to work and learn remotely.” This is where B2B can learn from their B2C cousins who are well versed in ensuring the human shines through their approach to marketing.
B2B H2H marketing done right
For business longevity and success, it’s imperative to consider how you can give your brand a personality and stand out from an otherwise crowded market. By harnessing the power of the marketing tools you have, combined with a big dash of personalisation and an oversized helping of creativity you can help foster authentic conversations with key audiences and influencers. Don’t be afraid to utilise every channel, from email marketing through to social media, each method can help you reach your customer on different levels. However, rather than bombarding them with generic information or promotions that might not deliver value to their individual needs or may seem insincere or insensitive, adapt your messages and content to show how your product or service can make their lives easier, the benefits it can offer, the challenges it addresses and how it might make them feel. Go that extra mile by complementing this with content they can learn from as well as showcasing the people behind your business. With all this in mind, here are a few examples of B2B companies that have got it right!
- Asana – ‘We love teams’ campaign
Asana is a web and mobile application designed to help teams organise, track and manage their work. During a community event hosted by the company, where people using the platform could meet and learn from each other, the CEO of Whales and Dolphin conservation said: “I can genuinely say that there are more dolphins and whales alive today because of Asana”. For the company, this really ‘hit home’ and captured the ethos they were marketing – ‘to work together effortlessly’. Following on from this, they decided to integrate their customers within their marketing, showcasing the stories about how Asana has enabled them to do the things that they loved, using murals and photographs to support the message and to make a visual impact. In a recent blog on their webpage, they said: “For us, the Asana brand lives in the stories and experiences of our customers”.
- Zendesk – Humour meets professionalism
Zendesk is provides software-as-a-service products related to customer support, sales and other customer communications. The company has managed to engage with its audience by adding a humorous personality to its messaging. Rather than dressing everything up in complicated business jargon, its tone of voice is informal, simple and quite frankly, funny. Yet, it has still managed to retain professionalism as the content it shares is informative and relevant. Just by taking a look at their social media feeds, you will see what we mean. Ahead of the trend, Zendesk have understood the value of adding the human touch to its marketing for years, as highlighted in this ad they ran in 2014 aptly titled ‘I like it when he gives me the business’.
- Mailchimp – Anything but stuffy
When researching the best examples of B2B H2H marketing one company that continues to make the list is Mailchimp, an email marketing company. The business is renowned for its people-first branding and its marketing department is always thinking of clever ways to connect with its audience. In 2017, in partnership with advertising agency Droga5, it launched a campaign named ‘Did you mean Mailchimp?’ which took inspiration from the mispronunciation of the brand name e.g. ‘JailBlimp’, ‘Mail Shrimp’, ‘FailChips’ etc. According to Droga5 ‘marketing isn’t about reaching everyone – it’s about reaching the right ones…we took an approach that celebrated individuality and creativity’ using nine mini campaigns to target potential customers.
There are plenty more cases where B2B businesses have hit the nail on the head when it comes to humanising their brand. Not only does it make for more engaging content, but it also helps build brand loyalty and trust, while fostering authentic relationships with your key customers. Since the pandemic, the demand for human connection within B2B has been more prominent than ever, and marketers need to start reconsidering old approaches and employ new tactics to do this. Linkedin’s ‘Conversations with the B2B Institute’, has highlighted that the reason B2B marketers aren’t tapping into the human element more is that there are stereotypical assumptions about what customers want and need. Yet, the unarticulated needs are often much richer and more full of potential and it’s the responsibility of a marketer to probe deeper and uncover these. While this may be challenging, it’s definitely worth the investment. However, in our view, the best starting point is to remember that B2B professionals aren’t the business, they’re human!
You can find out more about ‘the humans’ that make Skout shine here.