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Flipping the B2B Marketing Script: 7 Brands That Talk to Consumers, Not Companies

Posted on Dec 4th, 2018
Written by Nick Nelson
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  • Flipping the B2B Marketing Script: 7 Brands That Talk to Consumers, Not Companies
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    “It feels like I’m talking to a wall.”

    This is the utterance you might hear from a person whose counterpart in a conversation is not particularly engaged. If you’ve been there, then you know it’s not a great feeling.

    But one of the biggest issues in B2B content marketing is actually the reverse: people tend to feel like the brands marketing to them are the ones talking to walls – as in, speaking to them as if they were an intangible corporate entity rather than a human being.

    For this reason, “business to business” can be a troubling misnomer. In this discipline, we’re not really marketing to businesses – buildings with walls and stairs and desks and chairs – but the people who inhabit those buildings.

    And in order to be truly effective, we need to break through this wall and achieve meaningful human connections. That means striking notes of authenticity, emotion, and distinct personal relevance.

    The good news? It most certainly can be done with fun, flair, and finesse. And plenty of brands are doing it well.

    Below, we highlight seven B2B brands that we feel are setting a great example with their approaches to customer interactions and conversations.

    These B2B Brands Bring the Human Touch

    #1 – Slack*

    Their collaboration hub is a business solution, helping organizations produce better work more efficiently, but that’s because it makes life so much easier for the people who use it. When a business adopts Slack, it’s often because the employees made a push for it by consensus. Accordingly, the company’s message tends to be aimed toward those professionals, and not just the decision makers or executives who ultimately hold the buying power.

    Slack’s Twitter account is far from a stuffy business feed. They also run another account called @SlackLoveTweets, which amplifies the voices of relatable everyday users who express affinity for particular features of the product. And if you scroll through Slack’s blog, Several People Are Typing, you’ll find plenty of posts that focus more on the people doing the work than the work itself.  

    For example, a recent piece titled A Slack Guide to Going Out of Office opens with this empathetic paragraph:

    Even though many of us daydream about our next vacation, there’s a real fear about being able to unplug, leave your team and projects behind, and return later with minimal disruption. It’s not easy, and it’s natural to ask yourself, What will happen at work while I’m gone, and how will I ever catch up when I get back?

    Oh. And check out this little gem.

    #2 – MailChimp

    The email marketing platform received a lot of positive attention last year for its first large-scale marketing campaign, which was tremendously fun and clever. Riffing on slight misspellings of the brand name (and Google’s knack for determining a searcher’s intent with “Did you mean X?”), MailChimp and agency Droga5 created a series of faux products, short films, and songs.

    The video below explains the rationale behind this effort and shows some examples:

    MailChimp’s people-first branding is also displayed on their Instagram account. Here’s a snapshot of recent posts on their feed; not exactly the typical dry B2B fare:

    MailChimp Instagram Marketing Example

    #3 – WeWork

    A provider of flexible office space, WeWork has grown rapidly since being founded in 2010. Earlier this year, the company launched an in-house creative agency, which put rolled out its first campaign in May. The series of digital spots featured workers in cramped, undesirable offices juxtaposed against open, comfortable workspaces.

    WeWork’s VP of creative strategy explained the thought process behind the campaign strategy to AdAge:

    “We wanted to make something that was relatable,” said Michael Fitzsimmons. “The scenarios in the videos … represent real challenges that a lot of businesses deal with on a daily basis.”

    More importantly, the scenarios represent challenges that the human beings at those businesses deal with.

    #4 – DivvyHQ*

    Offering a specialized platform for planning and executing content marketing initiatives, DivvyHQ markets to a specific type of professional: content marketing managers and others in charge of running content teams and strategies. As such, you’ll find plenty of posts on their blog that speak directly to this cohort (e.g., New Marketing Technology Trends: 5 Takeaways for Content Managers), even if that means potentially turning away folks who fall outside of it.

    As co-founder Brody Dorland explained in a recent piece on content personalization:

    “While it’s obviously valuable to obtain and keep the attention of people who are in your target audience, it can be almost equally valuable to avert those who are not. In this regard, many content marketers could stand to be a bit more forthright and frontal.”

    Additionally, DivvyHQ will often add recognizable themes and references to business-oriented content, making it more sticky with the humans reading it. For example, last year they released a content strategy guide built around Back to the Future. More recently they had a blog post on enterprise content collaboration — an innately humdrum topic — and spiced it up with a Star Trek spin.

    #5 – Antea Group*

    Here’s another company that seeks out personally relevant angles for otherwise straightforward subject matter. Antea Group is a global EHS and sustainability consulting firm, and often adds some pop culture flavor to blog posts in order to catch readers.

    For instance, an EHS overview has more pull when it’s full of inside jokes and memes from the comedy flick Office Space. And a writeup on safety compliance is much more fun when framed as a way to escape the nefarious Demogorgon from the Netflix show Stranger Things. The latter post even included a customized contact form for the fictional monster.

    Antea Group Stranger Things Marketing Example

    #6 – Cisco

    The global technology conglomerate has been around for more than 30 years and is still going strong, largely because of its foresight and propensity for staying ahead of the curve. Our topic at hand is the perfect example; Cisco’s VP of EMEA Marketing was espousing the importance of “human to human marketing” years ago.

    “Technology has been the enabler and supported how marketing has evolved and is now accomplished,” wrote Jeremy Bevan. “But has the outcome of marketing really changed? If we take away technology and go back to the fundamental basics – what are we as marketers really here to do? It is quite simply to be ‘human.’ ”

    Cisco has long prioritized corporate social responsibility initiatives and frequently highlights a deeper purpose through emotionally driven campaigns. Here’s a great example:

    “If you can imagine it, we’ll build a bridge to get you there.” Powerful stuff.

    #7 – Zendesk

    “It can be hard for B2B companies to find the balance between humor and professionalism on social media,” wrote Lindsay Kolowich in a post for Content Marketing Institute (CMI) last year. “But Zendesk is one of the B2B brands that’s really nailed it.”

    Indeed, this has become a signature for the customer service software company. You can check out that CMI post for prime examples or just scroll through Zendesk’s Twitter feed to find plenty of casual and informal language that strikes a chord with everyday folks.

    For a taste of the brand’s humorous and edgy take on B2B campaigns, watch their classic “I like it when he gives me the business” ad from a years back:

    No More Business as Usual

    The days of companies talking to walls need to end. Whether B2C or B2B, if brands cannot strike an authentic and human tone with their audiences, they’re going to get shut out. When crafting your message, think always about the people at the businesses you’re marketing to, rather than the businesses themselves.

    This is a fundamental tenet for modern strategies, and central to our content marketing approach at TopRank Marketing. Get in touch if you’d like to learn more; we promise you won’t find yourself talking to a wall.

    The days of companies talking to walls need to end. Whether #B2C or #B2B, if brands cannot strike an authentic and human tone with their audiences, they’re going to get shut out. @NickNelsonMN Share on X

    Want more examples of brands engaging in customer-centric marketing? Check out these helpful posts:

    *Disclaimer: Slack, Antea Group, and DivvyHQ are TopRank Marketing clients.