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Why (and how) B2B marketers should step away from their conventions

Triana Jarman

When it comes to marketing and copywriting in particular, marketers  have in the past adhered to some traditional conventions. These limitations would tend to come in the form of things like the company you worked for, the industry in which you operated, the country in which your business was based or your discipline. Fortunately B2B marketers slowly followed the more ‘fast-paced’ world of B2C and broke free from many of these conventions over the years, ensuring that their campaigns were once again noticed.

The trouble is that every B2B brand began doing the same and in the process created their own content marketing conventions. So many companies are now using virtually identical content in terms of format, style, strategy or promotional tactics that customers are becoming used to these approaches, making it challenging for marketing to have a significant impact.

So what are the recommendations to break those content marketing conventions? Doug Kessler, founder of marketing agency Velocity Partners, recently spoke at B2B Marketing Ignite conference in London a few weeks back on this very topic. From that talk I took away these helpful tips for us marketers:

Don’t be afraid to use your weaknesses
One of the examples Doug gave in his presentation was of the VW beetle when they first took it to market. The folks at VW knew it was ugly compared to almost all other cars at the time, so they decided to play on that in their marketing by acknowledging that it wasn’t pretty, but practical and economical instead. They broke the mould by using humour and frank honesty to get attention and left the reader feeling that they could trust the brand and it’s messaging. The idea of drawing attention to weak points in B2B marketing may be a challenge too far for some, but those who can pull it off may have an awful lot to gain.

Follow your instinct and your heart
If you’re passionate about an idea and truly believe something will succeed, don’t stop doing it, no matter what the data says. If some of the most successful entrepreneurs had given up because the data indicated something wasn’t working, they wouldn’t be household names today (obligatory Richard Branson reference here). As hard as it may be for us to persuade the bosses to ignore the metrics, the same should apply to marketers. The vast majority of us have been operating in a data-driven world for quite some years now, but sometimes it just takes time to get the message through or for an audience to adopt to your approach.

Don’t hide your nerds
Often it’s too easy to put the usual spokespeople front and centre of your brand, but the real superheros are often the geeks. So find the people who are passionate about their role in your organisation and who can represent your business and show how much you care about customer service, technology or operations for example, in a truly engaging way. Perhaps host a profile of these key staff members on your website? Maybe they’d like to present a short video? Would they be suitable speakers for your next webinar?

Explore charged emotions
Don’t be shy of talking about emotive subjects. Many brands prefer not to align themselves to content which may be emotional or even a little controversial and, while in many cases you probably won’t want to take a side in a political argument, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be seen to discuss the topic at all. Brexit is just one area which continues to be charged full of emotion and while many businesses have this well and truly locked in as a part of their content schedule, the smart brands were those who saw it coming and weren’t afraid to discuss it prior to the vote.

Swear!
I may not be able to vouch for the source, but it was certainly my favourite statistic from the B2B Marketing event – it seems that between 3 and 4 % of all words spoken in the UK are swear words! This was told to us not because we should all literally start swearing in our marketing (although that was encouraged!), but that we should be more honest and perhaps a little daring in our messaging, in a way that will really resonate with customers. I suspect there are many brand guidelines out there where blasphemy doesn’t quite fit into the preferred ‘voice’, but perhaps that’s the point… are we all sticking to our conventions and staying too ‘safe’ in the process?

I’m conscious that what has been written here may not be precisely what Doug had presented, but even if my memory has distorted some of the detail over a few short weeks, the takeaway is this. It’s not about being brave or daring, and it’s not about swearing like a sailor just to get attention. It’s about stepping away from the norms that we (and our customers) are so used to.

It’s about being creative, relevant, and ultimately about being heard. Yes you might have to be brave when you justify a new approach to the board, but your customers may well love you for it. That’s why (and how) B2B marketers should step away from their marketing conventions.