2020 has taught us to get comfortable with dizzyingly blurred lines.
With no commutes, wardrobe changes, or illusions of work-persona perfection, we’ve all learned one key lesson. That even when we’re getting paid to do something, we’re still people. People with real lives. Real dreams, fears, insecurities. And we don’t – we never did – magically shed these human qualities just because we walked through the doors of an office.
It’s for this very reason that I have real hope that we can stop marketing to business buyers differently from how we market to consumers.
Great marketing – consumer or B2B – is at its core, great storytelling. And every great story begins the same way, with the protagonist wanting something.
Cinderella wanted freedom. Odysseus wanted to get home. Romeo wanted to marry Juliet.
In great marketing, it’s the same. It’s about what the customer – not the brand – wants. And more importantly, what the customer wants to feel.
People want to feel creative. So, they pay more for Apple, even if it’s to perform the most mundane of digital tasks.
People want to feel like good parents. So, they pay more for Pampers, even when P&G sells Luvs as the brand to buy once you’ve gotten over the need to overspend to feel like a perfect parent.
People want to feel free. So, they pay a premium for a Harley Davidson motorcycle, even though most of them will not ride it regularly.
And, yes. Hard as it may be to believe – even B2B buyers want to feel something.
In fact, according to Harvard professor, Gerald Zaltman, 95% of purchase decisions – or any decisions – rely primarily on emotion. Because, it turns out that decision-making happens in the part of the human brain that’s almost completely unaffected by rational reasons to believe.
So why do most (or virtually all) brands write briefs that begin the same way? Here’s our business challenge. Here’s our new product. Here’s our differentiator?
And why does most B2B marketing rely on unimpressive product photography, and endless blocks of technical copy no one is ever going to read, or understand?
Because 95% of us are still convinced that people buy with their heads.
But luckily, some B2B brands are using theirs.
Eaton Corporation is a great example. They know it isn’t good enough to sell tech specs to IT pros. Because what these buyers actually need is to feel understood – for their quirks and all. To feel powerful and included – even though nearly every one of them is by the nature of their job, an outsider at their organization.
Lenovo’s Data Center Group gets it, too. They realize that server rooms and promises full of literal and figurative hot air don’t work. Neither does data visualized the way everyone else does it – with the same stock photography. It’s instead about making it clear that while numbers add up, it’s the people who make them count. And those people are ready to be at the heart of the story.
And then there’s Vistaprint. For them, it wasn’t enough to offer Veteran and LGBTQ+ owned small businesses the best price on business cards. Because what they really wanted was for their businesses to look as legitimate, and as real, as they did in their heads. That drove Vistaprint to step up and create the first-ever physical storefronts for entrepreneurs — helping to make their dreams a brick-and-mortar reality.
So, while client briefs may not change, agencies need to change the way they address them. And it’s clear where to start:
Begin with the customer, not the brand
Learn what they’re afraid of, their aspirations, and what they wish more people knew about them. Real, often unexpected truths. An understanding of how they want to feel.
Ensure that your understanding extends beyond their work self
Star Wars or Star Trek? Billions or Succession? Craft or homebrew? Not so you can develop a persona with a goofy name to say you’ve done it. But so you can move forward with empathy. So you never lose sight of where the protagonist is on their journey.
Talk tech specs if, and only if, it can be done in a useful way.
And in a way that’s helpful and empathetic to getting that protagonist where they want to go. To make them feel the way they want to feel. Customers don’t want your brands’ new features. They want their own personal success.
Because the truth is now clear. We’re all real people.
Under the desk, we’re all wearing sweatpants. And, it turns out, in our minds, we always have been. Because all business is personal. And those who get there first will get ahead.
Jeb Blatt, SVP, director of client services at Jack Morton.
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