When was the last time you felt anxiously excited about a new email drop?
Can you remember when you last received positive customer feedback on a marketing campaign?
When did you last see a spike in your open rates, engagement, and clicks?
If nothing immediately comes to mind, read on.
When was the last time you brought the fun?
The tone of B2B marketing communications is subtly and slowly transforming from all-knowing to approachable. Whereas communication used to be either one corporate monolith to another, or worse, as one corporate monolith condescendingly speaking to a less knowing company, it’s now more human. We’ve seen firsthand a noticeable shift in how enterprise brands communicate with customers. Instead of making colossal shifts all in one fell swoop, our clients made small changes over several years, progressing toward more helpful and upbeat tones akin to a likable neighbor.
Brand style guides that used to demand a serious, knowledgeable, expert tone in all marketing materials, coupled with stiff, staged corporate photos, have been replaced. Now, we are seeing guides filled with free-flowing graphics and copy direction that promotes a more friendly, relatable, authentic tone.
It’s a welcome shift that allows agency people like us to build campaigns designed to engage by being genuine and relatable instead of trying to impress prospects with corporate buzzwords and feature-packed copy.
Change driven by consumer trends
We believe a confluence of multiple consumer trends has driven the change. Social platforms demanded “real talk” from corporate representatives, not “corporate-speak.” As big businesses noticed case studies featuring the financial growth of brands using open and “real” communication, they began embracing the possibilities. The startling success of small brand media darlings using “authenticity” to sell goods also made B2B companies stand up and take note. Big businesses also grappled with how to leverage social media platforms. For instance, they want consumer-facing employees to engage on LinkedIn, but they are concerned about ensuring that those messages are consistent with the brand. Results are mixed. Some employees share the brand’s latest post. Others step it up with hashtags and callouts. Those that succeed are doing more—commenting and sharing posts from others, tagging people and products, and even using DMs to engage prospects.
Millennials, Gen Z play a role in the transformation
Generations are also playing a role in the transformation. Millennials crave authenticity, transparency and focus more on direct benefits than their boomer counterparts. Boomers (57-66) still want to pick up the phone and talk to sales, while every younger generation avoids direct interaction until necessary. Since millennials are currently aged 25 to 40, they are starting to enter the prime of their careers and have a more significant influence on B2B marketing decisions. Gen Z (9 to 24) demands even more transparency from brands they engage with.
B2B marketers respond to changing values
How has this transformation affected B2B Marketers? Look at Salesforce. They’ve transformed their branding from men and women in suits, shaking hands, to now leading with a whole host of adorable cherub-faced mascots reminiscent of Tokidoki characters. Their copy is relatable and friendly. And they’re not alone. Adobe, Fiverr, Hubspot, and countless other B2B brands have followed suit with a more relaxed, open style.
Marketing is complicated
Marketing today is complicated. You’re trying to calculate ROI and justify spends based on marketing attribution points, which is its own ongoing point of debate. Everyone who’s remotely touched a deal wants to take credit. You’re probably A/B testing campaign messages to see what’s resonating. You need to scale to hit your KPIs of MQL’s, hoping that you stay targeted while scaling so that you also hit your metrics of conversions to SQL’s, pipeline, and deals won. B2B campaign materials and content need to be submitted to marketing automation, the content team, the social team, and more for processing, uploading, and launching. You may find yourself and your team so buried in the analytics that you overlook the timeless engagement foundation for success: the offer, the list, and the creative. In other words, you may have forgotten to bring the fun.
What does this mean for your B2B marketing tactics in 2022?
Many industry giants predict that marketers will look for more creative solutions in 2022 and beyond as a way to stand out in the marketplace. In reality, it’s not that simple. Anyone familiar with creating organic content knows that keywords and contextual relevancy play a significant role in Google search ranking. As such, creative that is too clever (creative for creative’s sake) or keyword-packed without bringing any fresh value often doesn’t deliver. Valuable content requires an investment in strong, compelling copywriting.
Creating smart creative
A frequent mistake we see both B2C and B2B marketers make is trying to engage by tapping into a trending topic or borrowing interest without clearly connecting it to their brand. You may get a pop of attention, but you’ve done nothing to connect with your prospect richly. Instead, use the power of creativity to reinforce your message. Getting strategic with your creative yields better results. Philips Interactive Media once asked us to help promote one of their multiplatform games, Chaos Control. To quickly reinforce the game’s point-of-differentiation as a first-person aircraft shooter game, we created a sweepstakes offering the grand prize winner their own thrill ride of a weekend trip with friends in a private jet.
By reinforcing the essence of the video game through a bucket-list prize, Philip Interactive Media was able to get retailer support and shelf position to help drive consumer interest and sell-through.
Creatively connecting rewards for impact
We regularly rely on rewards to motivate prospects and customers to take action as they move along on their customer journey. As you ask more of a prospect or customer, you need to give them a greater reward for taking action. For instance, we motivated existing B2B customers to register early for the Sage Summit event in Atlanta. Marketing leaders gave each team a targeted number of attendees from their segment and a budget. Instead of creating the typical “Customer VIP Lounge” as a reward, we took the same budget and hosted parties at a pair of iconic Atlanta-based brand headquarters: Coca-Cola and CNN. Not only did our client hit their KPIs, but we also boosted the advocacy potential of these winning customers with a memorable tour, drinks, appetizers, photos, and swag to kick off their Sage Summit experience. By thoughtfully creating more than one option, we reinforced the idea that Sage as a brand continues to customize experiences to align with your personal choices.
Think about your last reward…
The last time you rewarded prospects for taking action, did you and your team bring the fun? Did you connect the prize to your brand essence or a key benefit? Did you tick any ancillary boxes? Are you willing to spend some intellectual capital to reimagine your next reward to see how it performs? One of the most successful Barbie in-store events we ever created supported the new Barbie Fashion Fun segment. We tapped into the girls’ aspirations to model by creating an experience where each child walked down a runway to “model” a different Barbie product. Human Barbie models introduced each child by name and briefly described the product they “modeled.” While we expected the kids to love the runway walk, we didn’t expect all the other kids to stay and watch each other. The impact of this promotion lifted sales by 250% in event stores and 40% overall. Mattel exceeded sales expectations and made retailers, parents, and kids happy.
Getting creative in your touchpoints
Your prospects are engaging with more touchpoints than ever before. Every company is different, and every customer journey is different, but the “rule of thumb” of taking eight touches to get a response now places that number at 24+. At the top of the funnel (TOFU), your prospect’s engagement is often under the radar– another generational change influenced by millennials. Surveys show that most prospects are doing much more of their own research online, stealthily moving down the dark funnel like Navy Seals, before they’re ready to see a demo or talk to a salesperson. Since many B2B opportunities take months or more to close and involve groups like buying teams or committees to approve, your teams will want to stoke the fire and find natural, thoughtful ways to keep pipeline prospects interested.
Accept it. The Buyer’s Journey looks like a flight map, not a funnel
Google’s famous “Zero Moment of Truth” ZMOT study of 4,000 shoppers in 2011 revealed that EVERY ONE OF THE 4,000 SHOPPERS in EVERY SINGLE CATEGORY took a different path to purchase. Your team may already be creating organic content to answer some prospect questions at the top of the funnel (TOFU). Since you can’t fully control each buyer’s unique journey, why not start planting some Easter Egg surprises along the way? In other words, bring the fun to your touchpoints. At worst, it’s one of 24 and won’t make or break your deal. At best, it will accelerate engagement and help your prospect pick up the pace.
You don’t have to overhaul. You need to tweak
Your B2B marketing plan is already complicated. Between the martech stack, the multitude of product launches, platforms with organic and paid ads, ABM campaigns, nurtures, upsells, and cross-sells, just keeping all your plates spinning toward hitting your MQL targets, pipeline KPIs, and deals won is a win. The best place to start to infuse the fun is by looking at your dashboard:
- Where are the laggards?
- Which segment is showing fatigue?
- Who’s not responding?
Try something new (and fun)
Try communicating in a new way. Our direct response sales promotion foundation has consistently proven that novelty plus limited-time availability contributes to the success of promotional offers. Marketing neuroscience reinforces the notion that our brains crave new, fresh things. Along with novelty, prospects often respond to fun engagement, prizes, and rewards, for B2C as well as B2B brands.
In short, if you want a prospect or customer to take action to move along in the customer journey, you need to grab their attention and give them a reason to do so now. Otherwise, they will think about taking action later, which turns into never.
Keep your reward window short
Most successful consumer promotion lasts 4-6 weeks, just like McDonald’s Happy Meals. Why? Because you can’t have a sale every week, or else it’s not a sale. Coke and Pepsi, for instance, each go on sale just under half of the weeks of the year at retail to protect their regular price. Sometimes we extend the timing for B2B promotions based on the frequency of communication; generally, the times fall into the 30/60/90 timeframe and/or align with quarters.
Bring the fun by taking five steps to think small
- Small pilot. Start with the place where your marketing is underachieving. Commit to a Pilot of Fun. Set your targets for success.
- Small audience. Tailor your communication to talk to one person. Remember, THEY are the HERO in the Hero’s Journey, not you or your brand.
- Small moment in time. At this moment (step in the customer journey), what questions are they trying to answer (related to your product/service)?
- Small change. How can you change your existing answer to that question in a small way to make it more fun or engaging?
- Small reward. Once prospects get their answer, you’re going to want them to take the next step. Remember, the value increases as they move toward the deal. What small relatable reward can you offer them to take that next step?
How to relate the reward to your brand
Not all rewards are created equal (even if valued the same).
Your small reward should act as a dopamine booster for your prospect or customer.
One of the biggest mistakes we see companies make is selecting rewards and writing copy that fails to reinforce a benefit of their product at that step of the customer journey. Tactically, the reward can be:
- a chance to win a relevant prize through an engaging gamification process like a digital scratcher or match and win
- an unexpected direct mailer object
- a piece of content that they perceive to be valuable enough to share so that they can build their street cred
- a digital reward
To optimize the impact of the reward, it must reinforce a key benefit of your product or service, specifically as it relates to the prospect’s mindset at that point in their journey.
To learn more about how your can create relatable rewards, download Bringing the Fun in 7 Simple Steps.