There’s a wide misconception that B2B brands just can’t compete with B2C brands. Smaller companies that make things that aren’t considered flashy – we’re looking at you, print-cartridge makers – are especially afflicted with doubt about their attractiveness because of the attention B2C brands like iPhone and Red Bull get.
There are two things B2Bs must remember: One, your product is attractive to someone if they need it; and two, just like with B2C brands, no matter what you sell, you need to be human when you sell it.
It’s all about emotional attachment, and as corny as it sounds, love. Your customers must love your brand. And to do that your brand must be human. As Mark Schaefer says in his book “Marketing Rebellion,” “The fact is, we cannot love a logo, a jingle, or a piece of branded content. But we can love a person.” Think of your brand as a person, talking to your consumers like people. That’s what humans do.
Have you ever received one of those family letters at the holidays? You know, the ones that start “Dear family and friends”? You know a bunch of people got the same letter. It’s a form letter, written for everyone, not for anyone in particular, and certainly not specifically for you.
That’s marketing automation. It’s the email with the [name here] that sounds like it was written by a robot and sent to thousands of people just like you. Or kind of like you. Or nothing at all like you. It’s hard to tell just who the message is intended for because it’s been stripped of all personalization. People don’t talk to people that way. So why are you talking to customers that way? That’s not human.
After all, if you’re selling toilet seats, you’re not selling them to toilets, you’re selling them to people. People want to be treated as not just a customer, but as a preferred customer, someone who you value and want to work at to make happy, even if it’s just about a toilet seat purchase.
Slack, the collaboration hub, is good at this. Not only do they offer content such as this guide for going out of office (which includes the line “What will happen at work while I’m gone, and how will I ever catch up when I get back?” something that resonates with every middle manager in the world), the app also offers daily messages, such as “You look nice today.” Who doesn’t feel better after that? It’s only human to feel that way.
Oh, What a Feeling
One of the things that make us human is our range of feelings. Once our basic needs have been met, we have the luxury of possessing a dazzling array of emotions. Today’s marketing is about telling stories to evoke those emotions, to make us feel human. It’s not about selling a product; it’s about creating a relationship. And if that all sounds just a little too touchy-feely, consider this: “Consumers are looking for brands that don’t just deliver benefits, but really touch their souls and help them to connect with the wider world,” Wharton marketing professor Patti Williams explains. “I think we’ve shown that emotions really have an impact on the kinds of relationships that consumers have with brands.”
Those emotions can be more complex than just happiness or satisfaction. When we look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a staple of Marketing 101, we see that the highest-level human needs include respect by others and belonging to a group. Apple excels at meeting those human desires by creating products owned by people who recognize each other as part of a group “other” than the mainstream.
Human to Human
Instead of thinking about B2B and B2C, think H2H (Human to Human). This is nothing new: In 2013 Hill Holiday and Lippincott, published “Welcome to the Human Era,” which showed the divide between human brands and industrial brands. Many brands still don’t get it, possibly because being human takes way more effort than being non-human. Just like wanting to be a real boy didn’t make Pinocchio a real boy, just saying your brand is human isn’t enough. It takes a little magic – and a lot of hard work:
“Being a Human Era brand goes beyond merely saying that one is more ‘human.’ It requires an authentic story delivered consistently through an inspiring experience,” Jess Marranco of HubSpot wrote in 2015. “It requires hard work — establishing organizational values and commitments that are customer-driven, while also driving them toward daily leadership decision-making and employee behaviors.”
Here’s how to start (and this goes from everything and everyone from customer service to marketing to management):
- Have empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand how someone feels. And many times, when someone contacts you, it’s because they don’t feel good about something, even if it’s something like a leaky faucet. It’s important to them. Think about how you’d feel, then treat them the way you’d want to be treated.
- Have a conversation.
If you’re a real person and your customers are real people, be conversational. Talk to them like you’d talk to a friend. Maybe not a best friend (because that’s just probably TMI), but a friend who you like and respect.
- Share your why.
Nuts and bolts are your “what”. You sell the tools necessary to finish a project that your customer cares about because you care about them getting the job done right. That’s your “why”.
- Be personal.
Would you rather get an email that starts with “Hi, Sheila” (if your name is Sheila) or “to whom it may concern”? Being personal means treating your consumer as an individual and sending your message directly to them.
- Inject some humor.
If it’s appropriate. It isn’t always. But nothing says human like a sense of humor because humor requires a sense of self-awareness. You know who doesn’t have self-awareness? Robots.
- Don’t afraid to be human.
Humans make mistakes. When your brand makes a mistake, own it. Apologize for it sincerely. Communicate it immediately. Fix it quickly. Remain open and transparent. Yes, that’s not what all humans do when they make a mistake, but they should. And so should your brand.
Guest post by Scott Miraglia
Scott is the CEO of Elevation Marketing. He is a balanced risk-taker with nearly three decades of experience starting and growing advertising and marketing agencies. His business acumen is matched with a drive to build creative teams that thrive in open, collaborative work environments. Scott seeks out the best creative individuals, not only to provide quality service to clients, but to also help shape the future direction of Elevation.