For some reason working in the business to business space makes marketing folk glitch. It seems all creativity is lost. Trotting out the same tired old messages in unimaginative ways.

Even the basics of branding seem to be forgotten. Brands often look so similar to one another you’d be forgiven for confusing them. From brand names, core values, proposition and messaging, brand voice, colour schemes, service offerings and even the same Unsplash photography. There is little to differentiate them.

I’m convinced that the majority of B2B content is written by machine learning software that’s been fed all existing B2B content, and then regurgitates some self-centred buzzword-stuffed ‘content’. I am often none the wiser as to what a company actually does, how it will benefit me and my business or why I should use them over a competitor. Forrester backs up my thoughts in their 2019 research where they evaluated 60 websites across 12 B2B industries. “Nearly every website reviewed scored poorly,” the report declares. “Most B2B marketers continue to fail miserably when it comes to creating content that buyers find interesting, interactive, or compelling.” Ouch.

The most ironic part of this is that marketing agencies themselves are some of the worst culprits. No unique proposition, the same blocky-wocky website designs and a ‘target market’ that includes any business with a corporate bank account. It’s like B2B branding and marketing is stunted. What gives?

Here are three things to inspire you to do better when it comes to B2B marketing and branding.

Have a personality

You might be in the B2B space, but ultimately, you’re still selling to humans. The same humans who are attracted to interesting, creative and novel ideas. The same people who have emotions and reasons behind who they work with, that aren’t solely down to price or features.

Mailchimp is a great example of a brand personality that’s consistently executed across the business. Their design guide and content style guide contain descriptions about how this can be achieved, altering the tone depending on the channel and situation, but still maintaining a consistent personality and voice.

To execute a brand personality well, it has to be something the company wholly gets behind and is applied throughout the business. Just like human personalities, it impacts your views, how you talk, where you hang out and what you believe in. And it’s got to be a personality that’s attractive to your target audience.

Mailchimp provides a fantastic example. Think about the world of email software. Most wouldn’t expect ‘Dreamlike and artful’ to be part of any brand identity in this space. But it speaks perfectly to Mailchimp’s creative-designer target audience. Other parts of their personality include:

  • Using offbeat humour and a conversational voice
  • We play with language to bring joy to people’s work
  • We don’t take ourselves too seriously
  • A touch eccentric. We’re weird but not inappropriate

Mailchimp expressed these parts of their personality through an elaborately fun marketing campaign. Based around the insight that people unfamiliar with their brand name often mispronounce it, Mailchimp created nine businesses that all played on mispronunciations. They created a line of crisps called “FailChips” and an anti-ageing beauty treatment called “SnailPrimp.” for example.

These businesses launched with artfully shot videos or creative microsites but none overtly referenced Mailchimp. When people inevitability Googled these kooky businesses, the search engine would ask if they meant “MailChimp.”

The campaign was criticised by some for its oddball nature, but it aimed to gain awareness among a particular target audience, using insight from real new customer experiences, and created a campaign consistent with their personality. It’s exactly how I would expect Mailchimp to behave.

Stand for something, to someone

It seems that most businesses fear targeting a specific group of customers. FOMO is real even when it comes to B2B marketing. If you target everyone and offer everything it’s likely that you don’t mean anything to anyone. Far better to stand for something to someone.

The goal shouldn’t be to be loved, liked or ‘right’ for everyone but to be a great fit for a specific audience. This is far more likely to drive action. But employing this strategy can sometimes create controversy or turn off other groups. You need to be prepared for that and understand that it’s fine, as long as it’s not from your target audience! If you’ve done your research, you’ll be more attractive to your target as you are standing for something that resonates with them.

True to form, Mailchimp does this well too. Harping back to their personality, it informs things throughout their business, shaping their policies, operations and internal conduct for example. But also, what they stand for.

They know what their brand identity means and therefore how they should react or not, to things that happen outside of what they plan and control. Mailchimp made a statement about banning accounts that spread misinformation about vaccines. A controversial topic that the brand could have ignored. Instead, they stood for what they believe in and took action.

Be creative

Some B2B brands need to present a very professional, formal identity, but that still doesn’t excuse a lack of creativity. With careful balance, you can still portray a serious business feel whilst injecting something eye-catching or unique. There are a number of ways to be creative no matter what your brand personality is. Here are a few ideas.

  • A whitepaper that’s delivered in an innovative way
  • Creating a new method or model for what you do
  • Using marketing channels or placements customers wouldn’t expect
  • A new angle or messages that provide a refreshing change
  • A business policy or way of working that’s newsworthy – think radical transparency
  • Conducting research that aims to discover something new
  • Adverts that visually stand out or go against what the consumer expects

Upwork’s ‘Hey World’ ad campaign stood out as a relevant campaign that was anything but bland.

Upwork created a series of these ads (including OOH execution) to illustrate some common use cases for their services. They could have created something dead boring – used some office stock images of a burnt-out business owner with their head on their desk with the line ‘need an extra pair of hands to help run your social media’ but it wouldn’t have had the same impact, recognition or engagement. Instead, Upwork found novel ways to creatively weave current affairs into visually striking ads about their service offering. Nice.

Hopefully, the above has aroused some creativity in the veins of B2B marketers reading this and inspired you to think differently about how branding and marketing can look in this space. Yes, it can sometimes feel risky but it’s better to take a calculated risk than do nothing and fade away into obscurity and irrelevance.