Himanshu Verma
May 2, 2014

Don't let B2B marketing bore

When a robot came calling at Nasdaq, everybody noticed.

Don't let B2B marketing bore

The most common grouse I hear from B2B brand owners is their inability to attract customer attention because their respective categories don’t lend themselves to cool campaigns. “How do we make submersible pumps, cables, drilling equipment, seismic services look cool?" is the common refrain. Upon finding partial or no success in their infrequent marketing sojourns, they get reticent and revert to ‘selling is good enough for us’ approach.

Here are a few arguments and some cool examples, which, I am hoping, will motivate some B2B brands to step up and take some action. 

No robotic smiles

Universal Robots (UR), a Danish robotics company with an increasing presence in Asia, for instance, proved that B2B marketing can indeed be interesting and all-encompassing. The company's flagship robotic arm, the UR-5, became the first non-human to ring the closing bell on the Nasdaq in November last year. Expressions of wonderment and delight crossed the faces of otherwise serious, businesslike stockbrokers. The impersonal robot struck a chord with all stakeholders, and the brand entrenched itself deeper in its prospective customers' memories. Video of the arm swirling around fetched Universal Robots an unprecedented number of views, more than 160 plus news clips in the US alone, a huge jump in website traffic and a 72 per cent increase in Twitter mentions. 

Crux of the matter

Don’t forget that the CEO, marketing head or commercial lead you are reaching out to lives in the world where B2C marketing is flourishing. They are exposed to bright, multichannel campaigns every waking moment.

They buy a bag, a watch, or an airline ticket because slick creative and branding influences them.

Why would they behave any different when they are being sold a pressure pump, accounting software, truck or hospital equipment? Slick and sexy will win here too. I strongly advocate humour and emotional appeal in branding and marketing campaigns across the board in the B2B space.

Stop using trite visuals in your marketing materials and website. Last year we produced a clever, heavy (literally it weighs a few hundred grams) book listing 100 clichés used in the B2B world. I am sure you have come across the ‘electric bulb’ and the ‘handshake’. There are 98 others in the book. Each time we share it with a client we insist that they knock us on our heads with the book if they see us using any of those being in our creative work. So far, no bumps!

Easier than it looks

B2B marketing is a complex business but it is not difficult. You want to know what is difficult? It is B2C marketing gurus like P&G describing a cluster of 4.8 billion people as 'customers' and then trying to spot opportunities among them using big data analytics. If you are selling a robot arm to small and medium businesses in Singapore, the entire universe of potential customers will be in four figures, if I was exaggerating the market. You’d agree it would not be very difficult to create opportunities targeting a customer universe running in mere thousands.

Most B2B business owners don’t get into sustained marketing because they think that the complexity is insurmountable. All you need is a change in attitude. My boss narrates a brilliant case study that makes the point beautifully. It pertains to a company, Red Baron, started by two brilliant German engineers who were in the business of ‘Fishing’. Not the kind you do in water but the very complex business of retracting drill waste, broken bits and other detritus from oil wells. Sheer engineering genius. If ‘fishing’ engineers fail in their operations, it leads to an abandonment of the well, ushering in monetary losses amounting to millions of dollars.

We created advertising which did not extoll their engineering excellence, but established an emotional connect with prospective customers using visuals like fishing hooks. The reaction from the hugely skilled engineers was of awe and admiration. They could not believe the incredible market reaction. That was the start of their long and exciting journey of brand marketing and public relations, ending in a healthy acquisition. They found success in marketing. In getting noticed!   

Analyse, create and it will sell

The process of creativity requires a foundation of research. B2B businesses need to undertake a stakeholder analysis to understand the behaviour of the people who will contribute to their success or, if mishandled, to their failure. The results of the analysis are fed to the creative folks who create something in context with the product, service, market and the brand proposition.

The epic stunt by ‘Muscles from Brussels’ Jean-Claude Van Damme between two Volvo trucks made the key proposition—the precision of Volvo dynamic steering—abundantly clear. Got the brand over 71 million hits, only counting Volvo’s official YouTube channel. Millions of additional views came from bloggers using the stunt. And then millions of spoofs hit the net using keywords ‘Volvo’ and ‘Jean Claude Van Damme’.

Can you imagine history was created from a brief which perhaps looked like this: Volvo’s new dynamic steering system combines conventional hydraulic powered steering with an electric motor that is fitted to the truck’s steering gear. The electric motor receives 2000 signals per second from the truck’s on-board sensors, allowing for more precise steering. The steering system offers a more relaxed and ergonomically designed experience for truck drivers. Anders Vilhelmsson, public relations manager for the Volvo Trucks brand mentioned in his interviews that they were targeting not only current truck drivers but future drivers. I am sure this ad converted some cab drivers to become truck drivers too.

Creating campaigns and measuring results

When Coca-Cola launches a world cup campaign with miniature interactive bottles as the anchor point, they dig deep into their knowledge and financial resources. And then the concept has to be tailored to countries. Considering they operate in 200 countries, a lot of marketing tailor-work is required.

Draw some inspiration and thank heavens that your marketing task is much simpler, has fewer risks and will not require hundreds of hours and millions of dollars to ‘make good’ a ‘not so great’ idea.

A campaign designed to generate familiarity, favourability or sales will show its impact with a much lower investment risk and can be changed as per the success. 

Just do it. For a change – it is easier done than said.

Himanshu Verma (pictured) is managing director of Fifth Ring APAC

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