Three Ways to Humanize Your B2B Marketing… and Improve Results

It’s a Marketing Content and Data Avalanche

Marketing has always been about people. Yet, it’s a pretty un-human marketing explosion out there. There is too much content and jargon-laden stuff chasing too little mindshare. In 2010, Google’s then CEO, Eric Schmidt, proclaimed that there is more content created every two days than in all of human history up through 2003. More recently, IBM stated that 90% of content today was created in the last two years alone.

The annual Edelman Trust Barometer continues to show a steady decline in customer trust of companies. And along with the decline in trust, we have a growing deficit in attention span. We’re on social overload and it isn’t pretty.

We’re filtering for our very survival. That means way too much information is being created and yet, simultaneously, we’re facing a paucity of meaningful marketing. Against this backdrop of marketing ‘Big data,” marketers are fighting to be heard. This can a good thing – it forces companies to rethink how they are communicating.

It’s time to change the marketing game to one that is more human, relevant and purposeful.

The Buying Journey Has Changed

The buyer’s journey has changed. According to Forrester (October 2012), buyers are approximately 67% – 90% through their decision-making process by the time they contact the company for information. That means they are doing self-directed searches, talking to their networks and getting information from your detractors and advocates. This has huge implications for advocacy today. Forrester’s data shows that 94% of us trust advocates compared to 18% of us who trust influencers. Why? Because unpaid advocates are believed to be “people like me.” I don’t trust corporate spokespeople and media ‘influencers,’ but I trust people just like me.

Make Your Marketing Work for People

While there are a lot of ways to humanize your company and content, here are three ways to stand out.

1. Tell Stories.

Tell simple stories. Humans are storytelling animals. Stories simplify and cut through the noise in ways that data alone cannot. According to Jennifer Aaker at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, stories are remembered up to 22X more than facts alone (Stanford studies). Stories give us reasons to care where facts fail. Neuromarketing – the intersection of neuroscience and marketing – tells us that humans make decisions with emotions and facts. Yep – emotions are critical. Stories that answer “why,” and that tell your market who you are and what you care about are more powerful and meaningful. Even in B2B. It’s time for business to stop thinking it is above the rules. Most of us don’t check our humanity at the door when we go into a work building. Surveys show that 92.3% of audiences are, in fact, made up of people (we really don’t know about the rest)!

Companies today need to elevate the discussion of what they do to a discussion of who they are. It’s not about products and services today; it’s about standing for a purpose that is bigger than the company. For Zappo’s, it’s delivering happiness and great customer service no matter what it takes. For Patagonia, it’s the environment. For IBM, it’s being part of an ecosystem that creates a smarter, better planet with technology. Find your higher purpose, and you’ll connect in a more meaningful way. Products come and go – movements have longevity.

2. Flip Expectations.

Turn assumptions on their heads. Once we’ve seen or heard new messages, we acclimate to a pattern. Over time, the novelty factor wears off. So what better way to shift expectations than to flip them occasionally? If people expect serious, give them humor. If people expect humor, change the message. Humor is human, and it is one of the best devices for communicating because it operates as an incredibly effective pattern disruption technique. Humor gets around the intellectual ‘facts’ filter. Once I make you laugh, your attention is high and your filter is down. I am now able to get my messages through in a way I could not before.

A great example of this is IBM’s ‘Art of the Sale’ (all seven of them!). When it first came out, the video was a huge hit – growing traffic for the company’s smaller, newer mainframe product by 25X. Why? No one expected humor from IBM and, more importantly, IBM did something even more unpredictable: it parodied itself. It was “un-iBM” and that’s why it worked so well – generating trade press and earned media that paid advertisements could never have generated.

When you have been running with the same messages for a while, flip expectations, and you’ll create a deeper connection with your audience. Be sure to jumpstart your messaging innovation curve. Messages have short product life cycles because of the amount of noise out there.

3. Let Your Personality Shine.

No doubt about – brand personalities matter. If your company was a person, who would it be? And, more importantly who do customers believe it to be? B2B companies have personalities, too. Only most of them are incredibly boring and outdated. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Weave personal interests alongside business information, so your audience knows something about you as a person and can connect with you on that human level, before building a business relationship. We do business with people we know, like and trust – let people get to know you and trust you by liking you first. It’s easy to add fun bios to company sites and to social networking profiles.

And a big part of the personality of the company is its people. The best storytellers in a company are those closest to the customer (not those in the C-suite!). Shocking, right? Let those storytellers engage with customers. Look at how Cisco Systems used Gen Y –intern turned Internet rapper, Greg Justice. This intern put a relevant, hip face on an older technology company and spoke to other Gen Y’ers in ways that company execs could not. Remember, advocates matter as customers are doing their own searches before they even contact a company for information. Advocates are “people like me…” – they are trusted far more than company spokespeople and media influencers.

Sometimes the best storytellers also live outside the company – they are passionate, rabid, unpaid advocates who share their stories out of dedication and loyalty. These loyal customers tend to refer 5X (Forrester) more customers on average than their non-advocate counterparts. A great example is Starbucks Melody, a Seattle-based lawyer who loves Starbucks and talks about the company passionately to her tens of thousands of listeners. Engage, empower, and catalyze your advocates with great content and stories and let them tell their stories their way! IBM, too, has a lot of fans both inside and outside the company – so, yes, B2B, it is possible.

Customers Want Simple and Meaningful

By telling simple stories, turning expectations upside down frequently, and letting your personality (and people!) come through, you’ll stand out in a noisy world today. While there are many ways to humanize – the most important thing is to forge deeper connections with your audience in order to increase marketing results.

Every marketer communicates, yet few truly connect. Be the latter.

Kathy Klotz-Guest is CEO of marketing and communications firm, Keeping It Human. She uses improvisation and storytelling skills to help executive teams succeed by using human-speak, a language customers trust. When she’s not kicking jargon’s butt, Kathy blogs, speaks on marketing, and produces podcasts.  She plays improvisational comedy on Sundays. Her favorite audience is still her little dude, Evan, who laughs himself silly at her shows.

Photo credit (campfire): Tristan Schmurr