Last week’s exchange on the place corporate blogs have within the modern marketing mix inevitably featured the oft-used buzzword: “humanize,” as in “a blog is an excellent opportunity to humanize your brand.” The term represents the concept of making a business more relatable to its customers, moving beyond marketing-speak, product brochures and spec sheets to showcase the personality of the company and those it employs. Humanizing a brand is supposed to make a business more relatable to its customers and thus more likely to earn their loyalty and patronage.
Among the many tactics and social channels purported to humanize a brand across the blogosphere, the one not given enough due is humor. Business-to-Consumer (B2C) industries such as Old Spice, Taco Bell, E-Trade, Blendtec and Budweiser have famously leveraged the tactic but, even with some stellar examples of humor-filled campaigns in the Business-to-Business (B2B) space, few have dared to show such personality.
Are B2B vendors and buyers really so staid and boring? If you’ve attended any B2B conference or trade show after-party, you know the answer. So why is humor still considered a four-letter word in this space? I argue that it’s less about marketers’ lack of a collective funny bone as it is about their education on the subject.
Comedic Marketing is Risky Business
Humor is a double-edged sword; it can connect two people over a shared experience or divide them with a cut-to-the-bone sarcastic comment. Often the very same sentence can elicit both reactions. So is it more about risk?
It might be a calculated risk, but when grounded in truth the payoff can be huge. Even though it was created many years ago, the benchmark used by modern marketers for humor in B2B marketing is still IBM’s “Mainframe: The Art of the Sale” campaign.
Created by Tim Washer, the unchallenged king of comedy in B2B marketing, the story connects with the audience because it’s real and even through its humor it says something the audience wants to hear. Fans of the television sitcom The Office will see the similarities in the deadpan humor and how close it walks the line of reality. “You can’t just be funny, but you have to say something. You have to have a strong point of view and make a case for something,” comments Tim Washer in an interview with MarketingProf’s Matthew Grant.
Most B2B customers are, in fact, people.
Yes, most B2B customers are, in fact, people. That’s not my attempt to infuse humor into this article but a statement on the reality of B2B marketing. We sometimes forget that it’s people who research our products, test them and make decisions on whether or not to purchase. And, as people are known to do, our decisions are often impacted by our personal feelings and connection to the business and the people pitching us. And that brings us back to concept of humanizing your brand.
“How do you humanize a B2B brand? How can you take a brand like an IBM that people don’t have a relationship with on Facebook and share [its] stories?” asks Tim. “Much of it,” he said, “is just telling the truth, but doing it in a humorous way.” It seems that the key ingredient to humorous B2B marketing is less about the “Yuk-Yuk” factor but the truth it’s based on.
The other lesson to be learned from this successful campaign was that the butt of the joke was not IBM’s product but the problem customers sought to cure. As with other effective marketing tactics, humor must be used as a content marketing strategy focused on improving your customer’s business, not yours.
Join the discussion: why is humor used so little in B2B marketing? Too risky?
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