Effective B2B messages give audiences time for thinking
Marketing that is more respectful,
even joyful, is more memorable
Senior Strategy Director
The acclaimed twentieth-century copywriter, James Webb Young, once wrote a five-step process for problem-solving and generating creative ideas. Summarized, he prescribed gathering and reading as much around the problem as you can, attacking the problem, and then stepping away to enable your subconscious mind to take over, helping to find a fitting solution.
He wrote this in 1936, but his advice still holds strong today. And while he was mostly talking about creative processes, the same principles are easily applied to anyone in need of inspiration, from our own agencies to the B2B audiences we are trying to reach, whose worlds are filled with trying to problem solve, find an advantage, or innovate. These audiences evidently need time to develop solutions focused around their business strategies, yet more often than not, they don’t have the bandwidth to think.
B2B decision-makers and purchasers spend up to 45 percent of their working hours independently researching new tools, platforms, or vendors, according to Gartner, a business consultancy. Imagine what these hours consist of: people sifting through numerous presentations and proposals, reading every new report, article, social post, and whitepaper, while trying to do their day job. How can they be expected to solve their problems for tomorrow, when they’ve barely had time to digest what’s on their desk today?
As marketers, we need to take heed of this problem, instead of relentlessly trying to force ourselves into their lives with hyper-targeting and bombarding them with messages. When advertising campaigns perform less than expected, we’re quick to blame dwindling attention spans, creative messages or audiences hiding behind ad-blockers—all to excuse ourselves for reduced effectiveness.
What if, simply, our end-audiences aren’t given the chance to breathe, to retreat, or even just process their thoughts before they can think freely and link the utility of our clients’ brands to their problems?
This is where marketing should become more respectful, and, as importantly, helpful.
The media industry likes to talk about humanizing marketing, using psychology and creating emotional connections, but for B2B, this concept still remains relatively new. The implications could be game-changing.
A new perspective
One potential solution is for marketers to offer clients a new perspective from which to approach their challenges. According to the polymath Karl Toomey, we constantly use exploratory thinking and playfulness to problem-solve in daily life and should actually consider using these tools to overcome challenges and ambiguities at work too. While play is an alien concept in B2B, adopting playfulness as an approach can be highly productive, and naturally leans into the empathetic, differentiated, and meaningful marketing we’re told to create to build salience and positive brand associations.
The approach is two-fold. First, we need to understand where end-audiences’ minds are free from worry, fear or risk, improving the likelihood that they will absorb our messaging. Instead of playing safe around the standard passion points though, we need to force ourselves to become more adventurous in building our brands around our audience instead, to spark their subconscious thinking. Second, we need to take our knowledge and convince and encourage our B2B clients to consider playfulness in their creative and media (as has been done in B2C forever), forcing a conscious behavior change for their audiences, so that when problems arise, our brands are the ones associated with moments of joy.
Red Bull is a great example of a company that got to play itself out of a problem, when its focus on extreme alertness inadvertently got tied up with “tech-bro” culture (smug, heavily fraternized and misogynistic, and out of touch with social limits and boundaries). In sponsoring Felix Baumgartner’s jump from space, the energy drink brand was able to associate itself with the idea of extreme achievement instead—qualities leaders constantly try to align themselves and their organizations with. Watched live by eight million people (and many more since), the successful jump generated excitement and admiration across the world.
Undoubtedly, among those viewers were business leaders, inspired by the event to push for greater feats in engineering, communication, management—or to reframe the psychology of risk itself. And with each moment of inspiration—disconnected from their daily routines—came a subconscious nod to Red Bull being the facilitator of success.
It doesn’t always have to be a jump from space though; it simply needs to be where our audiences have freedom from fear and risk. It is this freedom that nurtures advantage, so that our audiences come to us when they have a need for our client innovations.
- Be Playful Make it easier for audiences to build positive associations with your brands, beyond solely downtime moments.
- Collaborate Empathic strategy development can’t exist in silos, it has to be a blend of creative, messaging, and media working effectively together.
- Disrupt Don’t be scared to disrupt. Too many B2B brands still play safe, and planners routinely stick to the same channels, media, and formats.