Ice buckets and push-ups show B2B marketers the way

If you cast your mind back to 2014 you may remember the flurry of fundraising challenges that hit our social feeds. We had the no makeup selfie raising money for cancer research, and the ice bucket challenge – it’s unlikely you’ll forget that one if you took part. We are now seeing the 22 push-up challenge, to raise awareness for veteran suicide, gaining some huge traction.

Despite the cynics, no one can deny that they were a hit. And last week we heard that the money raised from the ice bucket challenge has led to a breakthrough in the fight against Motor Neurone Disease (ALS). So clearly, they really do work too.

While these ‘cause’ campaigns may seem a world apart from B2B marketing, there are many important takeaways for brands looking to tap into professional audiences.

Tap into a social mindset

The most obvious lesson from these campaigns is the power of social to drive engagement and shareability. While many B2B brands are harnessing these channels, many are only scratching the surface of its potential. And with 75 per cent of B2B buyers influenced by social media, according to one study, this is potentially a missed opportunity for many.

You wouldn’t often want your Monday morning to meet your Saturday night, though, so it’s important to not only identify where your audiences are going to consume and share content, but also understand the mindset they are in. While these cause-marketing campaigns are looking for mass appeal for their pushups or ice buckets, B2B brands need to be much more targeted and ensure they are engaging professionals on the social channels where they are looking to consume content which supports and inspires them professionally.

Do it with purpose

But social is only a channel, not a campaign. While most B2B campaigns are not driven by an objective to cure a disease or raise awareness to save lives, B2B buyers and talent are increasingly interested in buying from and working with brands who have a clear purpose which goes beyond profits. In fact, research from Harvard Business Review found that a strong sense of collective purpose drives employee satisfaction, an organisation’s ability to transform, and increases customer loyalty.

Brands must bake their campaigns into a clear purpose and build a strong narrative before getting too obsessed with execution. Unilever are the poster child for ‘purposeful’ brand in the consumer world but we are increasingly seeing B2B brands such as Philips and GE doing a great job too.

Don’t be afraid to be funny

Do you need more data and rationality in B2B? Yes. But B2B doesn’t need to mean ‘business-to-boring’. In the right context, B2B comms can be creative and funny. Business decisions are highly emotive and people need inspiration in their professional lives as much as in their personal lives. There is a huge opportunity for B2B brands to tickle the funny bones and be braver with their creatives.

As an example, Intel uses images to inject humour into its Sponsored Updates on LinkedIn, and those updates tend to be amongst the strongest performers. And you only need to look at the success of the Volvo Trucks campaign with Jean Claude Van Damme (and the multiple Cannes Lions now sitting on their shelves) to see the impact that stepping out of the ordinary can have.

Embrace video

A common denominator for all these campaigns has been the successful use of video. While the ice bucket challenge takes ‘snackable’ video content to its extreme, B2B brands can take lessons from the consumer world in creating video content which injects personality, sometimes humour, and can be shared.

The likes of Adobe has been setting the standard here for a few years now (check out their ‘Do you know what your marketing is doing?’ series) but it isn’t just those who have the bigger budgets who should embrace video. This clip from TNS popped into my feed last year – and it shows what you can do with a clear message and an imaginative way of finding the humour in it.

We need to start re-thinking what B2B marketing means. It’s not business-to-business; it’s business-to-professional – even more than that, it’s business-to-human. As our professional and personal lives continue to blur, it has never been more important for B2B brands to engage their audiences on a deeper, more human level. The brands and agencies creating B2B campaigns must have the confidence to be braver with their ideas and start to reshape the B2B mould.

Henry Clifford-Jones is director of LinkedIn Marketing Solutions UK, DE and ES

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