Jada Balster, explains why you should humanise your B2B brand by bidding farewell to stuffy, corporate, jargon-laden content.
Let’s grab the bull by the horns and dive into some best practices for leveraging the humanity of your B2B marketing communications. I’m not trying to boil the ocean here; I just want to share some key learnings that will take your efforts to the next level.
Are you with me?
Probably not, and I don’t blame you. That little bowl of jargon soup was as painful for me to write as it was for you to read. But it’s a trap we can easily fall into as B2B marketers—although usually not quite that deeply.
As a B2B marketer myself as well as the recipient of corporate content from countless other companies, I know how easy it is to forget that we’re not speaking to businesses. We’re trying to reach the people who work within those business, which requires good, old-fashioned human connection.
Hiding behind corporate buzzwords and technical speak is one of the fastest way to undermine or break that connection. Here are a few more common pitfalls.
1. Choosing complicated over clear language
Especially in the tech world, complicated communications can be the default, because our products themselves are often technical and difficult to describe clearly. This becomes especially challenging when content is focused on product features, which are technical by nature, instead of customer experiences and benefits.
But even when you have no choice but to write about product features, choose simple, direct, and clear language. A question I like to ask myself is, “Am I choosing these words to try to sound intelligent and impressive – or to connect with people?” The former will often prevent the latter.
London-based B2B Saas company Server Density caught my eye a few years ago with a headline that read “Server monitoring that doesn’t suck.” It was simple, humorous, and intriguing, and it sounded like it had been written by a person rather than a committee. I connected to it.
Today, the headline reads “Proactive infrastructure monitoring for cloud, servers & websites,” which I’m not sure is an improvement. It managed to add both clarity and complication at the same time. Luckily, a rotating subheader below the main headline clears things up quite nicely:
“Identify problems before they become incidents / before customers are affected / before they wake up your team.”
Not only do I understand what that means, it sounds like something I’d want for my business.
2. Using empty adjectives
When we’re trying to make something that’s essentially quite boring sound appealing, it’s tempting to turn to adjectives to pump up the excitement. Suddenly we’re touting our “world-class” software, our “next-gen” solution, or our “best-in-class” product.
But there’s a problem with these kinds of descriptions, and no it’s not about the hyphen. These are “empty” adjectives, which are descriptors that sound good but tend to be difficult to define. Not only are they vague and hollow, but they’re every bit as subjective as words like “beautiful,” “wonderful,” or “amazing.”
No B2B marketer would ever write a headline about “Our wonderful software,” but we seem to have no problem with “world-class.” Wonderful according to whom? World-class according to whom? Not only can such constructions smack of insincerity, they may set off your audience’s B.S. meter.
One caveat: empty adjectives can work well in a tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top campaign with, perhaps, a superhero theme. But they’ll only undermine a serious or straightforward campaign.
3. Pretending at personalisation
Personalising emails to prospects consists of more than just repeating the person’s name over and over again. Poorly executed standard templates are easy to spot and often do more harm than good, coming across as lazy or insincere. Consider this email I recently received from a software provider, which began:
“Jada, Many individuals who visit our site or request our whitepapers are struggling with similar business challenges.”
This communication was so bland and generic that I didn’t want to keep reading past that first sentence. Further, they clearly didn’t know whether I clicked a request for more information or downloaded a piece of content. It didn’t speak to me directly.
It called people “individuals” instead of “people,” which is an annoying form of corporate speak, as is the vague term “business challenges” when it would have been more effective to outline some of those challenges, or use the more conversational “problems at work” instead.
Recently, a competitor to that company sent me a similar email, which was actually a follow-up to two previous emails I hadn’t responded to. The email began, “I don’t want to be a pest, but I did want to follow up one last time on your request.” This reads like plain English, the kind of email one human being would send to another human being, and it references the specific action I took.
The email wasn’t perfect – it could have gone on to speak more directly to the problems I wanted the software to solve – but I was willing to keep reading because I believed there was a real live person on the other end.
The more you can use data to effectively target your communications to the specific people you’re sending them to, the better. But even in the absence of that, skipping the corporate speak will go a long way toward humanising your brand.
4. Playing it safe
“Unlike B2C marketing – which has long embraced the concept of building brand identity through emotionally evocative content – B2B has always tended towards a more rational and ‘business-like’ approach,” wrote Evelyn Timson in a recent article for
“But evidence seems to suggest this may not be the most effective tactic.”
People are people. Whether we’re functioning as an employee at work who’s making decisions on behalf of our business, or a consumer at home who’s making buying decisions for ourselves, we are more driven by our emotions than we think.
As neuroscientist and TED Talk speaker Antonio Damasio famously said, “We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think.”
Keeping our marketing straight, serious, and businesslike is certainly professional, but it’s also safe. Stuffy. Unmemorable. Unlikely to make an emotional connection.
Granted, the emotional appeals we make in B2B marketing aren’t exactly the same as those targeted by B2C marketers. We often aim for the quieter emotions, looking to invoke feelings of confidence, safety, trust, camaraderie, and connection. But they are emotions all the same, and they are more likely to drive action than a mere intellectual appeal.
In an analysis of the 10,000 most shared articles across the web, BuzzSumo mapped each one to a predominant emotion. The four most popular emotions were awe (25%), laughter (17%), amusement (15%), and joy (14%).
If you’re thinking that these four emotions aren’t typically found in B2B marketing, you’d be right. But there are brands out there working to change that. I’m thinking in particular of a video featuring a pan-flute playing llama from Schneider Electric, where laughter, amusement, joy—and yes, I admit to feeling a bit of awe—most definitely shine through.
How could Peruvian pack animals possibly figure into a story about B2B energy management and automation? You’ll have to watch it to find out.
And if you need another laugh, check out Workfront’s collaboration with YouTube stars Tripp and Tyler, which puts a hilarious spin on the all-too-real pain of modern email communication.
Remember: To err is human
If you’ve often been guilty of leveraging bleeding-edge corporate speak, of using complicated language when clarity would serve you better, of dressing up your product or service in empty adjectives, of undermining your message with poorly executed personalisation, or of generally playing it a little too safe, go easy on yourself.
As I know all too well from personal experience, these are easy mistakes to make. And we’re all only human, after all. Which, it turns out, is the very thing we need to remember if we want to connect authentically with the humans that run the businesses we’re marketing to. Funny how that works.
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