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Diane Perlman - CMO of Blis and Jez Furlong, Creative Director of Preen on why now is the time to humanise corporate content.
For marketers across the industry hitting the right tone in the wake of the pandemic was a significant challenge. As we emerge from the fog of the pandemic B2B brands are reapprasing the role of corporate content. From the shift to empathetic communications, to the role of content in connecting a remote workplace the industry is in the midst of a fundamental shift. With this in mind two industry experts discuss the future of B2B content and point towards the enduring importance of storytelling with a soul.
Diane: Being ‘human’ is always important, but in times of heightened uncertainty and instability, like in today’s world, it’s even more critical for brands to embrace their human side and connect on a personal level. This means tapping into how people are feeling and what motivates them and even providing light relief to the stresses of everyday life, if possible.
Gone are the days when just presenting a logical rationale for your product is the way to build your brand. Storytelling has never been more important and storytelling is all about emotion, empathy and human connection. B2B brands don’t need to operate inside a set of strict rules that says we can only be rational and product focused. After all, businesses are made up of people, so shouldn’t B2B really just be ‘B2P – business to people’ and take cues from B2C brands that lead us to more engaging and compelling storytelling that builds affinity and loyalty over time – and maybe even brand love.
Jez: Showing humanity says ‘We understand you! We’re humans too!’ If corporate communications have a commonality in them, businesses can relate to it more and humans are often at the heart of these themes.
Emotional, living, breathing scenarios are the things that make us tick and ultimately this is how we get under the skin of an audience to provoke a feeling and make them take action. The worst thing you can do is not make your audience feel anything.
Storytelling has never been more important and storytelling is all about emotion, empathy and human connection. B2B brands don’t need to operate inside a set of strict rules that says we can only be rational and product focusedDiane Perlman,CMO of Blis
Diane: Absolutely. It’s often during times of crisis and hardship when true leaders are made or come into their own. Last spring, every CEO and leadership team entered a situation and set of challenges never before experienced. It couldn’t just be business as usual. There was an unprecedented need for quick, effective decision making in the face of a volatile industry landscape, as well as heightened transparency. At Blis, for example, our CEO, Greg Isbister brought the Blis team together like never before, adopting an ‘all in it together’ mentality, which led to weekly company ‘All Hands’ to check in, share news and updates and reassure the team. Through his leadership, agility and ability to react quickly to all the new restrictions and regulations, Blis made no COVID related redundancies and kept our global team together and on track.
Jez: I think every CEO will say they’ve been given a set of challenges they’ve never had to face before and that’s been tough, but fundamentally the role has always been leading from the front, keeping the team happy and making sure the ship stays on course, pandemic or not.
What has changed is the way they’ve had to go about it. I’d say it’s been a much harder task with people WFH and trying to keep the energy up and culture strong.
Diane: I think it’s less about being informal and more about finding and striking the right tone that is authentic to the brand. For example, the Blis tone of voice (TOV) is authoritative, human, helpful, open and clever. We speak informally, as it’s part of our brand to be human and helpful. But this might not work for a brand that has a more formal TOV. However sometimes good (and brave) branding is about pushing the boundaries of the brand, but it’s important to find the balance. There are times when it might be appropriate and effective to break out of a brand's normal persona, but this needs to be handled with care, so that credibility and trust are not impacted.
Jez: I think what is important to note is that it gets you nowhere being male, stale and pale. People are bored of the same old same old, and just because you’re a B2B company, it doesn’t mean your audience are dead, they want to be stimulated, as long as there’s true value in what you’re saying, some informality can be good.
It really goes back to the importance of ‘humanity’ above. Blinding people with corporate jargon is a waste of words but at the same time, brands need to maintain their credibility, so it’s a balance.
I think companies need to show the people behind the business more, the challenges they face, show some vulnerability, the highs the lows and that actually, they’re not perfect, they’re human beingsJez Furlong, Creative Director of Preen
Diane: According to a recent article by the B2B Institute, the 95/5 rule should apply to B2B marketing. The authors of the article said, “Buy-this-now advertising will be ignored and forgotten by the 95% of buyers who are out-of-market – it’s only relevant to the 5%. The 95:5 rule gives you permission to be bold, put on a show and have a little fun. It broadens the creative canvas in B2B, encouraging us to focus on publicity, not persuasion.” Our observation is that people want a reprieve just now, and the traditional corporate talking heads style communication just won’t cut through.
Jez: I think companies need to show the people behind the business more, the challenges they face, show some vulnerability, the highs the lows and that actually, they’re not perfect, they’re human beings.
Phones have given us the power to film, post and speak directly to the world in a matter of seconds through platforms like LinkedIn and Instagram. This is the perfect way to humanise a B2B brand. It could be a self shot video outlining thought leadership on the top 10 ways to network or showing the pitch process, before and after, or it could be something as informal as Secret Santa at the Xmas party.
Diane: With our latest campaigns, including our ‘Nothing Personal’ campaign and our new company video, we wanted to inspire and inform, but to do so in a way that is entertaining and fresh. We needed our messaging to land without seeming unrelatable and arrogant. We also wanted our audience to feel confident in what we do and say, and that it stands out from the myriad of other messages about privacy-first advertising.
Even though we work in the B2B space, we are still marketing to people, and especially during this exceptional time in history, we want to engage our audiences and leave them with a positive and memorable impression, by speaking to them not as robots, but as atual real humans with needs and wants. We’ve done this by addressing a key industry issue – that is facing all of us – with a sense of clever playfulness. One way we’ve achieved this is by putting a face on the brand, which is a great way to humanise it. Our new company video features our CEO Greg as the lead ‘character’ on a personal journey to beat the data drought. It’s authentic, believable and fun (and no, we didn’t actually send Greg to Death Valley – it was shot on green screen).
Jez: Brands have been using their figureheads in ads for years, from Dollar Shave Club, to Virgin Media and with good reason, it adds a certain charm and makes them feel human (ie we know these people are real), there’s usually a sense of poking fun at oneself too, which makes you like the brand more.
We put the man, the myth, the legend ‘Greg the CEO’ from Blis front and centre. No acting experience per se, but it shows their audience that Blis have a sense of humour.
Yes they are serious players in their field but we had to create something that communicated on a human level and showed, in this case the CEO’s vulnerability as he demonstrates how Blis will navigate the future customer data drought. He delivered with aplomb.
Diane Perlman, CMO of Blis is an established marketing leader with big brand experience at Microsoft, as well as startup, scaleup and agency-side experience. Adept at creative problem solving with an agility to learn. Track record in delivering results in structured and unstructured environments. CMO at Blis, the leading privacy-first location-powered programmatic advertising partner. Formerly Interim CMO at Unruly. Jez Furlong, Creative Director of Preen is an award winning Creative Director with work for Nikon, CNN, Dove, Sky, Cadbury's, The Wales tourist board, London Pride and Alfa Romeo. Creative roles at agencies HHCL, BBH, Y&R & ELVIS working with the best in the business on TV, OOH, print and radio. Currently Creative Director at Preen.
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