In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, in response to renewed revelations that Voldemort had left some sort of lasting imprint on him, Harry reflected nervously that the sorting hat had wanted to put him in Slytherin (boo, hiss!). Wise Albus Dumbledore comforted Harry that “it is our choices that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities“. Since Harry had ignored the sorting hat and chosen his own path – Gryffindor – Dumbledore reminded Harry that his heart must therefore be good and true. And children of all ages breathed a huge sigh of relief.
(Aside: I recently learned that I’d have been put in Hufflepuff. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I don’t remember them winning much Quidditch?).
I believe Albus’ sage advice is also true in one vital aspect of B2B marketing. The aspect that separates many good B2B campaigns from many great B2B campaigns, and many good B2B marketers from many great B2B marketers. I think that becoming great in B2B marketing is about choice as much as it as about ability…
STANDING OUT FROM THE CROWD
Most B2B products and services that I’ve ever encountered live in crowded markets. There’s usually more than one competitive product or service in any particular B2B category, each vying for share of voice and share of wallet. I recently heard of a large pitch opportunity in one particular B2B sector that had 80 possible suitors. 80! It beggars belief.
Winning in crowded markets, without resorting to heavy price discounting, requires us to stand apart from our rivals in a myriad ways. For example, it requires better customer insights, better products and services, better relationship management and/or better sales technique. Applied to brand building and marketing communications, it means that we need to stand out from the crowd more effectively than our rivals. We need to be discoverable, earn attention and deliver our messages persuasively so customers are compelled to act.
Of course, doing that requires a lot of skills – a lot of abilities. Copywriting, SEO, channel expertise and more. Abilities, thankfully, that can all be learned, tested and refined. But here’s the snag… Your rivals are learning, testing and refining those things too. Which means something else is required to stand out and win. And that is where choice comes in.
BRAVERY (AND SOME PROVOCATIVE QUESTIONS)
Standing out from the crowd means doing something differently from your rivals. It probably means doing something new.
Doing something new means it is untried and untested. It may go wrong. Success is not guaranteed. You may even end up with egg on your face. It requires risk.
Taking risks is about one thing. Bravery. Having the guts to try.
In my opinion, bravery is one of the key things – perhaps the key thing – that separates the great from the good in B2B marketing. Being brave is about making a conscious decision to put yourself on the line. It is a choice. And its an important choice too, because consider this… What’s going to happen if your counterparts in your competitors are braver than you? What’s going to happen then? Will their campaigns and communications stand out, or will yours?
In my opinion, failing to be brave means that your marketing communications won’t earn as much attention as your rivals. They will underperform. They may even become invisible. I am one of those B2B marketers that subscribes to the view that exceptional returns rarely come from modest tactics. I subscribe to the view that only the uncommon in marketing communications can be uncommonly successful.
BUT DON’T WORRY – BRAVERY IS NOT ABOUT BEING CONAN THE BARBARIAN
As I leave you to ponder the bravery of your marketing, and whether your counterpart marketers in other companies are braver than you, it is worth making one important point…
I started this blog post with a classic movie quote, and I’ll end with another. I’m not quite sure why Schwarzenegger didn’t get an Oscar nomination for his performance in Conan the Barbarian, but in response to the question “what is best in life?”, he famously responded “to crush your enemies and see them driven before you”. Classic, like I said 😉
The bravery I’m talking about isn’t like that. When I talk about bravery in B2B marketing I don’t mean going a little bit Conan. (Let’s face it, not many of us could get away with wearing his outfits). Bravery in marketing is not about vanquishing your enemies, chasing them before you, violently robbing them of their wealth, seeing those dear to them bathed in tears, riding their horses and clasping to your bosom their wives and daughters, as I believe Genghis Khan originally said.
I think bravery in marketing is just about saying things in more interesting or perhaps more witty ways. It’s about finding clever new ways to get your message noticed and remembered. It’s about not doing exactly what your rivals are already doing. It’s about daring to be different.
A BRAVE B2B MARKETING EXAMPLE
To illustrate some bravery in practice, I thought it would be useful to end with a B2B marketing example. I would have cited the famous Volvo Epic Splits video featuring that other non-Oscar-laden muscleman, Jean Claude Van Damme, but I know that campaign has been celebrated to death. Instead, I thought I’d share another of my favourite ever B2B marketing campaign examples. The video below presents the utterly charming tale of how a B2B brand – a producer of precision scales for scientific laboratories and schools – found a completely new and completely brave way to talk about their product.
I utterly love this, and I’m not at all bitter that it beat me in several award shows some years ago. Not bitter at all. Well, maybe I’m a little bit miffed. Actually, I wouldn’t mind seeing them crushed and driven before me, just for a minute or two.