The five rules of B2B communications

Rob Morrison

In this guest post, OgilvyOne creative director Rob Morrison argues that B2B marketers need to remember to treat their audience like people

First a confession: as a fresh faced junior copywriter I once put a business-to-business concept in front of my creative director which included a briefcase. It may even have had a balding man wearing glasses dressed in a business suit. Yep, I played to the clichés.

I was young and naive.

The reality is B2B customers come in as many shapes, sizes, colours and genders as business-to-consumer customers. Why? Because they are the same people; not similar people, exactly the same people.

Business people go home. They have lives. They have things they love, things they hate and things they’re ambivalent about. In other words, they’re consumers too. Other people say B2B decisions are strictly rational. That emotion has less influence over choosing Brand A over Brand B. These people are called idiots.

Of course emotion is a key driver. There is nothing more emotional in your life than your career. It affects everything. Make a poor decision at work and that decision can follow you forever – ask Julian Assange or Nick Leeson.

When I first started in marketing there was a well-known expression: “No-one ever got fired for buying IBM.” It doesn’t get more emotion-driven than that.

So how do we rediscover the humanity in B2B communications? I’ve written five rules of emotional business.

Rule 1: People have egos

Business people love to feel special. Give them something they can’t get anywhere else. Talk to them in a way sympathetic with their trials and torments.

One of my favourite pieces of communication of all time was sent to media buyers from a Swedish newspaper group. They found the birth announcement of each of their target audience and sent it to them in a frame with a line that simply said “The First Media Choice”.

Rule 2: People prefer being shown

There’s a reason Tom Cruise shouts “Show me the money” not “Tell me about the money”. As a rule, demonstration ideas are always hard working. They engage your audience in a way that simply talking about your benefits never will.

What do I mean by demonstration ideas? For example, there was a solar energy report in Austria which was printed with solar sensitive ink. You could only read it in bright sunshine.

Rule 3: People like surprises

Business people are acutely aware of what’s going on in their marketplace. They know their customers and their competitors intimately – because there’s comparatively few of them. So you need to work hard to surprise them. But if you can, the results will follow.

DHL recently sent a wall calendar to customers where each page was split either side of midnight – because that’s their working day.

Rule 4: People crave understanding

This is not a new technique. David Ogilvy talked about getting the reader nodding in the 1960s. We now have more research, more insight, and more information than ever before. So let’s use it. Let’s demonstrate that we understand our business audience’s pain points.

My favourite example of this is from the UK where a software company sent a letter to IT managers printed on a dust cloth. The message was “With our new security tools it may be a while between trips to the server room”. What a brilliant demonstration that you understand them.

Rule 5: People love being engaged

We live in a social age. Real-time. Instant feedback. Shared content. In the B2C world there are lots of examples of marketers using this to their advantage. But there are far fewer examples in B2B. Why? Business people are just as likely to get involved if it’s something they believe in, or is something that can help them be successful. One of the few examples of this is the American Express ‘Small Business Saturday’ program. Spotting that small businesses were struggling, Amex declared a single day for US residents to shop small. The small businesses themselves did all the heavy lifting using everything from posters and balloons to social media and content assets. It was helping their business, so they got engaged.

Still reading?

Then hopefully I’ve adhered to at least a few of these B2B rules. Were you surprised? Understood? Engaged? I’ve clearly shown you what I mean. I may even have pandered to your ego – unless you’re a briefcase carrying, grey-haired suit wearer (sorry about that).

Making this is a clear piece of business communication – where you’re a person too.

Encore Issue 33This feature first appeared in EncoreDownload it now on iPad, iPhone and Android tablet devices.



Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.