If you were to run a random street survey about public perceptions of the differences between B2B and B2C marketing, they’d probably say “What the hell do those letters mean?” because not everyone works in marketing and knows the differences between them. But once you’d explained the differences, they’d probably say something along the lines of “Business is serious, so marketing aimed at businesses needs to be serious too.”
Sadly there are lots of marketers who buy into this perception: B2C allows for more scope for creativity, fun and humor, while B2B sticks to variations on sharing facts and figures. But just because the discipline is business-to-business marketing, doesn’t mean humans aren’t involved, humans who like to laugh and be entertained and are more likely to choose a company they enjoy over a boring one.
So, until the day that companies are being run entirely by computers and robots (and the timeline from Terminator was way off, so we’re safe… for now *dun, dun, duuuunnnnn*!), there's not only no harm in putting fun in your B2B marketing, it can actually be a benefit:
- It’s attention grabbing.
- It associates a positive emotion with the brand.
- If that positive emotion is strong enough, people will remember it for longer. For example, think of your favorite movies and you’ll remember the moments that generated the strongest emotions the most. Since we want a positive emotion, horror and sadness are out and if you’re trying to generate a romantic connection with your brand well… whatever floats your boat…
- If it’s funny enough, people will share it for you, increasing the reach even further.
All this, and it’s just more interesting for you to work on.
We’re not saying you should turn your entire marketing strategy into memes and cat videos (although an occasional one might go down a treat from time to time. This writer’s interest in anything increases proportionally to the amount of cats involved).
You have to take into account your audience, the product/solution you’re marketing, and the goal of the campaign. Also, steer well clear of politics and recent tragedies (your personal humor might be dark but keep it out of your brand).
Marketing a workplace messaging app to start-ups? Go ahead and make a joke about how they’ll be able to run a fantasy football league at work more easily. Selling jet engines? Probably best to avoid a joke about a recent airplane disaster which could have been avoided if they’d fitted your engines. It’s best to err on the side of caution and keep things PC.
With that out the way, if you’re looking for inspiration on how to incorporate humor into your B2B marketing, we’ve picked out some great brands that are killing it with humor-led B2B branding and campaigns. Hopefully they’ll inspire you, and maybe you’ll get a laugh out of them too.
In these flashy days of social media marketing, it can be easy to see email marketing as something dull and boring that we only really pay attention to out of necessity. But with something that’s so important to B2B marketing (On average a 3,800% ROI from email marketing; 35% of marketers send 3-5 emails a week; 59% of respondents say that marketing emails influence their purchases, to name just a few stats from this long list from Hubspot), why does it have to be a chore? Why does it have to be boring?
Someone clearly thought there was a better way, because along came this cheeky chap:
Look at this guy. He’s adorable, he’s cheeky and there’s no way a company with a mascot like this takes itself too seriously.
And this translates across MailChimp’s entire brand and marketing, making it simply a joy to interact with.
They can be cute and kooky on social media.
The content they put out can be equal parts interesting, inspiring and hilarious, like their videos under the MailChimp Presents banner, which includes:
- an animated comedy series about entrepreneurs,
- mini-documentaries about such varied subjects such as noodle making in China, to Mardi Gras costumes in New Orleans,
- A mockumentary about the high stakes world of trade shows,
- And much more…
Their brand and user interfaces are constantly refreshed as well, but always with an interesting, fun angle.
In the past they’ve had chimps that give you a high five when completing email campaigns. They’ve dived wholeheartedly into some killer puns and play on words, like developing the snack “FailChips” and the anti-aging cream “SnailPrimp” or creating a bizarre trilogy of videos entitled "JailBlimp," "MailShrimp" and "KaleLimp".
Currently, their brand and interface is adorned with quirky, sometimes abstract illustrations.
MailChimp is an excellent example of how a bit of wit and humor can elevate a seemingly dull topic by leading the way. They’re basically saying “if we can have so much fun with our brand, surely you can have fun and experiment while using their tools”. If you want people to enjoy using your products/solutions then lead by example!
B2B marketing lesson: Quirky branding can brighten up something other people might find dull.
“Stock images/videos/music samples are so lame! They’re so weird and cheesy and you can never really find what you’re looking for.”
If you’ve spent any time doing design work yourself or working closely with designers, chances are something similar to that statement has cropped up from time to time. But not every business has the resources to have an inhouse film/photography/music studio led by a resident Kubrick, Leibovitz, or Mozart (now that’s a cool dinner party guestlist) to produce their own videos and images, so stock is what you’ve got to “slum it with”.
Well it would make sense that Shutterstock, as one of the largest digital libraries of stock videos, film and music, wouldn’t be too happy with the image of “slumming it”. Which is why all of their marketing is devoted to showing the full possibilities their services can provide through a solid mix of creativity, empathy and humor.
They’ve established themselves not just as a source of stock images, but also as an establisher of marketing and design trends themselves, with their annual report on Creative Trends being a must-read for creative marketers, which they then support using amazing looking images and videos all created from the tools they provide.
They’re so good at this sort of thing that their content can even go viral outside of corporate circles and make an impact among the wider public.
There’s one example of this that’s so perfect it almost makes us cry. It’s like the Sistine Chapel of B2B video content. The person who came up with it is like the B2B marketing Alexander the Great, who fell to his knees on the shores of the sea and wept, for there was no more world left to conquer. If we took it back to Shakespeare, he’d throw Hamlet in the trash because it just doesn’t compare. It’s like-
Sorry, we got a little carried away there. We might be overhyping things so let’s get to it. Here’s Shutterstock recreating the infamous Fyre Festival with stock footage:
Sweet jeepers, it’s perfect. Absolutely-*chef’s kiss*-worthy. It came out at just the right time, when social media was awash with discussions over the Fyre Festival debacle following Netflix’s documentary. It’s skilfully put together. It’s funny as hell. And best of all it shows off an excellent range of capabilities that are all possible through Shutterstock’s services. Every content marketer, whether B2B or B2C dreams of capturing lightning in a bottle like that.
The result? 2 million views in the first week alone, coverage across dozens of news outlets (even beyond the marketing world) in countries all over the world. It’s not every day that Vanity Fair is talking about a piece of B2B marketing content.
Go on, watch it again, we’ll wait before we move on.
B2B marketing lesson: Find a creative way to show your strengths.
Not all B2B companies are marketing to big corporations. Some are looking at small businesses, startups and the self-employed. And with more and more people looking for ways to monetize their hobbies for extra income or setting up their own business after finding themselves unemployed in the wake of the pandemic, it’s a growing market.
No one’s done this better or as humorously as Squarespace in the past year.
The humor of their marketing is heavily rooted in a deep understanding of their audience, as well as their own limitations.
Let’s take a look at their ad “All You Need to Launch A Celebrated Art Career”
Beside the fun and interesting visuals, it recognizes the difficulties all aspiring artists face, satirizes the industry as a whole and mines a broadly accepted source of humor (weird hipster fashion trends). At the same time, Squarespace highlights how they can help, while maintaining a humorous level of self-deprecation (“We can’t make you a famous artist but, your website will be nice 🎉”). All that in a 30 second video!
But their pièce de résistance, as is often the way with marketing and advertising, is their 2021 Superbowl ad.
It’s got everything:
- A fun message
- Cool visuals
- A humorous takedown of bureaucratic corporate culture
Here it is for your viewing pleasure:
It’s funny, catchy, inspiring, and endlessly shareable, all while being rooted in a strong brand promise that appeals directly to Squarespace’s target market.
Not many brands have the resources to make videos on a par with Squarespace’s, and even fewer will be able to afford a living legend like Dolly Parton. But what makes these ads, and Squarespace’s marketing as a whole, work is the degree to which they know their audience and can empathize with them.
B2B marketing lesson: Make sure your humor (and really all your marketing) is relatable to your target audience. Recognize the challenges they face, but don’t over-promise.
So there you have it. Some great examples of humor in B2B marketing. As we said earlier, humor won’t work for every brand and situation, but hopefully this will inspire you to try out some more creative routes when it comes to your B2B marketing and branding.
Have you had good experiences with your own humor-led B2B marketing? Maybe you’ve seen a campaign or ad yourself which made you chuckle. Let us know!