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Humor and Humanization in B2B Marketing

Published on 31 Oct 2016
Rim2016 Gary Slack

A question to Gary Slack, Chief Experience Officer of Slack & Company:
B2B communication is usually considered as the less creative and enthusiastic possible, like if every buyer was a simple robot. Do you agree with that?

Business-to-busines sometimes it would be called “boring” to “boring” marketing. Until recently, rational beings or computers or robots. In short, they saw B2B buyers as, well, Star Trek’s “Mr. Spock.” But, of course, all kinds of feelings and emotions— even when at work.

After years of marketing its new routers by strictly talking up technical features, about five years ago global IT giant Cisco decided to try something different. They hired a comedian and late-night television show writer and actor to see if humor-embedded videos could cut through all the clutter and help improve new-product launches.

One of Cisco’s first videos talked up its new $250,000 ASR9000 router as the perfect Valentine’s gift. The video was a huge success and generated 10 times the views of previous, more serious-minded Cisco videos—and helped make the ASR9000 router the 4th best product launch in Cisco history. But using humor is not the only way to humanize B2B communications.

In Europe a few years ago, Volvo Trucks took what I call a “shock and awe” approach in a video designed to help launch a new line of over-the-road trucks featuring new steering technology that made for more controllable precision driving. Their video didn’t cause people to laugh, it made them gape in wonder and near disbelief.

In a brilliant move, Volvo and its Swedish ad agency brought in the limber action hero Jean-Claude Van Damme to perform a full leg split while gradually being stretched out between two Volvo trucks rolling two feet apart down a highway.

Generating 85 million views just on YouTube, it and five other videos cost Volvo $3 million to make but led to $175 million in incremental truck sales—a pretty dramatic return on investment! These are just two of many examples of how b2b marketers are using humor and other techniques to humanize b2b marketing—and, in so doing, to attract far more attention and purchase interest than ever.

In short, business buyers like to laugh and be amused, they like to be dazzled and mesmerized and they like to be “edutained” and even entertained at times. Who knew?

In coming years, we are only going to see more such efforts!

Gary Slack also did a keynote on « Humour and humanization » during the #RIM2016, the International Meeting of B2B Marketing. See the video. Or know more about #RIM2016

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