It’s the 21st Century: B2B Needs to Be Fun(ner)
I’ve struggled with my weight ever since I can remember. Diets and fads and pills and boot camp and CrossFit and TRX and and and …
The truth is, there are a million solutions for weight loss, because everyone’s body is different. What works for you may not work for me.
For example, I’m a vegetarian. So a Paleo diet (one that consists largely of meat) isn’t even an option.
At this point you’re thinking, “Karine, WTF does this have to do with copy, content, and marketing?”
Well, the short answer is … everything.
The long answer is that in this day of technology, there are almost as many ways to market your business or brand as there are to lose weight.
And what works for one company may or may not work for another.
B2B, B2C, and a few tomatoes
We all know that a company that sells its products or services to other companies is known as business-to-business, or B2B.
Similarly, a company that sells its products or services to consumers is known as business-to-consumer, or B2C.
(OK, marketers, here’s where you can have your virtual tomatoes at the ready for what I’m about to say …)
I don’t think there is such a thing as B2B marketing.
Hear me out.
Who’s making the purchase? Another person. For example, a human who reads Harry Potter, watches Marvel movies, and is #livingtheirbestlife.
So your marketing, in fact, is geared toward humans. Or (because I’m feeling extra bold), to a consumer of your product or service.
At the end of the day (the workday, that is), a consumer is someone who uses your thing. If a company sells something and it’s being used by a person, then, ipso facto, it’s a business selling to a consumer (B2C).
I’m not suggesting that we do away with the terms B2B and B2C. The sales process and customer journey really do differ between the two.
What I am saying is that your marketing needs to attract an end user. And the end user is the consumer of your wares.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk more about fun.
Why should B2B (ahem!) marketing be funner?
I’ve spent 17 years (to date) as a marketer for big-name brands like NBA (#wethenorth), NHL and MLS teams, international hotels, and Hollywood events (to name but a fraction and to show a tiny bit of street cred).
And I have concluded that including fun marketing is the only way to stay relevant and stay in business over the long haul.
Fun marketing is just another way of saying that your marketing needs to be culturally relevant and connect with your audience in a meaningful way.
Since most B2B marketing is neither, adding more relevance, connection, and meaning can be a quick path to an improved share of your market.
Honestly, at this point, anything is better than nothing when it comes to making B2B marketing more fun.
It doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly super-duper crazy town fun. Just funner.
And who is your audience again? If we take a close look at your customer avatar, they’re probably Millennials. (And getting younger as we speak.)
Millennials want to feel connected to brands they use, even in a business context.
Yes, even if you’re selling a sprocket for that big manufacturing thing-a-ma-bob.
The person buying said sprocket is likely a Millennial who enjoys having fun at work, and who wants to follow your brand on social media and read interesting information about where the materials for your sprocket originated. (Perhaps a free-trade mine in the middle of the Timbuktu desert where women are paid equal wages to men.)
They also want to know if the color of the sprocket is blue and black or white and gold.
“But Karine, not every business can be fun!”
Sorry, I disagree.
I believe every business can inject fun in their marketing. (Again, “fun” being defined as cultural relevance and a connection with the humans in your audience.)
Here’s the caveat: It’s all about finding the right amount of fun for your business and industry.
I call this the Threshold of Fun™. It’s the size of the sandbox you get to play in … the amount of fun you get to have with your marketing.
Because not every brand is like Disney. Not every brand can afford to have a bunch of clowns popping out of a Mini Cooper and have it work for them.
Too much fun is just as dangerous as too little. And if you exceed your audience’s Threshold of Fun, you risk creating the opposite effect to what you’re hoping to achieve.
That effect, of course, being incremental sales and revenue for your business.
I call that the Return on Fun (ROF).
The Threshold of Fun: A case study
When I started thinking about making B2B marketing more fun, I realized that there needed to be some sort of methodology.
Not every business can carry off the type of marketing that companies like Purple, The Longhairs, or Poo-Pourri get away with. (All B2C companies, you might notice.)
But just like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, there is a type of fun marketing — marketing that’s relevant and engaging to the people who make the purchasing decision — that’s just right for every business.
I developed a framework (talk about un-fun) for the Threshold of Fun. It demonstrates my point that there is no one-size-fits-all model for fun in marketing. Or for creating frameworks, as it turns out.
Let’s use my failure with frameworks as a case study on fun marketing.
1. Developing the first draft
Obviously, my super scientific Threshold of Fun framework had to be delivered in a fun way, so I set out to develop one.
I’d heard about Mel Abraham’s framework formulas, and how effective they are at setting people up as subject matter experts.
I watched some webinars, downloaded his free template, and went to town.
I started with a table in a Word document, breaking everything up into rows and columns like a good little soldier.
“Hey,” I thought, “This is starting to take shape!”
It didn’t look too exciting, and I didn’t have time to hire a graphic designer. So I decided to do what any sensible marketer does … open PowerPoint.
I copy-pasted my lovely table from Word into PowerPoint and I was off to the races.
At this point, you will probably notice that I am not a designer. In fact, I am not artistically skilled in any way, shape, or form. But I figured I could make it passable for the time being.
I wasn’t 100% thrilled with the end result.
But again, I did what any sensible marketer would do — I shared it with my copy buddies. These were folks who not only knew about my mission to make B2B marketing more fun, but were also familiar with Mel Abraham’s ideas on frameworks.
I felt pretty confident my final draft would be met with high praise!
2. Evaluating the impact
At this stage, I wasn’t entirely clear on what I wanted to do with this framework. I just knew I wanted to illustrate the Threshold of Fun in a clear and engaging way.
I wanted to convey that there are different types of fun that you can add to your marketing. And it’s not necessarily about the type of fun, but more about figuring out the Goldilocks amount of fun for your business.
I wanted people to understand that too much fun (or conversely, the complete lack of fun), would end up having a negative impact on your business in the long run.
But as I followed the template, I felt like it was missing something.
I kept telling myself it was the design. Because my words were perfect (duh!). My jokes were subtle yet hit the mark (also duh!). So it must be the design.
I decided to add that caveat when I shared with my copy buds, so they’d look past the design and see it for the brilliance it was!
My job was done.
I posted my final design in our Slack group and asked for feedback a few days before our biweekly call.
Crickets. Nothing. Silence.
When we got on our call, we started to talk about it. I tried to walk them through what I was hoping to portray with my shiny and incredibly fun new framework.
They asked questions, I answered.
They misunderstood some things, I clarified.
Then it happened, the thing I never even imagined.
“I don’t think it’s very … fun,” she said.
It was like she threw a cold glass of Cab Sauv on my freshly laundered white silk blouse.
The worst part? She was right.
I may have added a poop and fart emoji, a Gladiator reference, and an ass (aka donkey). But it wasn’t FUN.
It spelled out what I was trying to convey … and still totally missed the mark.
Back to the drawing board.
3. Reimagining the project
Great, well if Mel Abraham’s framework for creating frameworks (talk about meta) wasn’t gonna work, then I had to reimagine what I was trying to say.
So … what was I trying to say, exactly?
Part of what didn’t work with the original layout was that everything was in a hierarchy and given some sort of value (arbitrary or financial or otherwise).
But that wasn’t actually what I meant to say, nor is it what I believe.
On the contrary, I don’t think any one type of “fun” is objectively better or worse. What I do believe is that if you use the wrong type of fun, you will fail.
So what type of layout is non-hierarchical yet conveys the importance of different aspects at the same time?
Who said high school math was a waste of time?
(Not me, I looooved math.)
So I looked into other Venn-styled frameworks and I was off.
(I should also mention that Mel had Venn-styled frameworks, but they weren’t part of his free template so I didn’t really pay attention. My bad.)
Now the question became: How to define different types of fun, and how many main types to include. 2? 3? 4? 10?
Let me yada-yada-yada this section for you.
Here’s how it ended up …
The final framework for fun
There are essentially three different aspects to “fun” that can add to the perfect marketing plan. Those are: content, pop culture, and gamification.
Content is everywhere. Contrary to what many think, it’s not just blog posts. It’s the words, the design (graphic elements), the videos, the social media, and everything in between. This is by far the easiest place to add a dose of fun.
Whether it’s changing the tone and style of your copy to be a little more casual or making it more humorous (or even sarcastic like Wendy’s on Twitter), there’s plenty you can do to lighten the mood.
In-house designers can help select less stock-y photos (a good option is Unsplash). Or, they can steer clear of photos and use illustrations. And as any designer knows, color plays a huge factor in setting the tone for how your visitors feel toward your brand.
Videos don’t always have to be overly produced. Social media has made audiences appreciate the value of candid filming, and they love it, even in a B2B context. So don’t be afraid to grab your smartphone and capture a behind-the-scenes update and post it right away. It makes your brand more relatable.
2. Pop culture
Pop culture is how I define everything that is trending and current, like memes and gifs (like the blue vs. gold dress debate circa 2015 I referenced earlier in this post).
If it makes sense with your brand, your industry, and your audience, jumping on a trending bandwagon can make sense.
One of my favorite examples of this is how Shutterstock used their footage library to recreate the Fyre Festival trailer.
Huge (UUUGE) disclaimer: Don’t just randomly try to jump on what’s happening. Again, if it doesn’t make sense for your brand, it can do more harm than good. That’s why having a fun strategist (ahem!) can help you avoid social faux pas.
Gamification is where the more traditional definition of fun comes into play. (No pun intended.) This is where your brand uses games, gags, swag, etc. to add new layers of fun to the marketing.
MailChimp, the email service provider, launched the “What Did You Mean?” campaign, where they made fun of their name. It was an elaborate campaign with several highly produced videos in a series. They even went as far as creating microsites for each of the projects to really make the experience (and joke) immersive for the audience.
And that’s the trick right there. In order for something to work, it must be a complete experience that is well executed in order to become a hit with audiences. (This goes for both B2B and B2C, obviously.)
So there you have it, the framework for my Threshold of Fun.
The meta-ist case study there ever was
The moral of the story is, I tried to follow a tried-tested-true (and free) template to create my framework and it went against everything I was trying to show.
And that’s how marketing is like weight loss. Sure there are about a million and one different ways you can introduce more fun into your marketing.
Without the proper research and planning, it will just be an exercise in futility and your team (the executive team more so) will wonder why they even took a chance on this whole “fun marketing” thing.
In order to see a proper Return on Fun, you must take the time to evaluate what others are doing (or not doing, as it were), what fits within your industry, your brand, and your audience. And you need to look at the right pace to introduce your funner elements without shocking everyone.
Of course, like everything else in marketing, it’s a good idea to create a benchmark for your baseline marketing. (For example, present-day reviews and social media comments.) That lets you test and iterate as the plans are created and implemented, so you can truly see the results of all the hard work that goes into it.
Because fun without planning is spelled F-W-O-P.