As a whole, B2B marketing is boring. There, I said it.
One reason is the frequent pursuit of the “safe” approach. No judgement. After all, it’s easy to understand that mindset. Job security is important—and many B2B organizations have created cultures (whether intentional or not) that discourage original thinking and punish experiments that don’t produce optimal results.
In that hunt for safety, too many B2B marketers rely on “best practices”—blindly following whatever the least risky convention is. But if you’re a challenger brand trying to capture or defend market share in a highly competitive market, maybe … just maybe … the safest approach may not be the smartest.
“We cling to best practices as if they’ll save us …. We wish for simple answers or silver bullets. We ignore crucial details sitting right in front of us that can inform our thinking better than any best practice possibly can.”
—Jay Acunzo, Speaker & Author
Some of the best ideas happen when teams start looking for creative ways to delight customers—without regard for “conventions” or “best practices.”
Here are 3 examples (created by Bulldog) of “unconventional B2B” that any marketer can learn from:
You’re Not Invited.
An unconventional approach to educating B2B marketers about personalized video (using personalized video, of course)
(This example was personalized for Ellie Hawkins. Each viewer would see their own name throughout the video.)
How it worked:
First, audiences received an email with the subject line “<First Name>, You’re Not Invited.”
Upon opening, viewers saw their names being removed from an invite list.
Once they clicked through, viewers witnessed an (fake) event promotional video intro that poked fun at the cliché nature of most B2B events. In the end, the event spokeswoman reveals the gag; the reason you’re not invited to this ridiculous event is because it’s not happening. But you’ve probably got something you’d like to promote (an event, a webinar, or another asset). And furthermore, if personalized video worked to get your attention just now, it would probably attract attention for your initiative as well.
Here are just a few of the responses we recieved:
How it was unconventional:
The subject line “You’re not invited” experienced uncommonly high open rates. Let’s be honest: Being uninvited is an uncommon message. The video itself then skewered the tired clichés and jargon of the B2B marketing industry—an empathetic wink at fellow B2B marketers. And lastly, the video pushed the boundaries of photorealistic personalization, showcasing how much fun you can have with this unique form of media. This simple campaign was unconventional in so many ways: message, industry candor, and over-the-top multimedia personalization.
Lessons for B2B marketers:
- Don’t be afraid to discuss the quirks of your industry. Those things that everyone is thinking but no one is saying.
- It’s great to surprise your audience. But be ready to pay it off.
- And, when it comes to personalization, the sky is the limit.
Symantec Renewal Email Series
An unconventionally honest redesign of Symantec’s renewal email series.
Originally, Symantec had taken a conventional approach to their renewal email offers: typical “enterprise” imagery of tall glass buildings in a big city. Then, customers were given an option: Be a “worrier or a warrior.”
Enter Bulldog, stage right.
We looked at the emails and saw a couple of concerns. First, a conventional photographic approach (enterprise = big buildings). We also saw a message that was overshooting the real, perceived value of the product. It didn’t ring true. IT professionals, even on the best of days, will never feel like a “warrior” because of endpoint protection.
Our unconventional redesign set the bar … lower? We replaced the corporate buildings with headshots of people—quirky and diverse, like real IT professionals. In tech marketing, real humans are rarely showcased authentically. And the overhyped messaging? We dialed that back to a refreshingly honest reflection of the value we provide—namely, silence and calm. Our headlines promised what IT professionals really want: a little less drama.
You can read more about this program here.
Lesson for B2B marketers:
- Aspire for differentiation in both image and voice.
- Don’t overpromise the value of your solution. Marketing to IT audiences is about making the important interesting, not hyperbole. This is hard for marketers, who often feel responsible to raise the perceived value of a product.
Bottomline Technologies C-Suite Door Opener
A digital direct mailer with real-time performance tracking?
Is that even possible? It is now.
Bottomline Technologies wanted to introduce their newest, most advanced database security solution to the most senior IT executives at Fortune 500 businesses. We’re talking chief information officers and chief security officers—an audience that is nearly impossible to reach via email and even harder to target with traditional advertising. Another major challenge: Bottomline had very little brand recognition.
How it worked:
To set up meetings with CIOs and CSOs at these target accounts, a highly targeted (account-based) campaign for 80 of their top target accounts was created with the ambitious goal of directly setting up meetings with their Sales leadership. Given the unlikely prospect of reaching top executives with a cold email, a premium direct-mail campaign was developed.
For target accounts, the experience started when an inconspicuous box landed on their desk. Inside was a tablet computer and simple, personalized instructions to reveal a secret video.
The video immediately brought audiences into a story: a James-Bond-esque British spy agency executive has sent this message from headquarters. First, he explains the business implications of the new reality of fraud threats—and asks the recipient to join the movement to defend against them. The mission: Take a brief meeting with a “point of contact” at Bottomline.
Viewers could accept a meeting invitation with Bottomline (Sales) directly from the interactive video, which was shipped with prepaid wireless to report engagement metrics back to marketing teams at Bulldog and Bottomline. Meeting requests could be initiated and responded to in real time.
Not interested in a meeting right now? No problem. The tablet also came loaded with related learning materials as well.
This was not an ordinary direct mail campaign:
- The spy-themed packaging and video provided a dose of mystery and adventure—and an entertaining invitation to talk to the Bottomline Sales team.
- The unsung hero was the customized tracking system that was developed specifically for this program. Bulldog developed a digitally accountable method to deploy a premium mailer (first of a kind, to our knowledge).
- The unconventional combo of fun and digital innovation was recognized as the year’s best direct-mail campaign from the Association for National Advertisers (ANA).
Lesson for B2B marketers:
- When it comes to measurement, new technologies are giving us access to new sources of data every day. Where there’s a will, there’s often a way.
- If you’re going to tell a story, bring your audience into it—and make it actionable!
Go create something unconventional.
Unconventional B2B requires curiosity and courage. Successful marketers will spend less time looking for the new shiny object and more time uncovering possibilities to innovate using the standard communication channels that reach customers every day. After all, these are the conventions.
Shaking up conventional thinking is hard. It’s also fun.
B2B doesn’t have to be boring—but that’s really up to you.