Whoever still believes that serious b2b companies can’t be funny hasn’t been paying attention to social media lately. Or maybe they’ve accepted the fallacy (vicious rumor, unimaginative thinking, etc.) that anything fun just can’t be taken seriously. Oh, how horribly myopic and damaging that view is to building engaging relationships with customers.
Today, thankfully, we have companies blazing new trails in using social media to engage the business customer. And they are doing it with fun and humor. I’m not surprised.
Econsultancy published a great article today discussing strategic communications with Cisco’s Doug Webster. In that piece, Webster noted the following about Cisco’s use of humor to grab attention and cut through the noise:
We’re dealing with the same technological issues these customers are, but doing it in this funny, intriguing way that got it to where the way we were marketing was creating a lot of press attention. We incorporated all the aspects where people could send this to friends, and along the way, it encouraged them to register for this virtual event that was on this particular day to find out what it is that’s gonna save Christmas, that’s gonna help keep love in the world. We had 8,000 different members of the service provider community online at the same time for this reveal, and our overall results were about six times more than a launch we did in the traditional way in 2004. And we did it for about 1/8 the cost.
Alleluia! What I love most is that we are finally talking about successful b2b companies that get that fun and humor are about engagement and people. Fun isn’t frivolity – it’s about customer delight and surprise. Ultimately, all business is done between people. People – not faceless entities – engage, make purchase decisions, and build relationships. Fun tells a story and opens the door to a greater, more human conversation about needs – bringing a company closer to customers. And, after all, isn’t social media supposed to be about conversations?
Humor is about humility because it requires a company to let go; to stop trying to control the message. By letting go and having fun with social media, Cisco increased results at a fraction of the cost of previous launches. Hubspot and IBM have also experienced successful results with their fun campaigns.
Cisco has done some great work in going beyond the jargon-laden “super-serious” template too many b2b marketers seem so tied to. There is nothing customer-focused about jargon. Quite the opposite. Jargon is lazy, confusing and, far too often, focused on the company’s technology rather than customer needs. It puts the burden of interpretation on the customer. Remember the last conversation you had with someone who only talked about themselves the entire time? Well, jargon is exactly like that. It’s not conversational, substantive or meaningful. Laughter, on the other hand, is and it is part of how people build relationships over time. It is that kind of employee – and customer-centric focus that yields success. Fun cuts through the jargon-laden, company-focused techno-babble that is all too common out there. And “risk averse” b2b marketers have too often accepted marketing mediocrity as the industry “standard.” Which is why enterprise companies have been slow in social media adoption to engage the customer.
Humor is serious business and it can be done in a professional way. Sure, it can also go the other way. But customers are far more approachable than we give them credit for. They are people with needs, concerns, who laugh, build relationships or change relationships when companies stop caring about their needs. Most b2b marketers will err on the side of the right balance between corporate objectives and levity. There is also a big difference between comedy and lightening up a bit. Fun doesn’t have to bet the farm and be high-risk, as organizations such as Cisco, Hubspot, and a few others have demonstrated. As more companies become successful learning how to engage customers with fun and play, marketing to the enterprise customer will change dramatically. This change, unfortunately, won’t happen overnight. It also requires a cultural shift within companies to let go, be willing to experiment, and empower the social employees best equipped internally to tell the corporate stories best. Companies that already value fun because they understand its link to creativity and innovation will be the victors in customer engagement. And the best storytellers are most often not found in the executive suite.
And, yes, you can achieve ROI and have fun as I’ve blogged about before. How fun got such a bad rap in terms of ROI, I’ll never know. With or without fun, companies still measure campaigns and engagement. Fun shouldn’t raise the metrics burden bar; however, successful companies are showing that it does raise the performance level. Fun has a greater payoff.
B2B marketing never has to be boring. There is no excuse. Even the most conservative companies can take small steps towards lightening up, by starting internally, for example. Ultimately, fun is a people-centered value. It must be seen as a creative and strategic imperative that powers experimentation and marketing innovation. If fun isn’t already a deeply held and practiced internal value, fun as a hollow marketing tactic without cultural infrastructure to support customer engagement, simply won’t work. Customers are smarter than that. Remember that pesky issue of trust?
As for Cisco, the company is investing in creative people, building an infrastructure that supports marketing innovation. Just recently, the company brought Tim Washer on board – the creative artist behind IBM’s successful and funny videos, “The Art of the Sale.” Now, the creative bar for all b2b companies has just been raised! Well played, Cisco. It’s great to hear about a large company within a traditionally conservative industry blazing new social media trails, getting results, and having fun while doing it.
If you’re not having fun with your marketing, neither are your customers!