Many B2C companies know how to leverage the power of humor in their marketing campaigns. B2B marketing, on the other hand, can be clever and compelling, but is rarely funny. B2B marketers tend to steer away from the kind of edgy humor eagerly anticipated in Super Bowl advertisements. They may see humor as too risky, won’t translate to sales, or will fall flat with humorless technical buyers.
Having worked in technical industries for 25+ years, I can use a lot of words to describe engineers, but “humorless” is definitely not one of them.
Remember these business buyers are humans too, and humans respond to humor. Content Marketer Ann Handley says, “In a lot of customer videos, you see folks who are speaking in corporate lingo, using buzzwords and talking points. But CIOs are real people with real personality, and I like the innovative approach to show true personality in corporate IT.”
B2B marketing is more effective when it’s vibrant and compelling – and humor is often a big part of this. In fact, humor might actually be a stronger way of communicating than any other way. It opens you up, makes you stop and think, and often in this social media obsessed world, share it with friends.
Check out the stopping power of the following ad satirizing “retargeting” marketing techniques. At first glance I didn’t get it. When I did get it, I appreciated the subtlety and the humor. Now I have it permanently impressed on my memory. Why? Because it’s funny… and true.
This “based-on-truth” element of humor, especially when merged with good storytelling, is what allows it to humanize brands. Marketer Kathy Klotz-Guest says” Stories are the starting point for any great humor. If you are considering video, stories matter more than production values – every time. When was the last time someone forwarded a video, adding, “Hey check out the production values!” Start with a great story.
Where do you find great stories? Start with the pain points of your industry, your customers and your prospects. What drives them crazy?
Besides being a sound strategy for empathy-based selling, understanding pain points helps you develop stories. Even though the products themselves are not humorous, the stories around how they’re used, the environment they’re used in, the people who use them, are.
Don’t go too far; your audience doesn’t have to end up rolling on the floor with howling laughter to make a difference. But being witty and self-deprecating is sometimes a powerful way to humanize the brand. When a brand shows that it doesn’t always take itself too seriously, it’s a powerful way to demonstrate authenticity and build a connection with the audience.
Businesses can tap into this revelatory, healing aspect of comedy by sharing their own pain. In the Wall Street Journal Dilbert creator Scott Adams said, “My failed corporate career became the fodder for the “Dilbert” comic. Adams said he’s failed at just about everything he’s tried, including his corporate career, his inventions, his investments, and his two restaurants. But through those failures he discovered some unlikely truths that helped him explore the pain that we all experience with bosses, committee meetings, expense reports, cubicle culture, and other workplace discomforts.”
Cisco Social Media guru and former SNL writer Tim Washer says “Look, we do make mistakes. We do fail at times. We always recover, but we do have those times. We’re not perfect.’ And we show those vulnerable moments, it would go so far helping us connect with our audience.”
Final caveat: Humor has it limits. It does not work everywhere during the sales process. Humor is a fantastic conversation starter. In fact, it works best at the top of the marketing funnel, or early in the buying cycle. It should contain enough information to keep prospects engaged. As prospects get closer to a decision, they tend to be more serious and find humor to be less helpful when it comes to actually answering their questions.
But by then you have hooked them enough with your brand personality, that they should have your undivided attention to help you close the deal.