Several years ago I consulted for one of the Canadian telecommunications companies. I worked with the VP of SME Marketing (the guy in charge of getting companies to sign up for wireless services). My assignment was to help him put together a business case for innovating their advertising. He felt that they were spending tens of millions ineffectively and wanted new ideas on what their advertising could look like.
One of the things I did as part of the assignment was look at the B2B advertising of the US mobile providers. One of the things I learned was that the American companies used humor in their B2B marketing. Their ads were hilarious. When I presented to the Canadian telco team I showed them some examples. We were in an incredibly imposing board room that seated 40 people around a huge table made of some fancy kind of wood (oak, cherry – I don’t know, but it was impressive). The executives howled when they watched the ads. I’m sure that room has never seen so much laughter.
But then when it was all said and done, they had to make a decision. Were they going to do the same thing? Could they use humor in their B2B advertising?
They made the decision based on two factors:
a) Could they ‘get away’ with using humor? The issue here, in B2B, is that buyers are making risky decisions. If a B2B vendor is young or unproven, then humor is a dangerous angle to take – it can scare away potential customers. If the company has a long history and an excellent track record, humor can work.
In the case of the telco, there was no credibility issue – they had been in the market forever and no one had better technology.
b) The second factor was personality fit. A company that is full of very serious people – from top management straight on down – is not going to do well with humorous marketing. It just doesn’t align with the company’s culture.
That was the issue for the telco. This company just didn’t have a humorous personality. What’s more, one of their competitors did have a lighter personality and had already staked out this territory in the market.
If your company is thinking about using humor in your B2B marketing, don’t be scared of the concept, but do consider the two questions above. I think humor can work extremely well in B2B marketing, but only for the right company at the right time.