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Guest Blogger

By Claire Nash, Group Strategy Director, MomentumABM

B2B marketers have a lot to learn from KFC. The chicken chain released its full page “FCK” apology ads to universal acclaim, using humour and self-deprecation to draw the sting from a potentially damaging “fowl-up” in their new supply chain operations.

In the process, the company provided an object lesson for brands in the value of taking a risk with the tone and content of their marketing. With just one campaign, KFC turned negative sentiment into highly positive headlines – and even renewed trust in the company.

That’s all very well for consumer brands, but is this approach relevant to the serious, risk-averse world of B2B marketing?

Business marketing is not traditionally known for levity and fun, and the idea of using a swear word – even a bowdlerised one – would have most B2B marketers breaking out in a cold sweat. Because for every reader who enjoyed such a fun, light-hearted ad, there would be many more who would take offence at the irreverence of tone and the potential offensiveness of the content. Much better, in most marketers’ minds, to stick to the purity of their brand guidelines and the safety of their corporate tone of voice.

That might have been good advice in the past, but the industry and its techniques have changed. While broadcast advertising will remain an incredibly important tool in the B2B arsenal, marketing communications are now often micro-targeted at high-value decision makers within a target organisation, and campaigns are often designed to reach a ‘market of one’. Marketers using account-based marketing (ABM) techniques, for example, will spend days or weeks understanding each target, building a picture of each individual’s needs, wants, challenges, and social and business networking profiles.

A quick look at ABM best practice shows just how much opportunity there is to understand whether a recipient might be open to a more daring, off-beat approach. First, an ABM practitioner will spend a considerable amount of time on target selection, choosing from a list of existing and potential customers to find the accounts with the greatest growth potential.

This is followed by an in-depth discovery phase, which informs the creative element of the campaign. This can include interviewing your account directors to review existing relationships and identify priority stakeholders; collecting insight on the status and history of these relationships; and social intelligence to understand the opinions, preferences, and concerns of your intended audience.

In the process, ABM practitioners build a uniquely-detailed picture of an organisation and the individuals that work within them.  Even if they haven’t met the person in question, marketers can gain insight into their personality and what kind of communication will get a positive reaction.

Account-based marketing is successful precisely because it enables practitioners to tailor their messaging, addressing real customer concerns while speaking to them in the most persuasive way. Empathy and insight are crucial tools, but so is tone, which is key to connecting with people on an emotional level. That’s a lesson KFC clearly understands, and which B2B marketers would do well to learn.

Let’s be clear: we’re not arguing that B2B marketers should throw caution to the wind and design deliberately edgy or controversial campaigns merely to get their audience’s attention. The point is that marketers today have more opportunity than ever before to make informed, finely-calculated changes to their messaging and propositions – and also to the tone and content of their communications.

This can be the most difficult skill for marketers to learn, brought up as they are with the idea of universal, inviolable brand messaging. As marketers, however, we often run the risk of forgetting that our ultimate aim is to influence individuals – living, breathing, complicated people who might (whisper it!) possess a sense of humour.

If your insight and instinct tells you a target might be receptive to an amusing or daring idea, then a creative, funny communication is probably less risky than bland, corporate, agreed-by-committee marketing collateral. B2B marketers should learn from brands that are prepared to stick their neck out, and seize every chance to communicate with a bit of colour.

In such a crowded, competitive field as marketing, being bold can pay big dividends. Our message to B2B marketers is simple: take a leaf out of KFC’s playbook – don’t be chicken.

Claire Nash, Group Strategy Director, MomentumABM

Claire is widely recognised as an ABM expert. She has over 15 years’ enterprise technology sales & marketing experience and, most importantly, real-life ABM experience with Strategic ABM, ABM Lite, Programmatic ABM and everything in-between. Together with the MomentumABM team, and in partnership with its clients, she has delivered hundreds of ABM programmes around the world.  Prior to joining MomentumABM, Claire held global marketing roles within blue chip organisations and also has a wealth of knowledge in the field of content, consulting and research.

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