We do our fair share of B2B work, though, in fairness to our clients, we use that distinction only for the purposes of this post. Philosophically and in practice, we see no distinction between B2B and B2C, or between any industry, market or segment – how we approach their challenges and opportunities are the same regardless of whether it is a consumer brand or an industry trade group.
So why the longstanding stigma against B2B? Why the complaints, usually loudest near the creative department, when an upcoming project has the dreaded “B2B” label affixed to it. It’s boring. It all looks the same. It’s no fun. These statements are, frankly, baffling. If B2B is boring and all looks the same, then who bears the responsibility if not those responsible for the work being created?
So what makes B2B less appealing to many in the creative community versus the sexy and fun world of consumer products?
Simple. It’s harder.
With consumer products, we can hit the ground running because we understand intuitively the markets and motivations behind purchasing decisions. Yes, we still need to do research to understand the nuances and benefits of a specific category, brand or product, but we come to the table with a familiarity that often doesn’t exist when it comes to B2B clients. We’ve all, hopefully, used toothpaste. We haven’t all used a 32bit ARM processor.
And therein lies the initial challenge of B2B – the legwork upfront is bigger and more daunting, often requiring significant time investments to understand the business, service or product. For some, this learning curve is too much to handle, as evidenced by a simple stock image search – the reason a lot of B2B looks the same is because people default to the same stereotypes and tropes about “business” and the “businessman” rather than taking the time to understand the unique value proposition of the business. The first step to doing great work, period, is understanding the client’s business. If you’re unwilling to put in the work to gain that understanding, you won’t do great work regardless of industry.
The next hurdle in B2B is the emphasis on substance over style. In the business community people are held accountable for their decisions to a greater degree than in their personal lives. You buy a lemon of a car and you may lose some money and wear out your walking shoes. You buy a lemon of an e-commerce platform and you not only lose your job, but you potentially bankrupt a business. Since the stakes are higher, the sizzle is not enough – if you have any sizzle in the first place.
Often, you don’t have a beautiful product shot or clearcut visual or, for that matter, budget for a large photo shoot in a fun, exotic location with a super trendy celebrity instagrammer. Most of the time, you have to stretch creatively to come up with entirely new ways to visualize and communicate a business, a benefit, an innovation. Those are the challenges that we’re in this industry to solve, but to solve them, again, you have to understand concepts that aren’t always relatable to those outside a specific industry or trade.
Business people do occasionally venture outside of a conference room. They are, despite any particularly draconian corporate policies, still individuals with unique personalities and desires. And despite the emphasis on the rational side of the decision-making process, there is still an emotional component as well. Just as we all want to be better, faster, stronger in our personal lives, our professional lives are marked by the same aspirations for success and distinction. Professionals need to feel like they’re making the right decision, which just means the emotional positioning should be supported by data, features, infographics, etc. To quote Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction: “Personality goes a long way.” Give the work dimension and personality – you can be smart and pretty.
There are a litany of examples of B2B brands who not only do great, inspiring work for the B2B category, but for any category. The Dow Chemical Company’s Human Element campaign is beautiful and poignant. BASF has done fantastic campaign work. Dreamforce is a shining example of how sexy and fun a conference can be and IBM’s bright, colorful patterns are current and fresh. And, obviously, we’d throw our work into that group as well. We believe B2B can hit the same emotional and aesthetic heights as the world of consumer brands. Our clients do too.