“We are here for you at this unprecedented, difficult time.” How many times have we read these words since March? Accountants, email providers, hell – even the random office supplies box you signed up years ago has their sincere and supportive words right in your inbox. Does it evoke a sense of comfort? Or roll your eyes more cynically before pressing Delete for the fourth time this morning. Make sure to head over to social media, however, and we all love to share this crazy meme about how much the trash 2020 has been. Perhaps the latter is more appealing because it matches our actual state of mind. It’s funny, silly, and distracts our minds from what was a really tough slog for many. Marketing humor can make all the difference in a work environment.
By: Victoria Heyward
In the UK, we tend to prefer comedians who make funny and satirical comments on current affairs – think Russell Howard, Peter Kay and Lee Mack. The only thing we have in common right now is that we are all together – a decidedly British motto that is more of a comfort in difficult times.
Using humor in any B2B marketer campaign is a difficult tightrope walk. Do it well and you will unite your audience; If you fail, you risk alienating them or even facing a backlash that can damage a company’s reputation for years. Is it even worth the risk? The trick is to stop thinking of all B2B marketers as serious, suitable types and to act more like a B2C marketing team. At the end of the day, we’re all just people who like to laugh.
What kind of humor should you use?
Tom Fishburne, also known as The Marketoonist, spoke at the Festival of Marketing in October about using humor in marketing campaigns to have positivity with the audience you are trying to connect with ‘. And one B2B brand that does that is Slack.
Slack takes inspiration from B2C brands by bringing a light-hearted and chatty approach to their messages. CMO Bill Macaitis explains his theory behind bringing humor into your marketing strategy:
Developing your brand tone and voice is an important first step in creating a cohesive brand. At Slack, we focus on being humble, authentic, humorous and human. A big part of building trust with your brand is being transparent about what should be the foundation of any interaction. For Slack, this manifests itself in the big and small things … the welcome message when Slack loads, the way we respond to tweets, even our release notes. ‘
Questioning the norm with B2B humor
Slack isn’t the only B2B brand taking a leap of faith in the humor arena. Online accounting giant Xero wants to appeal to its audience (small businesses) by recording funny videos, one with a cute robot that educates a business owner about the free time they could have with the software for fun. With a funky synth track in the background, the ad brings warmth to its characters and storylines.
Project management software company Monday.com goes one step further with its promotional video. The protagonist wants to motivate the Monday.com team with an automated cookie machine. It’s cheap to laugh at, but he manages to demonstrate the benefits of the software and app with an idea that would surely make everyone’s life better if it were real. Both Xero and Monday.com are taking preliminary steps to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Perhaps, however, their target markets are more engaged, as both offer software that is suitable for many decision-making levels. Therefore there is room for a more relaxed advertising approach – building brand awareness in the style of a B2C brand. For B2B brands with a more targeted niche personality and generating persuasive stakeholders that a humorous marketing campaign is the way to go, this could be a tougher fight in the ring.
Have a contingency plan if everything goes wrong
What happens when humor goes wrong? Adam Hunt, founder of White Label Comedy – an initiative that brings the laugh back to stuffy marketing campaigns – warns that the line is thin and companies need to think carefully about their target audience before including comedy in their plans. It is recommended to stay away from divisive or derogatory comments, as well as self-defeating humor (putting yourself down) and aggressive humor (knocking down others).
Hunt has worked closely with companies to add humor to their B2B marketing materials. In a recent podcast, he advised, “You just need to make sure that the jokes you make (and how you make them) reflect the beliefs and interests of your audience. Don’t make jokes that split your audience in half, make jokes that bring them together. ‘
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The bottom line seems to be that in B2B marketing there is not only room for humor, but that you engage with your audience on a more human level through a person acting more like a B2C brand and thus strengthen the commitment and loyalty of your brand can. That’s not to say the risk of looking deaf isn’t real. To counter this, Adam Hunt recommends always adding a “sense-check phase”, which checks that all of the opinions expressed through a joke are the ones your audience agrees with. He has a flair for comedy writers, but every B2B organization should have a trustworthy body in place to ensure that what a person finds weird doesn’t damage the brand beyond repair.
Great responsibility seems to go hand in hand with great exhilaration.
Victoria Heyward is Brand Marketing and Communications Manager at Bright.