Humanizing B2B

Here’s a surprising fact. At some point between the 1970s and the 1990s, the venerable AT&T brand reputation transitioned among certain audiences from “Ma Bell”… to “the death star.” Something similar transpired for Microsoft, which became widely known as “the evil empire“.

I’m not a corporate historian, but I know it has not been uncommon in recent years for large, public companies to find themselves similarly demonized. Think Enron collapse, Nike sweatshops, BP oil spill. Why?… generally it ties back to perceptions of company greed, thoughtlessness or incompetence. Regardless of ultimate culpability, our impressions are tightly linked to judgments about human motives underlying company behavior.

Enter the science of corporate reputation management and brand/messaging strategies designed to signal that company motives are pure, particularly B2B companies which are one step removed from public view. Here’s a sampling of recent B2B advertising in which employee voice-overs are used to create a softer, gentler company feel:

  • IBM – “Let’s build a smarter planet.”
  • Siemens – “No question is too tough for us to answer.”
  • FedEx – “Solutions that matter.”
  • Dow – “Together, the elements of science and the human element can solve anything.”

Heightened expectations for corporate social responsibility, combined with increased public transparency (internet, social media, 24/7 news cycles) have accelerated the race to put a human face on large B2B enterprises. But working to humanize the company in the eyes of stakeholder audiences has value beyond simply defending reputation. It signals the existence of a higher business purpose, one that can guide employees to do the right thing, help partners to engage in a spirit of true collaboration, and inspire customers/prospects to trust not only the product itself, but the intentions behind it. And trust is the glue in great long-term customer relationships.

Moral of the story here – if you are engaged in B2B business communications … be human, build trust, inspire custom.


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Filed under Brand Voice, Risk Management, Sense of community

Liquid Content

The folks at Coca Cola have been busy reinventing their model for brand communications.

If you watched Superbowl XLVI you probably saw the newest round of Polar Bear ads. What you may not have seen was the live-streamed “Polar Bowl” which viewers could visit during the game on their “second screen” (read iPad). The response was stunning – 9 million people tuned into this parallel, virtual world to watch animated polar bears reacting real-time to the game.

This is not a one-off deal. Coca Cola actually has a master plan to create a new model for brand building. It is grounded in the concept of “liquid content” – ideas that are so captivating, so provocative, so contagious they cannot be controlled. Ultimately, Coke aims to evolve their approach from “one-way storytelling” to a “dynamic storytelling model” where the brand narrative is so compelling, it flows into the popular narrative and earns cultural capital.

Moral of the story – harness the power of liquid content for your brand!

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Filed under Imagination captivation, Sense of community

Shock & Awe

Guerrilla marketing is not new. But it remains an incredibly effective way to captivate consumers.

Check out the dance riot created for T-Mobile in Liverpool station in 2009 (click here). Or look below at the guerrilla campaign for TNT Network in Belgium. In both cases, marketers inserted gripping theatrical drama (brand content) into the humdrum venues of daily living. Then all hell breaks loose.

The result – hundreds of people stop in their tracks, establish an indelible memory of the brand/concept and then share it with all their friends. Eventually it goes viral thanks to Facebook and YouTube sharing.

Moral of the story – in this age of viral media, well executed guerrilla marketing can engage consumers and drive brand registration like never before.


Filed under Brand Voice, Morbid curiosity, Risk Management

Inner Visions

I’m not talking about Stevie Wonder here. I’m asking you to think about that very private, quiet, creative place in your mind where you go to imagine things – memories, mental geography, story lines, loved ones – the place you go to reflect on things when eyes are closed.

Imagine a new kind of brand communication – brand experience really – that speaks to this private part of your mind – bypassing verbal appeals and speaking directly to the non-verbal core of your imagination. Powerful stuff – a new language really – and some forward thinking brands are learning how to do it.

Consider the campaign for Legoland UK resorts – agency gurus installed tiny pigeon-sized Lego billboards around London and invited passers-by to tweet #legolandminibreaks with a photo if they spotted one. Alternatively, watch to video (attached) describing an experimental brand installation for Absolut India. These efforts bypass all the normal filters we consumers throw up, and speak directly to our inner vision – powerful stuff!

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Contagious Ideas

The first TED conference was rolled out in 1984 in Monterey CA. Since then it has grown in size, exclusivity and, thanks to YouTube, gone viral with over 500 million virtual lectures viewed online in recent years.

One  TED speaker in 2009, Seth Godin, spoke about what makes an idea go viral and become a movement. Apologies to Seth for my shorthand…you need:

  • A charismatic thought leader
  • With powerful new ideas
  • Passionately communicated through storytelling
  • To a willing audience, knit together by common beliefs, a sense of tribal identity and an impulse to spread the word

Sounds a lot like what makes for viral content in general. Several agency networks have picked up on this. McCann uses the tagline “Truth Well Told”. Publicis has elevated these concepts in their worldwide credo – Contagious Ideas That Change The Conversation.

Moral of the story – powerful new ideas about your product/service that are communicated with honesty and passion can activate the tribe and change the conversation.


Filed under Search for leaders, Sense of community, Sense of identity

It Is So Greek

Yoplait…it is so Greek.

What? A french yogurt company, owned by US cereal giant General Mills, is now Greek. What’s going on here? Actually it’s just a competitive response to the surprise success of Greek-style yogurt maker Chiobani who came out of nowhere to become market share leader in 2011. Watch their new TV spot below to see how Yoplait is fighting back.

Moral of the story – nationality, and national stereotyping, can have a radical impact on product expectations and purchase interest.

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Filed under Sign of Quality

Doing The Right Thing

Here’s an interesting concept – “The things you do when no one is looking define you.”

I recently ran across this idea in a Chrysler ad emphasizing that the company doesn’t cut corners on quality on the sly. They do the right thing, and they do it with care and intentionality. Think of US Airways flight 1549 and the heroic pilot who saved the day by successfully landing his crippled plane in the Hudson river. Then watch the video to see what he really did when no one was looking. It’s impressive.

Moral of the story- people like brands and companies that do the right thing. It’s the foundation of trust, and it’s rewarded by emotional and behavioral loyalty.

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Filed under Risk Management


We are hardwired to seek out authenticity – the “real” thing.

We look for it in our personal relationships, in our business relationships, in the things we buy, and in the things we treasure. We care about provenance, because it’s a promise of security in an uncertain world. But sometimes we get fooled – hoodwinked, bamboozled, fleeced, swindled – and that can cause pain and loss. Think the Trojan Horse. Think Bernie Madoff.

Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale, has done fascinating research into how & why we value authenticity. He calls it Essentialism. Watch this video and have your eyes opened.

Moral of the story – authenticity, provenance, back-story…these are huge drivers of consumer behavior.

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Filed under Risk Management

Inside Jokes

Our 9th president, William Henry Harrison, won by a landslide in 1840. His campaign was the first-ever to use a campaign slogan – “Tippycanoe and Tyler Too.” There were buttons, posters, pamphlets, songs and copious mud slinging on both sides, just like the modern campaigns we know and love today. But here’s that fascinating part – it was an inside joke that propelled him to office.

Opposition newspapers accused him of being too old for the presidency and suggested, “Give him a barrel of hard cider and … a pension … and he will sit the remainder of his days in his log cabin.” Harrison realized this was an insult to the majority of voters and he gleefully transformed this slur into an inside joke. He poked endless fun at the “patrician snobs” sitting in Washington who drank fine wine while honest men drank cider. His team organized “log cabin raising” events in most major cities to rally the agrarian base. And his entourage shared barrels of hard cider at every speech and whistle-stop. He won by a landslide.

Moral of the story – be as one with your base. Build trust with stakeholders by demonstrating you are “of the tribe” through thought, word, action, and humor!

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Filed under Sense of community