How do you market to professionals with a human touch?

April 25, 2016

This question was posed to me this week by LinkedIn at their Ad Week Europe session in London. Much is made of the differences in B2B and consumer marketing. Ultimately marketing is about people. Technology has blended our lives, and it’s not always possible to distinguish between professional and private personas anymore. I actually don’t see the B2B space as all that different from consumer marketing. There are, of course, different tactics and often bigger budgets in consumer, but B2B is just as much about emotional engagement through inspirational and creative content.

Organizations, whether they are consumer or B2B facing, should know that their most powerful marketing channels are their people. They are the immediate window into the brand on a daily basis and they bring an organization’s purpose, values and brand to life. External marketing and paid campaigns are then simply extensions of these, rather than loose wrappings.

At the heart of it all is an organization’s purpose; it is crucial for people engagement and much more. Our own research with the Harvard Business Review found that a strong sense of collective purpose drives employee satisfaction, can positively impact an organization’s ability to transform, and increases customer loyalty. When people believe in their organization’s purpose, they are more likely to become its most positive advocates, thereby reinforcing the brand. When purpose drives the marketing, not the other way around, this becomes marketing gold.

However, a purpose must accurately reflect the organization and not be akin to a statement of intent. At EY, for example, our purpose of “building a better working world” is ambitious, but it relates to our role in building trust and confidence in the capital markets and supporting our clients’ aim to drive sustainable growth. We are currently activating this purpose and LinkedIn has become a strong platform for reaching our critical audiences –both internal and external.

The relationship between purpose, marketing and audiences is still complex. Over the two plus decades I’ve spent in branding and marketing, I have come to think that there are five guiding questions all marketers should ask:

1: Have you spread the message from the inside out?

Purpose cannot be window dressing that is adopted to make a brand look appealing. Instead it should be the foundation on which a brand is built.

Since people are vital to almost all organizations, they need to be encouraged to champion the organization’s purpose-led brand from the inside out. CEO-led recognition programs can go a long way in setting the tone from the top and showcasing great examples.

2: Is your purpose authentic?

If a purpose is to be meaningful, it needs to be more than just a strapline. I have seen many straplines stay surface deep, and then fade away. The more that the different facets of a purpose are challenged and explored, the more likely the organization’s people and other stakeholders will see it as real and understand how it applies to them.

Therefore, purpose needs to become a natural means of operating at every level of the organization – from the shop floor to the boardroom.

3: Content first, channel second?

In marketing, the channel is never more important than the content – even in our vibrant, multichannel age. In fact, perhaps, more so now than it has been before.

Fortunately, a purpose-led brand will naturally be content-led because it focuses on the end destination and treats channels as different means of getting there. Furthermore, purpose helps to ensure that content created through multiple platforms consistently reinforces the same message. In many ways, it acts as a natural editorial filter.  There are weekly conversations in the marketing press around the key to driving integrated ideas, and in my view there is nothing like having a clear purpose and common creative expression to act as self-governing integrators.

4: Is creativity still king?

You bet it is. You can have the strongest purpose or content in the world, but if you don’t express it in a simple, creative way, then people won’t engage with it inside an organization or out.

5: Are you always on?

Purpose-related content has to be truly arresting if it is to attract anyone’s attention in our information-rich world.  Even then, it is not realistic to expect that great content will automatically get traction. According to Forbes Insights, on average 1% of marketing content generates 99% of customer engagement. Most of the rest disappears into a digital black hole.

As marketers, we should never forget that the digital world is ‘always on’. So we have to be constantly active if we are to make our purpose known in that world – starting conversations, interrupting them and – in some cases – ending them. This may mean that we have to develop a whole new set of skills and to demonstrate a whole new level of commitment.

Today’s marketing landscape

Our business environment might be changing rapidly, but the fundamentals of good marketing remain. Ultimately, marketers are still expected to deliver creative, inspiring content that sets their brand apart from their competitors. The catch is that they have to do this in a more complex environment. But when driven through a strong core purpose, it can help cut through complexity and, in a simple way, reflect what a brand does for its customers with that human touch.

This post was first published on Pulse, 22nd April. Photo Credit: John Rudaizky.

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