You and Me, Not B2B

Our first episode is here! I talk with brand guru and truth-teller Tony Temple.

Tony coined a phrase: “You and me, not B2B.” I could talk with Tony about pretty much anything, but I couldn’t think of a better way to start off this podcast than talking B2B with this man.

Enjoy! And let me know what you think. 

Mark You can listen above, or read the handy transcript (which I lightly edited):

Reed-Edwards: Tony, welcome.

Tony Temple: Hello, hello, hello.

Mark: You and me, not B2B. Kind of seems to go against the grain, which anyone who knows you wouldn’t be surprised about. So what gives? Is B2B dead?

Tony: I reckon in reality B2B has been dead for about 20 years. It’s just that nobody said anything. I think that’s because there are a lot of people who make a living out of B2B marketing. There would be too many marketing agencies who specialize in B2B, and they want to perpetuate that.

When I say it’s dead, what I mean is, it isn’t.

So the reality is, in B2C or retail, there are a few people involved in the sales cycle. If I want to buy a pair of shoes, I go to a guy who is selling shoes. That’s me and the guy selling the shoes. In the background is the guy who makes the shoes. That’s kind of it. It’s a very short chain. Whereas, in a business-to-business transaction, there could be upwards of 20, 30, 40, 50 people at all levels of seniority throughout the business, with different agendas, to actually focus and make that decision.

Yeah, it’s more complex. But if you speak in that corporate voice, if you consider this as one organization speaking to another, you automatically drop into that passive tone of voice. You just become gray, like everybody else. That really is what makes the difference. I think now, You and Me, Not B2B is the sort of philosophy that B2B companies need to adopt. You need to be more human, because even in a B2B scenario, it’s people dealing with people. People buy people.

People are affected by emotions, primarily. Those are the things that you’ve got to focus on, instead of this stiff, problem, pain, solve, discussion. And then myriad personas, and different messages for each of them, which really just serves to confuse. Really, you’ve got to strip it back. Get more human. Think about the person, the other side of the screen. It’s not a building talking to another building. That’s kind of what I mean by You and Me, Not B2B.

Mark: It’s people talking to people.

Tony: Yeah, particularly when you think about the connected world we live in. It’s a connected world, not office block, or town, or city, or nation. It’s global. You and I both have friends all over the world, and we’re connected by LinkedIn. We’re connected by Facebook, by Instagram, by Twitter. This is the world we live in. It’s human, it’s connected. These people network everything, so we’ve gotta get real and start acting like humans.

Mark: Okay, let’s take it to the next step. How can a typical, impersonal, intangible, technology business or something like that, make itself more approachable?

Tony: How can it do that? That’s an interesting question. I think it starts in product marketing, because most B2B companies do have a product marketing department and those are the guys that are usually tasked with the job of coming up with the corporate messaging for the business. Because they know most about the product and they know most about the pains and the problems they’re trying to solve. That’s why it kind of sits there, which in some part makes sense. But the problem is, they know about the product, and they know about the problems. But do they put anything through the so-what filter? Or do they just want to wear everything on a first date, just in case? I think it’s the latter. They want to tell you about every single aspect.

Mark: Speeds and feeds.

Tony: Absolutely, in minute detail. And I just want to know, is it gonna do the thing I want it to do, and hurry up because I’m busy.

Mark: Right. Exactly.

Tony: So it starts there, and the thing about telling everybody everything all the time, is that nobody listens. You’ve just got to really, really think about what you’re doing, or why you’re in business. I mean, most companies go into business to be better than the people they used to work for. Or they have an idea to make things in a different way that is an improvement on what exists. That’s where it all starts. But as companies grow, and compliance issues come in, and recruitment happens, and all that sort of stuff, that sort of stuff tends to get lost.

And I think companies really need to keep going back to what they’re about, why they’re in business. Because they’re actually in business to improve people’s lives in some way. That’s the way they get value. If they go back to that, and think about the why, and the recipient, and the user, I think you’re going to be in a better place to begin with.

Mark: What’s the secret to success here? How should a company approach this issue? Does it really come does to what Steve Jobs said in that famous presentation about marketing, that marketing is about values?

Tony: Yes it does really, because as I said just now, everything is about belief. If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, nobody is going to believe you. If you believe you came make a spanner better than everybody else by changing the grip on the handle, the do that, and tell them about that. Don’t tell them about every other component in the spanner. Just tell them about the bit that you do that makes it better for them. Humanize it. Communicate with them in a human way, with candor, with honesty, and with as few words as possible.

Mark: It’s kind of figuring out what to leave out, rather than what to put in. Right?

Tony: Absolutely. Then stay on message and stay on brand. Because literally every company has only two things: its thing, whatever that is, and its brand. That’s it. Everything else you can buy or you can contract it in or farm out. So you really gotta understand those two things.

Mark: Right. You’ve done this a couple of times–a few times.

Tony: Yeah.

Mark: What’s the secret to success? I mean, how do you, as a kind of lone voice in the wilderness, how do you enlist senior management? How do you enlist the frontline employees? The regional marketers–how do you get those people on board?

Tony: It’s all about having a conversation in the first place. It’s all about identifying the issue that you have. If sales are sliding, if your salespeople are telling you, “We’ve got a problem, nobody knows who we are”–these are the common problems that bubble up within corporations. Once you start to listen to those conversations, then you realize you’ve got a problem. Then you have to have somebody in to help you. If you go to a design agency, they’ll give you a new color, and a new font, and that will be great for them. Will it be great for you? I don’t know.

I think when you’re actually trying to move the dial, you have to look at your brand. You have to really think about who you are, what you are, and what you’re doing. That means you have to talk to the people within the business. Because the business is actually an organism made up of lots of people that then come together to make it be–to make the thing. You have to speak to them, because they’ve all got a slightly different take on it. But if you can get some sort of consensus on why your thing is great, and why you do it, and who you do it for, then you’re in a good place. Only when you listen to the people, right down to the bottom, will you get the people listening right at the top, and everywhere in between. It’s a broad conversation you have to have.

Mark: It’s kind of top down, and bottom up at the same time?

Tony: Absolutely. I mean, you can’t just apply a brand. It’s not a badge. It’s what the collective me, represent, and believe. It only works if you do that. If you do that, you’ll get the buy-in of the people. You’ll get the enthusiasm. You’ll get corporate messaging that actually means something, that people can use when they’re at a dinner party or at a barbecue. You’ll get one voice. You’ll get a company that’s connected. Those are the companies that succeed.

Mark: What companies in the B2B area actually do this well?

Tony: Almost none of them.

Mark: I knew the answer to that somehow.

Tony: It’s changing, but it’s changing at a glacial pace. People are starting to realize. I mean one company that I would actually put up there is Accenture. I mean, they do a reasonably good job actually. But then, they’re a $70 billion organization, so they can afford to do it. Unlike a lot of other B2B companies, who have very deep pockets and short arms.

Mark: What’s interesting about them is they’re a services company. They’re a people company, so it’s really in their interest to brand themselves in that way.

Tony: It is. I don’t think they do a terrific job of that, but I think they do take a slightly more consumerist view in their marketing, which is good. They do tend to be consistent. They do tend to stand behind a single-minded proposition, rather than just throwing a different proposition out every week, which is, of course, death. Because you might as well just roll the money up, and throw it into a ball, and throw it out the window, because that’s how much use that is.

Mark: What’s interesting is, you can look at a consumer powerhouse like Apple, and they struggle with B2B, because it’s not a consumer business. They’ve made inroads into enterprise and B2B, but it’s not something that comes naturally to them.

Tony: This is true. The corporate end of their business is barely visible, largely. But then you’ve got, in the consumer sector, you’ve got companies like Virgin. I really like those guys, because they’re in everything. They’re in lots of things where you don’t expect to see creative marketing, like in finance, in banking, in money, in insurance, in broadband, in mobile telephony. They’re in holidays, in airplanes. They’re everywhere. But one thing they do is they stick to the two words that define their brand. Those two words, I think, are revolutionary and entertaining. Literally every piece of work, or brand presence, or marketing tool that you see come out of that organization, regardless of whether it’s with finance or for phones or for broadband or whatever, you’ll find everything resonates with revolutionary and entertaining. They’re redefining those spaces, and they entertain in the process.

Mark: That’s the path you would want a company to go down–to come up with a couplet of words, two words, that under which everything falls?

Tony: Yeah, because it’s two words everybody can understand, believe, and buy into, and be measured by. When you’re doing something at Virgin, it doesn’t matter what it is, if you’re in front of the house in a sales situation: am I being revolutionary and entertaining? If I am, I’m good. If I’m not, I’m doing something wrong. Most people will have traveled on a Virgin plane. It’s pretty good–particularly the long haul stuff. It’s seldom a chore. You’ve got cheerful people doing the same job as everybody else in Delta, United, BA and what have you, but it’s just refreshing. They keep that energy alive. That’s by being true to the brand. So it goes back to that.

There’s a cadence, really. You gotta start with your brand. Get that right. Understand what you’re all about and why, and what your belief is. Then you take that forward into the way that brand looks, and the visual personality. Then you think about what you want to say. That’s your messaging. You gotta keep that concise, and tight, and human. Then you gotta think about you say it. That brings your tone of voice into play. Once you’ve got all those in play, you’re marketing kind of almost takes care of itself, because you’ve got so much color and texture guiding the thinking. If you can then take that and brief an agency with all of that good stuff, you’re on the way to doing something that is actually going to start to move the needle.

Mark: What would you say to a CMO, or a CEO, coming to you for advice on a dull company that maybe is doing okay financially, maybe has decent sales, but just doesn’t feel very alive. What’s the first piece of advice you would give that company?

Tony: I’d say that you really need to look at all of the things in the marketing wheelhouse. They are the things I’ve just mentioned: brand, tone of voice, messaging. Not necessarily in that order, but you’ve got to look at all of those things as a whole, and roll them out in a sensible manner. If your salespeople are saying, “We’ve got no visibility.” Then that’s a good place to start. Then you look at your brand, and you think, “Well, okay. How do we look? Are we relevant in the marketplace?” Once you’ve done that, you then examine, “Do we actually understand what we’re trying to be, or are we just being me too? If we’ve being me too, what separates us?”

Once you’ve done that, then you start to figure out how you then bring your brand back into your organization, so that everybody gets it, everybody is aligned behind it, and everybody believes it. Once you’ve done that, you start to work on your messaging. Then you get your personality in order with your tone of voice. It’s about thinking about the process. Don’t think about, “Must do more advertising. Must get more SEO involved. Pay per click.” Let’s not look at the tactics. Think about it in a more holistic sense, because it matters. You’re not going to get traction by just doing a thing over here, and a thing over there.

Mark: Well, this has been wonderful Tony. You and Me, not B2B, I think it’s a philosophy that every B2B company should emulate. You can learn more about Tony at Tony thanks for being here.

Tony: Thanks for having me.


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