B2B marketing has always carried certain connotations. It's stuffy; it's formal; it speaks in even, measured tones. Unlike B2C marketing—where anything goes; where boldness, fun, innovation, and attention are the point—B2B marketing has to stick to a certain decorum. B2C marketing wears t-shirts and jeans; B2C marketing, invariably, wears a bland blue button-down and khakis. While B2C marketing splashes in the pool, B2B stands primly in the shade, banished from the party for life.
This arrangement has made sense, historically. Where the B2C marketer is often tasked with selling something bright and simple—a brand of beer; a new smartphone—the B2B marketers of the world have more complicated products on their plates. When you're marketing, for instance, a SaaS cloud-based cybersecurity endpoint detection and response platform, making it sound fun might be besides the point.
At least, that was the old logic. But over the last few years, a fairly significant philosophical transformation has been underway in the world of B2B marketing, one that destabilizes the core of what B2B marketing is. According to this new logic, the distinction between B2C and B2B doesn't have to be as cut-and-dried as it's typically been. The kinds of emotion-driven, creative strategies that have long served B2C companies might also serve B2B companies just as effectively.
The term you hear thrown around a lot is B2H marketing—I.e., business to human. The idea is that, fundamentally, you're never literally selling to a business: you are always selling to a specific person (or persons). Which means the same creative strategies that work on regular consumers should also, in theory, work on B2B buyers.
Right now we're in a bit of a golden age for consumer-oriented video marketing, with innovative forms of video advertising popping up across platforms and breathing new life into tired formats. It's an exciting development—and those involved in B2B video production should be reaping its benefits too.
Understanding the “B2H” buyer
The fundamental assumption underlying the B2H paradigm is this: B2B buyers are fundamentally no different from any other kind of consumer.
Meaning: your average B2B buyer uses Twitter and TikTok, listens to podcasts, watches the same shows that everyone else watches, sees the same memes that everyone else sees, and has the same emotions everyone else does. Yes, B2B marketers are often relating fairly tricky concepts to potential buyers—but all that really means is that more creativity is required, not less, when trying to convey the benefits of your product in an appealing way.
Let's say—hypothetically—you're tasked with marketing a B2B company focused on AI-enhanced project management software. A few years ago, you might've placed a few ghostwritten op-eds by the CEO in leading industry journals; purchased informative targeted ads on certain social platforms; spun up a few email sequences; etc., etc.
All of that stuff is still important, and still worth doing. The point is that you now can—and should—get creative about it, too.
Explainer videos, TikToks, podcasts, and more
What would that look like? Well, let's first take the example of an explainer video. The B2B explainer video, as a form, has typically been somewhat stodgy—closer in spirit to a late-afternoon PowerPoint presentation than something someone would actually want to watch recreationally.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Either by hiring actors or recruiting notably charismatic members of your (or your client's) team, you can make your explainer videos fun—you can insert running jokes, insert scripted interstitial material, etc. As important, you can also make them emotional. B2B video marketing has often lacked heart (close your eyes and you can probably hear the cliched “inspirational” music that plays over so many product tutorials). It has rarely played on the emotions in the way that B2C marketing has been known to. But as we've discussed before, videos are among the most effective tools B2B marketers have to develop an emotional connection with potential buyers—and marketers should take full advantage of this fact.
This applies to shorter-form video content for Instagram and TikTok, too. Consumer brands have long devoted energy to building unique, relatable voices on these platforms, and B2B marketers shouldn't shy away from doing the same. When B2B video production on these platforms is done right—when the people making the videos have a deep sense of a given platform's conventions and trends; when they know what resonates with the platform's audience—it can lead to some fairly spectacular results.
But B2B video marketing, in this new era of creative, goes well beyond simply explaining the benefits of a given product. The kinds of supplementary branded content that B2C companies have had so much success with over the years—culture websites, podcasts, web series, etc.—are now wide open for B2B companies to take advantage of, too.
Some B2B companies have recently had success with podcasts, for instance—well-produced narrative shows that both function as standalone entertainment and promote the message of the brand. For the AI-enhanced productivity company, that might mean, say, an in-the-field, reported show on changing notions of what the "workplace" means to people in the WFH era. These could function as well-produced web series, too—the kinds of fun, thought-provoking content that B2B buyers might actually choose to watch independent of the demands of their jobs.
Creative matters now more than ever
It's worth noting that the shift to a more creative-oriented approach to B2B marketing hasn't come out of nowhere. For the last decade, the prevailing approach to marketing in both B2C and B2B spaces has been data-centric—hyper-targeting specific consumers and keeping detailed logs on what is and isn’t working. But ongoing developments in the privacy space—including Google's depreciation of third-party cookies and Apple making it much more difficult for brands to collect consumer data—have forced marketers to reassess their strategies. Meanwhile, the rise of AI has at one and the same time made churning out content easier and put a new premium on the kinds of actually creative content that only humans can generate.
The result is that we're entering what we at Marino have called, in an earlier blog post, a golden age of creative. The coming decade of B2B marketing is going to be a lot less about math and a lot more about heart—about humans using all their creative firepower to try and connect with other humans. (Maybe we should just call it H2H marketing.) An informative, well-designed, thoroughly branded ebook—to mention one common tool of the B2B marketing trade—might get some B2B buyers to thoughtfully nod their heads. But if you're going after their hearts—which every marketer should be—creative video is your most effective option.