Saying the same shit

So much talk in our industry centres around the meanings and importance of differentiation and distinctiveness to engage your audience. 

I could happily debate the need for both or either, but actually what I find more fascinating is how so many B2B businesses don’t seem to think that this rule applies to them at all. 

I can’t think of the last time we presented a competitor analysis to a B2B client without the same heading “Everyone’s saying the same thing”.

And, I am ashamed to say, that us lot who are running agencies are the worst! We’re the proverbial hairdressers with bad hair… everyone talking about “powerful content” “award winning campaigns” “insight-led strategy”… “breadth of experience” blah blah yaaawnnn. 

It’s the people, stupid

As a former client, I can tell you the reason agencies win pitches is NOT to do with any of that guff they’re claiming in their comms. I’m not saying it has zero impact… this stuff has to be there but it’s merely a hygiene factor not the thing that will win or lose a huge piece of work.

Great thinking and great work is only EVER as the result of one thing… great people. Plus, great work alone will not maintain a client-agency relationship so having the right people who know how to build those relationships throughout the business is key. 

Yet so rarely does an agency’s positioning or any B2B marketing focus on its people or its culture. Which is a bit like people trying to sell cars without talking about what’s under the bonnet – i.e. their engineering or efficiency!

Emotional connection matters

The reason this is so important is beautifully expressed by the Maya Angelou quote; “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people never forget how you made them feel”. 

Anyone who has ever sat through a Marketing Academy bootcamp session with me will have heard me wax lyrical about how your success lies in your ability to connect with other people and that 80% of business decisions are based on rapport not technical merit. 

Think about it… we all go out of our way to visit a particular shop because we like the owner or are way too tolerant of a cleaner who isn’t that great at cleaning… because we like them as people.

So if you’re in a very crowded marketplace and what you’re offering as a service is basically the same functionally as most of your competitors the thing that will set you apart is your approach; your attitudes, behaviours, principles, empathy, honesty, commitment and ability to challenge for the better, without compromising the relationship. All of this will be reflective of the lived experience of working in your business – or in other words, your culture! 

Great B2B marketing needs to not only express the input (great thinking, great tech, data-led etc etc) or the output (award winning work) but will capture what it FEELS like to work with you.

Express yourself

Understanding the actual truth about what makes you stand out from the crowd is key. 

This means speaking to the people who know why working with you is better than working with the guy up the road; your clients. 

Getting them to express why they work with you and what that feels like will give you golden nuggets to build a positioning around, alongside your own understanding of what problem you’re solving and the gap you’re seeking to fill in the market. 

Being really clear on the problem and how you solve it is vital as without this gap you’re likely to be entering a very crowded space and with no gap to fill, your only way to compete will be on price. 

Once you have your positioning, bring it to life everywhere. And I mean everywhere; externally and internally, both in what it looks and sounds like, as well as in the lived experience of people working in the business and experiencing the brand.

That means the way you recruit, retain, reward and motivate your team to deliver it and ensure your tone of voice, look and feel and customer experience amplify your positioning beautifully. 

All in all, this is the same process as any B2C brand would follow, and that makes sense to me because ultimately who you’re selling to is flesh and blood too!