“The human touch is that little snippet of physical affection that brings a bit of comfort, support, and kindness. It doesn’t take much from the one who gives it but can make a huge difference in the one who receives it.”Mya Roberts, author
Mya Roberts is a writer of historical fiction who probably isn’t much invested in B2B marketing. But for our purposes, she’s hit the nail on the head. While the full everyday life restrictions of the pandemic might be behind us, we’re still largely living the legacy. And that legacy has wrought a permanent change in the way that we work.
When COVID hit, enterprises, organisations and SMEs responded at impressive speed. To keep the wheels of the global economy turning, we found new ways of working – harnessing the best of innovative tech to keep our employees, suppliers and customers connected without compromise. Collaboration platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Chat and Zoom enabled people to communicate, to see each other, and to hold effective virtual meetings. With superior sound, vision and collaborative apps, technology evolved to replicate actual experience as far as possible. We harnessed the opportunities that intelligent use of data, AI and digital marketing brought – to keep us talking, working and selling.
Today we’re firmly entrenched in the hybrid working world. Although some have returned to the actual workplace, many of us still work remotely, at least for some of the time, and are enjoying the new personal work-life balance it brings. Although we might feel endlessly and seamlessly connected by the latest digital capabilities, is there a new reality emerging? Because despite the wealth of rich immersive media that digital transformation has brought, most of our customer communications are now done via one channel: that screen in front of you. The truth is that working in isolation brings disconnect, to a greater or lesser degree. And the spin-off is a less human connection in our marketing.
But if we’re truly capable of incredible immersive, digital experiences, what’s driving this new feeling of a less than human engagement? Our comms, and our marketing and sales tactics and behaviours haven’t adapted as quickly as we did, faced with COVID. If only 7% of communication is based on the written or verbal word, and the remainder on non-verbal cues, the tone of our – now largely digital – marketing comms is fundamental to forging personal connections. It’s simply got to work a lot harder to compensate for reduced face to face time, and all the body language and instinctive communication that comes with it.
In the digital age, life and work are always on. Our boundaries have been eaten away. Strangely, the net effect is that we’re all time poor – bombarded by media, it’s much harder to cut across the noise, and equally difficult to build strong customer relationships without meeting face to face. The window of opportunity to read something that captures your imagination, understands your challenges, and generates new ideas to solve your problems is becoming ever smaller.
Mya Roberts is right. Direct human connection brings comfort and breeds confidence. Unlike robotic communications which will kill your sales opportunities. Who wants to sit and read an uninspiring, jargon-filled monolithic text, constrained by corporate speak? Think about the last piece of content that landed in your inbox and actually caught your attention. I bet it included something that made you smile, laugh, frown or at least gave you some sort of emotional reaction. If there’s nothing personal or engaging about the marketing messages that land in your inbox, chances are you simply won’t bother to read them. So if you craft your communications in a formal corporate tone you wouldn’t dream of using face to face, just imagine how your customers feel…
We’re all consumers
Think about how you respond to your inbox today. Go further – put yourselves in your customers’ shoes. Empathy can drive powerful change. Would you agree that your own attention span and mindset have fundamentally changed since COVID? If we’re all feeling the strain, it’s surely no different for your customer, or their customer?
“Post-pandemic, there’s a bit of a moment; as we re-enter this new normalcy it’s time to re-evaluate what’s most effective, and how we can actually connect with B2B decision-makers in a really human way.”Lisa Daniels, ex Vodafone, BT and Ericsson B2B tech marketing specialist
With all the innovative tech at our disposal – AR, VR, AI, the metaverse – we’re in a position to create incredibly rich experiences that, in theory at least, should help to compensate for some human interaction. But they’re falling short. Sure, our buyers are rationally led but they’re also emotionally led, and this is something that our B2B marketing comms frequently don’t consider. Think about it – if you’re the CTO of a large enterprise responsible for choosing technical infrastructure that needs to support thousands of internal and external users – you’re going to be pretty emotionally invested in getting that right. So why do so many B2B comms revert to features and function? I think for many it’s like walking a tightrope. Of course we need to show that we’re serious and that we can deliver, but that doesn’t mean we should forget the characters and personalities involved in that sales cycle. Something I think Marshal McCluhan sums up nicely:
“Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.”Marshall McLuhan, Professor and Philosopher
Tone of voice is key.
We need to represent our brands in the right way, and at a time when data, GDPR and brand compliance drive ever increasing legislation and governance, the challenge is exacerbated. Constraint can stifle creativity in any industry.
Most marketers probably agree less is generally more. Simplicity stands out. We need to find a way to articulate complex product placement or buying in a way that strips out noise and jargon. With economy, clarity and creativity of output, the right messaging can make an emotional connection and cut through. If you married your conversational, disruptive approach with your written communications, what might happen?
Candid connections are the way to go, and if we want to intervene and influence positive outcomes, they’ve never been more important in today’s complex business world.
What’s the starting point? Take a step back. Can you carry out an objective review of your communications? What do your feedback mechanisms and digital measurements suggest? They’ll probably be of limited help. Try the human touch – why not simply talk to your customers and find out what they think?
In our latest human touch podcast, I invited one of my long-term clients Lisa Daniels (ex Vodafone, BT and Ericsson B2B tech marketing specialist) to examine these growing challenges with me. If you want some ideas to help breathe new life into B2B marketing then please take a listen. I’d love to hear your ideas too…