Digital tools: Business-to-business marketing and branding makes way for business-to-people

By Philip Koh, head of strategy, strategic brand design studio Without

Pure B2B branding and marketing is making less and less sense as digital services providers realise its employees and end users that they need to keep happy

For years, the main job of B2B branding and marketing digital professional services has been to communicate functionality and reliability. Brands have been laser-focused on CEOs and CTOs, the key decision makers and buyers, with scant attention paid to end users. But with new statistics showing that digital tools have a huge turnover rate, it’s clear something needs to change. The way we live and work has changed immeasurably, and that old-school approach just doesn’t fly any more. It’s time to say goodbye to B2B and hello to B2P.

Introducing technology used to be about ironing out human inefficiencies and reducing workforces. Today, attracting and retaining talent is the bigger driver. New products are constantly being designed to enhance the human contribution, not replace it, but the way we brand and market them is often stuck in the past. A more humancentric approach could go a long way to bridging the gap.

Engage on a cultural level

Your buyer needs to be able to ‘sell’ the technology to his or her employees, otherwise they simply won’t use it properly – and the client will stop paying for it. So paying attention to employees and end users is crucial. According to MarTech Today, a staggering 40 per cent of the average company’s SaaS applications change every two years. What can you do to avoid becoming part of that churn? Remembering that you’re not just selling to CTOs, but their team members too, is a good place to start.

For brands to have a lasting impact and role in a business’s life, they need to make a difference to internal cultures. So look beyond simple functionality and consider cultural fit. Slack and Workplace, for example, have made a big impact on the nature of comms strategies. Opening up the lines between bosses and team members feeds into how a business is perceived and how team members feel about working there, too. Slack and Workplace have used strategic brand design to appeal to CTOs and employees – and moved out of the dreaded 40 per cent rotation.

The human face of tech

We know that so much technology is biased. Facial-recognition software produces higher rates of false positives for black and Asian people than white. When Amazon used AI to screen CVs, the software searched for words used by successful candidates over the preceding ten years. Because of this, applications that included the word ‘woman’ were filtered out. Users are questioning the idea of neutrality in tech, which is a big part of why typically corporate and anodyne branding won’t have as much traction in the months and years to come. Failing to remedy that disconnect through strategic brand design will only serve to breed distrust. Have a clear point of view and let people know about it.

Cyber security specialist OutThink has done this successfully. Companies all over the world spend billions on security, but it’s largely a box-ticking exercise with compliance as a marker of success. However, a 100 per cent compliant company isn’t necessarily a secure one. OutThink’s founders decided it was time to call the industry out and wanted our help to get their message across. With 90 per cent of security breaches the result of human error, it was clear the accepted approach wasn’t working. OutThink devised ‘predictive human risk intelligence’ so that the right people were being taught the appropriate things, rather than being asked to read reams of irrelevant text and then press ‘next’. Our strategy for OutThink (still a work in progress) looked to promote the people behind the brand rather than the pure tech. Being open about their frustrations was more connecting and powerful, and will help them stand out in a crowded field. 

Hit the right tone

Of course, the right tone plays a big part, too – a human voice is more relatable. And whereas, once, hiding behind technical language may have conveyed a sense of higher knowledge and rarefied expertise, now it serves as a barrier. Accept that you’re talking to regular humans – as buyers, as users, as advocates. 

A new raft of fintech companies have led the charge on this. Fluidly – a cashflow management platform – uses brand to cross the big divide between people and data, AI, algorithms, etc. We used water as a metaphor (lighthouses guide you to safety, umbrellas protect you from unexpected downpours) to give consumers a primal sense of the benefits. People are emotional beings, even accountants. Finance management app Anna, created by NB Studio, does this really well, too. A no-nonsense financial digital assistant that’s accessible to everyone regardless of knowledge level. 

Putting people first and humanising businesses is no longer rhetorical but an essential business activity. It’s the job of the brand to bridge the gap between buyer and user, using a blend of function and emotional benefits that instil leadership with confidence and make employees want to use the tool. So if you want to keep up and improve your sticking power, banish b2b from your vocabulary and think people-first.

By Philip Koh, head of strategy, strategic brand design studio Without

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