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Is there a place for humour in B2B marketing?

Humour in B2C is a strong weapon: it draws attention to the product, company, brand and helps to break out of the crowd of competitors. Content that comprises humour is better promoted on social networks than the ordinary one, and it also attracts more attention and, what is preferable, customers.

But do all these arguments refer only to B2C marketing? Is it worth presenting serious information about B2B products ironically or even in a funny way? How will customers react to this? Will they take your company, services and products seriously?

Before answering these questions, let’s have a look at humour itself. Believe me, that’s interesting too.

What is ‘humour’ or what makes us laugh?

Humour on Wikipedia is described as ‘the tendency of experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement’. A sense of humour is related to the subject’s ability to detect contradictions in the outside world.

Simply put, if this ability is not developed, then the culmination of the joke will not be perceived as a contradiction and therefore it will not be understood properly. 

There are different types of humour: irony, parody, satire, anecdote, joke etc. And all of them are present in advertising and marketing. Of course, marketers are more careful with irony, parody and satire, but there are also amazing examples of such kinds of humour in advertising. Examples include the videos of Pizza Hut about the danger of a selfi stick and a parody of Apple from IKEA . But again, these examples are taken from B2C marketing. 

What do we laugh at?

Very briefly, we laugh when the story doesn’t deliver the expected outcome. But, unfortunately, creation of the content in accordance with all these theoretical concepts doesn’t guarantee that it will be perceived as a funny one. The likelihood of success depends on many factors, such as:

  1. Atmosphere and time of perception of the content (whether it’s being perceived in front of the TV in a cozy and quiet atmosphere or on the cell on the way to work),
  2. Development of ‘intellectual abilities’ of the one who perceives,
  3. The content itself (a trifling joke will remain a trifling joke even if it’s created according to the right scenario).

So here is a summary so far: there is no ‘recipe’ for successful funny content. It is possible just to look at the factors that influence its perception and try to increase the likelihood of creating such content.

And now about the humour in B2B. 

Many experts say humour is also very suitable for B2B marketing. Many SMOs have a different opinion: it’s better not to joke with serious topics and products.

Recently I was shown ‘funny’ videos of competitors and then asked why we don’t create similar ones. Well, how shall I put it… I was just paralyzed. Everything inside me was yelling ‘no!’, but I couldn’t explain why. It’s not respectable, it looks cheap, it’s not good for us! Of course this is not an argument, this was just an emotion! Maybe it’s not funny, but embarrassing? Again, there exists the ‘fremdschämen’ term in German – this is a situation when you’re ashamed of another person’s behavior. It’s much the same with this video. I was ashamed of the trifling humour, low opinion of clients and the meaning. And what if the clients experience the same emotions? 

So it all comes down to the purpose and execution. I still believe that, when it is correctly used, humour (at the level of irony or joke) in B2B marketing defuses the situation (let’s say at presentations) and give the customers positive impression of the company, its products and services.  

So, nonetheless, how can you use humour in B2B marketing? Here are 10 rules to help you do it correctly.

1. Customer: Feel your customer.

It’s much easier to do it in B2B than in B2C. Many customers are known to you personally, maybe even for years. So before you start a marketing campaign, imagine your ‘ideal client’ and try to foresee his or her sense of humour, namely the ‘ability to detect contradictions in the outside world’.

2. You: understand yourself and your company.

Look at your company (how it is represented in the market, what its image is and what you want to achieve by marketing activities), think what will be suitable for the company and what will not.

3. Objective: Keep your eye on the goal.

You have not just decided to bring the humour to a marketing campaign or marketing! So focus on the goal: whether you want to promote a new product or draw attention to a well overlooked old product, change your image or enter a new market at low cost. For example, I only introduce very targeted ‘funny’ moments into marketing when I have to stand out from the crowd.

4. Attitude to the client: Respect the client.

In my opinion, the attitude to the client is the most important thing in the creation of the marketing campaign with elements of humour. I have already written a lot about the values of the company and how they are reflected in the content. But if you don’t respect the client and his or her intellectual abilities, the content won’t seem ‘funny’, but primitive and trifling. Сlients will find that to be a little more than annoying.

5. Situation: assess the situation of perception of the content.

Before you start the campaign, look at the situation in which clients will perceive your content and estimate whether it will contribute to the perception of the humour. Situations are considered to be good when the client is relaxed (events, parties) or focused on the content (meetings and presentations). Create an ‘ideal situation of perception’.

6. Tool: choose the right tool and format.

Based on the ideal situation of perception of the content, it’s clear what the format, tool and channel should be used to present the content: video content, presentation, podcast, social networks, printing or poster.

7. Focus of humour: three strategies.

Strategy 1 – goal: product promotion.

In many sources it’s advised to focus marketing campaigns on using the product and solving the client’s problem. This way you avoid the danger of becoming a ‘clown’ in the market and increase an interest in the products and their use.

Strategy 2 – goal: image change.

I can say from my experience that if you focus on yourself and your products, and use the relevant content in certain situations, customers start to see the company differently. If your goal is to change the image of the company (from boring and outdated one to new, optimistic and innovative), you can do it just using humour and ability to laugh at yourself. Thus you can show that the company is not prim and is open to the world.

Strategy 3 – goal: to stand out from the crowd.

Depending on the situation and circumstances, you can ‘joke’ about external factors, in order to attract attention and stand out from competitors. For example, such a technique is well suited for exhibitions and conferences.

8. Execution: keep an eye on the quality of execution.

Execution must meet your criteria and your expectations. It’s better not to show content that doesn’t fit your style and character. Poor quality content, especially in B2B, won’t bring a positive reaction. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but how likely is it that your content is this exception?

9. A dose of humour: from mild to full dose.

The extent to which you will use humour in your marketing strategy, I leave to your discretion. I only use it in certain campaigns where it’s necessary to draw attention to the product or stand out from competitors. On the other hand, Intel company has been basing its marketing strategy on humour for several years now. 

10. Tone: Choose the right tone.

And the last thing that many people don’t pay attention to is tone. Tone transmits everything that the company represents and wants to represent: what is your attitude toward the clients and how do you communicate with them, how you see and respect them, what is your attitude toward yourself and how you see your place in the market.

Case: Intel

An example of a successful marketing strategy in B2B with the use of humour is Intel. The company has been basing its content strategy on humour for several years now. Watch the video where they joke about themselves (work on their image) and present their products in a positive way. In 2017, they even invited ‘Dr. Sheldon Cooper’ (Jim Parsons) from the Big Bang Theory series, who is ideally suited to their image concept.

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