Forget B2B and B2C, and Start Thinking About B2H

Empathy can elevate even the most mundane products

Here's what B2H (business-to-human) marketing isn't: simply porting a B2C mindset to B2B creative strategy. So often, that kind of reductive thinking stands in for what is commonly referred to as B2H—a term we don't claim ownership of, but one we've fully embraced as a creative agency, and one that resonates particularly well in the high-tech/Silicon Valley sector where we do most of our content creation work.

The mistake a lot of brands and agencies make is drawing a hard line between your consumer marketing and your business marketing. This usually takes the form of a B2B message scrubbed of anything resembling personality, humor, authenticity or entertainment, targeted to a faceless drone wearing dockers and a corporate-branded golf shirt. Why? 

The reason has something to do with an antiquated mentality that anything approaching a consumer-style message to a business audience will result in immediate skepticism or outright rejection from your intended audience. This mentality isn't without justification, as so often agencies and marketers in the past have overcorrected, delivering a B2B message that is entertaining but devoid of substance or usefulness. 

While that kind of distrust may have been true at one point, it certainly hasn't been our experience. Quite the opposite, actually. We've found that when you look at a business consumer as a human being first and foremost, you arrive at some different creative approaches. 

For one, you no longer think about your audience as soulless, khaki-wearing, cubicle sitting droids, and begin to think of them as a collection of real people trying to solve real problems. Maybe it's a logistical problem, a manufacturing problem, a tech problem, a sales problem, but ultimately your brand's audience wants something—to look good in front of their bosses, to beat their competitors, to make more money, or to just get home to their families. Beyond the financial accountability of almost any work environment, there are fundamental human desires driving their decision making. B2H marketing is about avoiding the tired tropes of business casual dress, beige environments and obtuse language, and tapping into and empathizing with the human desires guiding all business buying choices. 

Regardless of the desired outcome, or whether you're selling sneakers or cloud storage, there are people at the end of this funnel making decisions. Connecting with them authentically is what propels products, brands and stories forward. 

Now, B2H doesn't necessarily mean you take every communication you have with someone in a business context and suddenly turn it into something entertaining or funny. Or treat every desired purchase as an impulse buy. It does mean, though, that as creative thinkers we need to dig deeper and understand what our clients' customers really want and need. It's driven by empathy, and that's what shapes both the content we create and the form it takes. 

What are the best practices for a brand or an agency to bring a B2H mindset to creative strategy? It sounds like a marketing cliché, but a traditional B2B mindset is so much focused on what you're selling: What's the product? Describe it. Why is it different, etc. B2H can be so revolutionary, as it forces brands to ladder up their marketing thinking and ask existential questions about why a product or service exists. What problem is it trying to solve? What is its reason for being in the world? 

By starting there, and then pulling out human stories of the people who interact with those products or services, you begin to see your branding as more of an ongoing dialogue you're having with  your customers than a mere monologue. Whether you're creating a social post or an anthem film, everything should be created with care, craft and the true intent of connecting with both the emotional and practical needs of the viewer. 

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Chris Weldon
Chris Weldon is head of strategy and creative at Bonfire Labs.

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