Trump. Brexit. And B2B Marketing

What can B2B marketers learn from the two flawed, but hugely effective campaigns that are set to fundamentally change our political landscape?

Ok, it’s a clickbate headline, but bear with me – there is a genuine link between the three. For us in B2B marketing we can learn from how Trump and Brexit succeeded, and where their opponents failed. Worth saying, I am NOT suggesting we suddenly adopt a tone of racism/sexism/xenophobia. But there are a few things the Trump and Brexit campaigns did that were, annoyingly, good marketing practice.

I believe the more you think about the shock votes of Trump and Brexit, the more you realise how inevitable they were. And I don’t mean politically – the Trump and Brexit campaigns got two things right: they knew their audience, and they messaged to them in relevant, emotive and simple ways.

England flag house

England flag house

My argument is that B2B marketing is regularly guilty of getting both of these critical things wrong.

So let’s have a bit more of a look and see if you agree with me.

Point 1:
Really know your audience (don’t just assume you do)

Hillary got this wrong in spades. Her rhetoric was rational, intelligent and sophisticated. Sadly that’s not a compliment. She was talking to the intelligentsia, the politically aware and savvy, the urbane sophisticates. That’s about 2% of the population. She was talking to herself. Trump shouted crudely and continually at the 98%. He knew what really irked them. He got under the skin of his audience. It wasn’t pretty, but what he said was what his audience wanted to hear.

The learning for B2B marketing: Our industry (particularly Agency folk) loves talking to itself. We have to get closer to our audience. We must make the effort to understand what really drives them. Too many times I meet marketers who’ve never met a customer. Aren’t we supposed to be their voice?

And a lot of the time, we have to realise that our audience isn’t a mirror of ourselves. We’re not marketing to ourselves, to our peers, to the CMO. Next time you review a campaign, remember this, remember who it’s for.

If you want to win hearts and minds, you’ve got to really know your audience and what they care about.


Point 2:
Keep your message relevant and simple

‘Make America Great Again’. ‘Crooked Hillary Clinton’. (I’m not mentioning the more horrendous stuff he said). Brexiteers had their infamous (and factually incorrect) £350m/week stat. Hardly award-winning copy. They weren’t sophisticated. But they were emotive. And memorable. And they worked.

The learning for B2B marketing: we seem to love complicating things for our time-poor audience. We must, as a priority, simplify our message to them. We’re asking too much of them and we’re making the mistake of thinking that they eagerly wait for every new campaign we put out there. They’re too busy, stressed and surrounded by noise. Plus they often couldn’t care less. Remember these hard truths, and very quickly you’ll start being more ruthless (not in a Trump way) – you’ll cut through the clutter, you’ll only focus on what’s relevant (to them, not you) and you’ll bang one simple point home. As Brexit and Trump proved, it works.

The aspect that I found most interesting (in a ‘oh look, here comes the apocalypse’ type of way) was the emotive relevance that both winning campaigns harnessed. Why in B2B do we this so badly? Or often not at all? Both losing sides focused far too much on rational factors such as economic strength and welfare reform. Whilst these are both worthy things, they’re not emotively engaging.

We need to take this point seriously. Our B2B audience has some rational drivers, but we need to reposition our campaign messages with an emotive frame of reference. Otherwise it just won’t land.

And that’s my biggest worry. If we fail to do this, we risk missing our audience, and we’ll have the same ‘surprising failures’ that Hillary and the Remain camp woke up to.

As an industry, we can do better than this. Let’s make B2B marketing great again. (Sorry, couldn’t resist…) 

For more on emotive relevance in B2B, have a look at Inside the mind of the buyer