Where’s all the intrigue in B2B?

Man wearing a brimmed hat, viewed from behind from the shoulders up on a shadowy street • ‘Where's all the intrigue in B2B?’ Earnest Agency blog

Where’s all the intrigue in B2B?

If an alien came down from space and jumped onto the London Underground, they’d think the only things Earthlings needed were vitamins, holidays and six identical business banks. All shouting for your attention with big blow-up pictures of tired women, children splashing around in the sun and Scandi chic interfaces.

“Making customers feel like they’re part of the club that ‘get’ your marketing is a surefire way to get in their good books.”

Which is why I was so taken aback when last week I saw something that totally bucks the trend. A misty, sepia-toned affair with copy that gives nothing away. An ad which promises something called a ‘dream camera’ and gave me a number to call. Which I did.

The number took me to a robotic automated response, telling me that ‘Anima technologies’ – the dream-camera vendor – had shut down. The mystery continued until Google told me it was an ad for Thom Yorke’s new album, Anima. A welcome change from tacky beach pictures in clunky Expedia ads.

These days it’s rare to see any marketing that doesn’t do all the hard work for you. In these uncertain times, marketers are relying on certainty to make sure they don’t lose too much of their audience. It’s the behavioural concept called ‘satisficing’ – aiming for ‘just about alright’ because ‘brilliant’ is too risky.

The problem is, though, that this approach rarely even achieves ‘alright’ and this is all the more pronounced in B2B.

Many marketers still hold the classic business buyer stereotype in their heads: the ‘no frills’ exec who’s only interested in hearing facts. An audience you can only reach through shouty, salesy marketing that’s brimming with proof points – just like the average bus stop ad for vitamin tablets.

But this assumes people are already paying enough attention to your brand to care. In reality, you can’t make a sale until you’ve earned that attention with some creativity – and B2B buyers are no different. In fact, 82% of B2B buyers said they wished B2B marketing had the creativity they see in B2C.

And when it comes to creativity, uncertainty is a powerful tool.

A study by the Radboud research group found that getting people to solve something – like a maths problem or a joke – can make them happier and more resistant to trauma. This is because the act of ‘getting something’ stimulates the same pleasure centres in your brain as food and sex. If you can fight the temptation to give your customers everything on a plate – and instead give them the ‘Aha!’ moment of working something out themselves, you can make their day and win them over.

So here are three easy ways to intrigue your customers, based on three great examples:

1. Tell a story in two parts

Everyone loves a multi-channel campaign, so let’s take a leaf out of Thom Yorke’s book by leading audiences from one channel to another with a bit of mystery. It could be as simple as a DM with a question, with a QR code that leads you to the answer – just make sure there’s a lead-up and a pay-off.

2. Go brandless

It’s tough resisting the urge to brand the living daylights out of every asset, in pursuit of that great gold-dust ‘brand awareness’. But nothing is more unexpected – and arresting – than unbranded images or copy where an advert should be. In 2015, global rap sensation Drake nailed this approach with a billboard ad.

3. Give them a puzzle

People often spend their commute burrowing into a crossword or Sudoku, so capitalise on their appetite for bafflement by putting one into your ad, just like Amazon did for Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.


Making customers feel like they’re part of the club that ‘get’ your marketing is a surefire way to get in their good books.

Drop us a line if you want help making marketing that puts a smile on your customers’ faces.


[Header photo: Craig Whitehead on Unsplash]


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Rahul Savadia


I'm a Strategist at Earnest and my hobbies include unearthing great audience insights, looking stuff up, and frequently sitting down.