Savvy Speaks: Did You Hear the One About the...?

Savvy Speaks: Did You Hear the One About the...?
Savvy Sisters - Wed May 11, 2011 @ 08:29AM
Comments: 16

Tim Washer recently posted an article in Chief Content Officer Magazine about humanizing B2B content. That got us thinking. Is it OK to use humor in B2B marketing communications? And if so, are there any rules or does that just take the fun out of it?




Do it, but only if you can do it right.

A while back, I published a post titled WTF, B2B? Lighten Up Already! In it, I wrote about seven high profile brands and how they used humor in their B2B campaigns. Based on what I saw in my research for that piece, there's no question that humor can be used to great advantage in B2B.

It's important to remember that even though these campaigns are categorized as one business marketing to another, in reality there is a human being on the other end of the line. Most human beings I know like humor. They can relate to it. It makes them feel good. Most importantly, it's memorable and shareable.

However - a word of caution - this isn't work to be assigned lightly. Don't fall into the trap of having your white paper writer execute on the idea from Larry in accounting. Humor is hard. There's a certain skill set, finesse, and comic timing that need to be part of the mix to make LOL magic. If you're going to attempt something to tickle the funny bone while still maintaining credibility and likeability, hire a professional. Seriously.

Wendy Thomas


This is one of my pet peeves. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE humor and use it all the time in my personal writing but not everyone knows how to construct and deliver a punch line (I'm sure you've met many of these people at parties). 

Just because humor (and I'm talking Jon Stewart top level humor) sells and gets people's attention doesn't mean you should wade in those waters. 

When I taught Tech Writing, many of my students tried to interject humor into their assignments. "We're just trying to lighten the mood" they would tell me . Wrong. Wrong, Wrong. You're not lightening the mood you are embarrassing the reader. There is a time and a place for everything. 

This is not the time. (Go ahead and put that on a sticky note to refer to when you get the urge to try humor in any B2B marketing communication.) 

Too much can go wrong with humor, you can offend and you can miss a beat making it fall flat on its face. This type of public disaster results in you losing your credibility and coming across as a bore. Not really the way you want to be remembered. 

Unless you are an elite level comedienne, unless you have a true sense of timing and verbal grace - save your jokes for your next kegger. There will always be someone there drunk enough to give you the laugh you think you deserve.   





Do your branding homework first

Smaller companies usually have an easier time with (gasp) non-traditional communication styles like "funny" and "sassy" but I agree with Wendy that both of these are incredibly hard to pull off well and can end up turning off potential customers. Not worth the risk in my book.

So while I don't want to sound like a humorless Scrouge on this one, my bottom line is that, unless you've done some serious brand soul-searching and determined that your brand voice is humorous, don't even think about it.

What you should consider is using humor's less complicated little sister, Personality, in your communications. Again, determining your brand voice and sticking with it is the key to success when you take the road less travelled. If you can pull it off you will stand out and be remembered!



Kinaxis Keeps 'em Laughing with its Award-Winning Videos

Based on the success of Kinaxis, I'd say B2B marketers should seriously consider humor. Kinaxis -- a Canadian company offering supply chain management solutions -- injected entertainment into its marketing with a six-episode video series featuring well-polished actors and lots of satire. The videos -- and the related social-media campaign -- resulted in an award from BtoB Magazine in 2010. More importantly, they drove site traffic and boosted membership in the company's online community. (For more details, check out this article in digitalpuck.)

As far as rules, I'd say companies need to make sure it's good, clean fun. After all, the humor will reflect on their brand and could backfire. There's certainly no place for tasteless humor that may offend -- especially with word traveling fast online.




Humor is great  . . . for some B2Bs

B2B marketing can definitely benefit from humor. After all, we're talking to other people, not "businesses," and who doesn't like to be entertained?

But, should all companies attempt this? I don't think so.

First, you need to have the company culture to support humor. If you find that your organization tries  to micro-manage and "sanitize" the piece, it's probably best not to attempt this. One of the most un-funny things is something that is trying to be funny, but isn't.

Second, you need to find the right talent to create humorous content. For instance, I'm a how-to, get-to-the-point-with-a-story-or analogy-interjected kind of writer. Humorous? Not so much. Find someone who is.

When you can get humor to work, it's a great win, but this may not be right for everyone.


Do you think it's OK to try to be funny is B2B communications? What are some of the potential pitfalls?

Have you seen humor go wrong?

Do you think big brands can use humor or is it just for the little guys?

Comments: 16


1. Stephanie Tilton  |  my website   |   Wed May 11, 2011 @ 06:45PM

Thanks to Mark McClure for pointing out this B2B tech humor from Aruba Networks:

2. Ilya  |  my website   |   Thu May 12, 2011 @ 12:35PM

It's hard to make blanket generalizations about when and how humor should be used. I try not to make humor a default part of marketing content because some audiences are inherently less receptive to that type of delivery and can actually find it distracting. Humor is easy to inject in the presentation when you can control it. When it's a marketing campaign (say online) where you don't deliver each and every message, it's much harder to achieve the right balance.

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