Two-way street: 4 imaginative B2B campaigns going to, and from, SMEs
What do you think of when you hear the words B2B marketing? Pushy sales emails, jargon-filled SEO blogs, unsolicited phone calls, leaflets at exhibitions? We’ve come a long way since the 90s and B2B is quickly becoming one of the most exciting and innovative areas for marketing professionals to explore. Trust us, we do it every day.
With so much ingenuity in the space, and B2B SMEs popping up to offer solutions you never knew you needed, we felt it was time to dig a little deeper into B2B campaigns created by, and for, SMEs. But before we do, let’s take a look at the current state-of-play for SMEs:
- SMEs are having a huge impact on local economies. According to The World Bank, SMEs represent about 90% of businesses worldwide, and contribute up to 40% of GDP in emerging economies.
- In the UK alone, there were approximately 5.6 million SMEs at the start of 2023, with turnover estimated at £2.4 trillion. In the US, the figures are even higher. According to Forbes, 99.9% of businesses across the US are small businesses and they’re responsible for 12.9 million jobs.
- Clearly, there’s huge potential in both marketing to, and from, SMEs. But despite 25% of business being conducted online, one out of three SMEs still don’t even have a website.
- Community based marketing (CBM) is becoming an increasingly popular tactic in the B2B space. It allows you to collect more first and zero party data, building connections directly and creating a two-way street of communication between you and your ideal customer.
- Attitudes to marketing amongst SMEs are changing. According to a recent survey, 94% have plans to boost their marketing spending in 2024. They’re primarily interested in digital channels, with Facebook favored by 83% of SMEs, followed by Instagram (48%), LinkedIn (30%), and TikTok (10.7%).
It looks like the new year presents huge opportunities for SMEs looking to grow. Whether you’re focused on bringing in new leads and growing your revenue, or integrating new tools that will make your workforce more productive, it’s an exciting time to be a B2B brand.
This month, we want to inspire you to get imaginative in your upcoming B2B campaigns. Whether you’re planning to create a Christmas campaign like no other or you want to bring a spark of creativity to your 2024 planning, we’ve identified four imaginative B2B campaigns going to, and from, SMEs.
What does a typical SME audience look like?
For this sector spotlight, we wanted to spend some time understanding the effectiveness of B2B marketing and what the potential is for the market. But of course, SMEs exist across all kinds of industries, from technology to healthcare and hospitality. So how do you build a typical SME audience?
We decided to focus on brands marketing to SMEs primarily in the technology and finance sector, analysing followers of companies such as QuickBooks, MailChimp, Slack, Asana, Upwork and Oracle. This helped us build an affinity report, which shows us common interests, media channels, and other useful insights that can inform a B2B marketing campaign. You can review the full report here.
Looking at the audience as a whole, we can see that this audience skews more toward men, who make up 70% of the total audience. They’re likely to be English speakers, though we also see Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese and French appearing among the spoken languages. This range of language is reflected in the locations of the audience, with only 30% of this audience being based in the US. We see India, the UK, Canada, Australia and Brazil all ranking high in audience locations, suggesting a truly global audience.
This particular SME audience tends to skew quite young, with 18- to 34-year-olds making up 60% of the total audience. They all share a common interest in entrepreneurs and tech, with brands and notable people such as Google, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and TechCrunch all appearing in their most followed tabs. Sports, finance and travel all appear in shared interests, and words such as marketing, business, digital and designer all appear prominently in the bios of their social media channels.
While we can make general assumptions about what a B2B audience may look like, it’s always important to remember that your audience is not a monolith. We can evaluate a snapshot of the total audience, but we need to identify and analyze segments to truly understand the opportunities available. Our report generated six possible segments to explore, today we’re going to focus on the three largest segments:
- Digital marketing & web development 💻
- Music & fashion 🎵
- Business & media 🔎
Digital marketing & web development 💻
- Given that our SME audience was built on the followers of several tech brands, it’s not a huge surprise that digital marketers and web development professionals make up our largest potential audience segment at 40%! This is an enthusiastic and vocal segment, united by their passion for their work.
- This segment skews slightly more male than the overall audience, with men accounting for 73%. We also see this segment skews very young, with 13- to 34-year-olds making up 70% of the segment.
- We can see from the influencers and brands tab that this audience is entrepreneurial and engaged with the latest developments in their space, following investors such as Andrew Chen and Ryan Hoover, as well as entrepreneurs such as Eric Ries, Hiten Shah and Addy Osmani. They’re significantly more likely to be following and engaging with people, as opposed to brands or publications.
- Some of the most interesting insights about this audience comes from the personality tab, powered by IBM Watson. This segment is analytical, expressive and social, they’re using social media to connect with like-minded people and inspire their own day-to-day activities.
- Most importantly, they consider independence and helping others a huge part of what they do and are self-driven to achieve their own goals. So, they’re independent and entrepreneurial, but community spirited, a perfect audience for CBM strategies!
Music & fashion 🎵
- As we flagged in our previous spotlight about B2B influencer marketing, there’s more to life than work. In our SME audience, the music & fashion segment shines through as our fun-loving and pop-culture minded audience that are likely to be responsive to more creative B2B campaigns.
- While 65% of this audience is male, we do see more women engaging in this segment than we do in our total audience. We also see some interesting new locations appearing in this segment, with Nigeria and the Philippines appearing within the top five countries.
- Looking to influencers and brands, this segment is significantly likely to be following celebrities and entertainments, as well as some fandom accounts. Rihanna, the Kardashians, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift all appear under the influencers and brands tab. That said, it’s worth noting that many of the celebrities appearing here are also entrepreneurs with multiple hustles. Rihanna and Fenty, Kim and Skims, Gaga and Haus Labs, Taylor and her clever marketing.
- While we labeled them music and fashion, we also see other interests such as sports are hugely popular for this segment. Soccer comes out number one in their interests, alongside basketball and other leisure pursuits such as dating and networking.
- So how can you reach them? You’re unlikely to find this segment on traditional social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. They’re mainly spending time on media rich platforms such as SoundCloud, Twitch, YouTube and TikTok.
Business & media 🔎
- Our final segment for this month’s spotlight is driven by business and media. This segment is united by their keen interest in staying informed. Their common influencers and brands are exclusively news channels such as Reuters, Fox News, CNN, Washington Post, Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. They want to be the first to hear about breaking news and trends.
- Unsurprisingly, the accounts they’re following online bleeds into the media affinities we see for this segment. When we look at the media they’re consuming, once again we see Fox, CNN and BBC, alongside publications such as Reuters, The Guardian, The Economist and Forbes.
- Given they’re so plugged into the latest news, what actually encourages them to buy? You may be surprised to hear that word-of-mouth recommendation is significantly more likely to influence them than product utility, they want to see evidence of other people using and getting benefit from a product and they respect real opinions more than glossy advertising.
- We can also categorize this segment as containing the leaders of tomorrow. According to their personality insights, they’re assertive, energetic, and they’re not afraid to speak up and take charge, leading groups where necessary. They’re also highly philosophical, they’re open to new ideas and keen to explore them.
4 imaginative B2B campaigns going to, and from, SMEs
Now that we’ve got a flavor of the types of people that are interested in, working for, and running SMEs, let’s turn our attention to some imaginative B2B campaigns from Slack, Upwork, Shopify, and MailChimp.
Have you ever been forced to watch a customer case study video for a product, and found yourself bored to tears? Most case study videos feature the same old jargon and a general air of mystery that is usually designed to force you to book a demo to actually learn something.
Not at Slack. As a SaaS product focused on streamlining communication and making work easier, it makes sense that they wanted to find the fastest, and most amusing, way to communicate what they can actually do for you.
They took aim at SMEs who are skeptical and stuck in their ways with a customer mockumentary called ‘So Yeah, We Tried Slack…’. In this two-minute video, we meet Sandwich Video, a reluctant Slack customer who found integrating the product completely changed the way they approached productivity and communication.
In an advert that feels a little like an episode of The Office, we see interviews with different members of the team, who all have different ways of talking to each other. Emails, iMessage, Gchat, Dropbox, WhatsApp, IRL meetings in a utility cupboard. TLDR; total chaos. Then we learn how Slack has made things so much easier and helped the Sandwich Video team get more done.
A customer testimonial delivered in a genuinely entertaining way clearly words. The main campaign video has had over 1.3 million views, over 4,000 likes, and tons of comments from people who genuinely enjoyed watching the video and sharing their own use cases. Best news? Sandwich Video is a genuine customer.
Amongst all the changes the world has experienced over the last few years, remote and flexible working has become increasingly important for many SMEs. But pre-pandemic, freelance platform Upwork was already making waves for SMEs by promoting the many uses of freelancers.
In 2018 they launched a B2B campaign called ‘Hey World’, which involved a series of video ads that specifically called out major entrepreneurs and public figures, encouraging them to ‘Get it done with a freelancer. Examples included Elon Musk and freelance PAs, Amazon and customer support reps, and people who use Comics Sans in need of a graphic designer to get their marketing out of the 90s.
A bold campaign delivered in a playful manner, this campaign cleverly tapped into the rapidly growing gig economy, as well as the 73.3 million freelancers currently working in the US alone. The messaging also perfectly tapped into pop culture, offering freelance help to time-strapped or resource-strapped pop culture figures, business icons, institutions and political leaders – among them Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, author George R.R. Martin, Equifax and NASA.
They blended video content with out-of-home activity as well, with animations in digital spots at Fulton Center in Lower Manhattan and San Francisco’s Montgomery Street station. According to the Upwork marketing team, this B2B campaign resulted in a 10% increase in usage of their platform from Fortune 500 companies. Mission accomplished.
What if your B2B campaign could inspire thousands of B2Bs to follow their dreams? We love Shopify’s first ever brand campaign, entitled ‘Let’s Make You A Business’. Drawing on their experience of working with thousands of independent business owners every single day, they set out to drive the next wave of independent business owners with a campaign that highlighted how working with Shopify can make your dreams come true.
Developed in tandem with agency partner R/GA, Shopify used TV advertising, paid and organic social, radio ads and even out-of-home that included taking over vacant storefronts with creative vinyl wraparounds encouraging people to imagine themselves launching that idea they had. A clever way of going beyond traditional marketing methods to reach people in all walks of live, whether they’re walking the dog or browsing YouTube.
“Starting and running a business unlocks incredible freedom for entrepreneurs, but it can also be a daunting process,” said Jeff Weiser, CMO at Shopify. “Shopify exists to help merchants every step of the way, and our new campaign is meant to inspire future entrepreneurs to start their own journey.”
It doesn’t matter how strong your branding is or how much of the market you’ve captured, even the best brands fall victim to typos. In the case of marketing-automation platform MailChimp, this led to a creative spark that fuelled a major B2B marketing campaign. Working with agency Droga, they launched ‘Did you mean MailChimp?’.
Inspired by a mispronunciation of the brand in the credits of the hit podcast Serial, they created nine different projects that rhymed with MailChimp such as FailChips, WhaleSynth, KaleLimp, MailShrimp, JailBlimp and more. Then, they created three short films to advertise these mysterious products, then used people searching for these strange brands to direct them with a simple search engine message, ‘Did you mean MailChimp?’.
This ridiculous and truly imaginative campaign was then able to introduce people to MailChimp. It was also able to build a musical instrument using whale sounds, launch a trend, and create a chart-topping song. Not bad for a B2B marketing campaign.
"We used mispronunciation as a creative device to inspire all kinds of different executions, knowing that people would be curious about what they were seeing and search for more information," said Mark DiCristina, senior director of brand marketing at MailChimp. “We have a history of not taking ourselves too seriously and having fun with our name, and this felt like a perfect way to introduce ourselves to potential new customers in a big and creative way.”
So, what have we learned from this imaginative approach to SME marketing campaigns?
- Know your target audience: Your audience could be made up of one specific type of B2B client, or several who are yet to get started. But you need to ask yourself, who are they? The important thing for your campaign is to truly understand who your audience is, what they look like, and where they’re spending time to create a campaign that will have real impact.
- Develop authentic and engaging messages: All four of our campaigns today have clearly demonstrated the power of messaging. B2B doesn’t have to mean boring. At the end of the day, you’re selling to people just like you, with their own interests and motivations. Craft campaign messaging that speaks to what your audience wants and cares about, rather than worrying about jargon and keywords.
- Pick the right channels: B2B marketing is just for LinkedIn right? Wrong. Your audience may be hanging out in places you’d never expect and present new ways to reach them. For example, MailChimp’s WhaleSynth probably would have absolutely killed it on Spotify and SoundCloud. Shopify’s natural channel may have been all digital, but they used real estate to their advantage. Use audience insight to find creative new ways to reach your audience.
Ready to take the next step in audience intelligence for your marketing? With tools like Audiense, conducting in-depth audience analysis and discovering actionable takeaways makes creating tailored marketing strategies easier than ever.