Business-to-business companies often can’t find a way to fold humor and storytelling into their marketing, because what they sell isn’t… well, funny. Or they think it’s not much of a story. Here’s how one company challenges that assumption.
If I were Cisco Systems trying to show how the role of information technology (IT) is changing, I could commission a research-based whitepaper detailing new consumption models brought about by cloud, security, mobility, and programmable networks. I might talk about how that is creating new markets and business models, transforming communication and knowledge sharing, and significantly changing the role of IT.
I could tell you a story featuring a real chief information officer sharing in clear, simple language about how she’s using technology to sell more beer to the people who want to buy it. And toss in a few bits of humor and playful improv to give it warmth and a little personality.
Which would you find more compelling? Here’s my vote:
I suppose my setup wasn’t entirely a fair comparison. There’s obviously room for both in business — complex whitepapers that give a comprehensive look at the changing world of IT, and lighter, story-based videos that add a heartbeat and pulse to an idea. But the video—shared with me by my friend Tim Washer, who helped produce it and co-stars as the overly friendly waiter—works for three reasons:
1. It’s a lively approach for customer videos and testimonials—as opposed to the canned customer testimonials more generally seen.
2. This is an enticing piece of marketing for a information-rich, meaty microsite published by Cisco.
3. It tells a true story well. The video features an actual CIO — Marina Bellini, who works for Grupo Modelo in Mexico. (Grupo exports Corona.)
Cisco’s Voice of the Customer team—featuring Tim along with Andy Capener and Chris Huston—produced the video, one of a series of three featuring real CIOs having real conversations about jobs they pretty much love. This YouTube playlist links to all three videos, and here’s what any company can take away from this series as a model for an effective approach:
Ban Frankenspeak. In a lot of customer videos, you see folks who are speaking in corporate lingo, using buzzwords and talking points. But CIOs are real people with real personality, and I like the innovative approach to show true personality in corporate IT.
How did Cisco pull it off? “A key to getting people into a relaxed, conversational state of mind is getting the right environment,” Tim said. “We knew we did NOT want to shoot this is a conference room, but instead wanted to show these folks in some non-business-related setting and interrupt that” typical idea.
Tell a simple story really well, aligned with a bigger idea and broader strategy. We’re all familiar with the classic voice-of-the-customer talking head video. Cisco sought to create a different model for the typical corporate approach.
“We wanted to add an entertainment element, which I think is critical for a video to find an audience on YouTube,” Tim said. Secondarily, it wanted to humanize the companies—both Cisco and the client company—by letting the audience see a personable, conversational side.
(Notice how I said personable and not personal there? The CIOs aren’t talking about their home life or children or pets; the video isn’t personal. But they do talk about business with plenty of personality—that’s personable, and in my mind a sweet spot for business-to-business companies.)
As for the bigger strategy? That was to highlight how modern CIOs think more strategically, transforming IT from a cost center and into a source of revenue — by connecting to new customers and new markets.
Keep it tight. These videos are all a mere two-ish minutes, which was also a strategic move.
“Our hope is that by making these fun and keeping them short, we’ll be able to reach a new audience on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and so on… and if the topic is relevant to them, they’ll visit our blog for more info on the Fast Innovation topic,” Tim said.
Take a risk. The Cisco team worked with some constraints (filming at an executive conference with only 15-20 minutes with each CIO during the session breaks) and with an element of fear: Tim worried that the CIOs might be reticent or hesitant.
(They weren’t, by the way. Turns out that CIOs can be total hams.)
But this last point is critical. Great content very often means taking a risk: No matter what your data shows about your audience, you still might miss the mark.
But when it hits? It’s magic.