It’s a popular tactic among B2B bloggers to look at dry B2B topics through the prism of seemingly unrelated personal enthusiasms. Viewed from a distance, a favorite pop band or children’s book might not seem relevant to B2B marketing and communications. But for lots of B2B bloggers, the logical connection is less important than the personal one. It can be an effective approach, but it’s not without landmines.
You don’t have to look very far to find plenty of examples. Consider, for instance, how these well-known blogs use figures from popular culture to illuminate B2B subjects:
- Hubspot and sports: “Why I Would Hire Bode Miller as My Inbound Marketer.”
- Copyblogger and popular music: “The Eminem Guide to Becoming a Writing and Marketing Machine” or “5 Things Depeche Mode Can Teach You About Effective Online Marketing.”
- Savvy B2B Marketing and nursery rhymes: “Little Bunny Foo-Foo and the Art of Being Specific.”
The appeal of this tactic lies partly in the lure of the unexpected. You want a certain amount of weirdness in the comparison. That we can learn something about B2B from IBM is useful but not surprising. But Little Bunny Foo-Foo? Tell us more!
(Too weird or obscure, though, and you’ll lose your audience. While you might be passionate about analytic philosophy or avant-garde classical music, you should probably avoid titles like “What Wittgenstein Can Teach You about Buyer Personas” or “Arnold Schoenberg and the Art of Content Marketing.”)
The key is not to make a comparison just because it’s weird or surprising. The goal, rather, should be to share a personal passion that genuinely informs your understanding of B2B.
Every so often, a personal enthusiasm turns out to shed enough light on a business topic to explore at length, as Brian Halligan and David Meerman Scott have done in their new book, Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead. But for the most part, bloggers are not seriously recommending the study of downhill skiers or rappers for extended insights into B2B communications. Their aim is instead to connect with readers on a personal level.
On his We Grow Media blog, Dan Blank puts it this way:
I find that my best work comes from observing the world outside of the topic I write about. That is why so many of my posts use music as a metaphor, talk about history, or how personal experiences relate to the shifting role of publishing and media. Look to nature, look to other markets, listen to those who are wise, but outside of your industry.
Blank doesn’t explain how he identifies his “best” work. But I’d guess it’s less about the brilliance of his writing than the personal connections that result from his posts. In the end, that’s the goal of this tactic: the appeal is personal, not logical or empirical. Blank is an expert in B2B media, but would I read him as faithfully if I hadn’t come to feel I know and appreciate him on some personal level? Probably not.
There’s a risk, of course, in drawing comparisons between your personal passions and B2B issues. You may end up simply trivializing your topic as well as your passion. That’s exactly the risk Copyblogger runs in using so frequently the formula “What [insert pop culture topic here] can teach you about [insert B2B topic here].”
Invoking personal passions as a window into B2B can work well, but only if it remains genuinely personal. If it becomes routine or generic, it will just look gimmicky.
>>That’s exactly the risk Copyblogger runs in using so frequently the formula “What [insert pop culture topic here] can teach you about [insert B2B topic here].”
Yes, it’s been terribly damaging.
Brian: Though I’ve evidently annoyed you, I’m honored nonetheless that you’ve commented here.
To clarify: Running a risk is not the same as failing. When Philippe Petit walked his tightrope between the Trade Center towers, it was an enormous risk that resulted in an amazing feat–but I wouldn’t recommend attempting it to most people. Although I’m sure you’d agree that Copyblogger posts are not uniformly brilliant, most of the time you and your writers can carry it off. Otherwise I wouldn’t read Copyblogger so regularly.
Don’t go messin’ with Little Bunny Foo-Foo.
Did you not learn the lesson that those who don’t behave get turned into Big Green Goons?
How true. If nothing else, I’ve learned that it isn’t Little Barney Foo-Foo, which I’ve thought it was for all these years . . . .