In business, the notion of professionalism has long been associated with seriousness, formality, and a strictly disciplined approach. However, as societal attitudes continue to evolve, so do the expectations for professional behaviour and communication. Innit?
'Nobody buys from a clown' stated Claude Hopkins, author of Scientific Advertising, a century ago. It seems a logical observation in its time, but have attitudes evolved?
And has that evolution permeated into arenas such as B2B tech, where committee buying decisions are fuelled by loss aversion and minimising multiple forms of risk?
The Changing Face of Professionalism
Traditionally, professionalism in business has been synonymous with a serious and reserved demeanour. However, modern business practices are witnessing a departure from the rigid expectations of the past. The rise of technology, social media, and casual work environments has led to a more relaxed and authentic approach to professionalism. According to a study by Martin and Myers (2019), the younger generation of professionals values authenticity and connection over rigid formality. So, do you still have to be so serious to be taken seriously?
Humour is often a way of breaking the ice, initiating trust and putting an audience at ease. Is there a balance to be struck in B2B tech marketing between competence and communicating as a brand, in a likeable and memorable way?
Humour in B2B Marketing
Humour has proven to be a powerful tool in B2C marketing. It can capture attention, create emotional connections, and foster brand loyalty. But many naysayers argue it has no place in B2B marketing. This seems a binary attitude when humour can take so many forms and can be tailored to specific audiences. "We're not a funny brand," is often wheeled out by tech marketing professionals, ironically alongside, "We want to be human and relatable".
Contrary to the belief that humour undermines professionalism, research indicates that appropriate and well-executed humour can enhance a company's image and credibility.
A study by Ferguson and Hlavinka (2020) found that humour in advertising positively influenced consumers' perceptions of the brand, as long as the humour was relevant and aligned with the target audience. Make your audience smile and they will remember you. Whether they're in cybersecurity, cloud management or application development. Particularly if it's an in-joke that shows an understanding of the audience.
Humour through the funnel
LogicLogicMagic is underpinned by a creative philosophy: Literal + Lateral = Memorable. We consider humour to be one of a number of lateral elements in the creative armoury, but something that becomes less relevant as prospects move through the funnel, where the balance shifts towards more literal messaging. Make prospects aware of your brand in a humorous lateral way, then dial humour back through your middle and bottom of funnel content. Once you've got a prospect's attention, you can be more literal and direct.
Playing it straight
One of the ways to maintain a serious brand while still utilising humour is to to make the brand representative the 'straight man or woman' in the comedic interaction. In LogicLogicMagic's top-of-funnel social film campaign for SAP, (reflecting their 'the best run SAP' idea) the SAP. brand is represented as fit, agile and in control, while delivering a straight competency message. Legacy technology is portrayed as old-fashioned, chaotic and out-of-shape, while playing the more out-of-place comedic character.
The humour here is at legacy technology's expense, although it could be argued that he is the more entertaining character in the scene. This 'Expert vs Novice' side-by-side comparison is a trusted format, whether it's dressed up in exotic locations as in Barclaycard's classic B2C commercials starring Rowan Atkinson (full campaign below), or stripped back in the studio for the iconic Mac vs PC series for iMac (all 61 ads below). Great writing can deliver seriously good, measured humour, without reducing a brand's seriousness. Humour has a broad spectrum, so it should never be discounted outright on the assumption that it will feel unbusinesslike.
Crafting dialogue may be a skill that has skipped a generation of creatives, but conversation remains one of the most human forms of interaction. If you want to humanise your product stories, consider dialogue in your films rather than a voiceover as a way of communicating in a more memorable and human way. The interplay between two characters is often what creates more memorable comedic situations as Mac vs PC demonstrates so brilliantly.
Redefining Professionalism Embracing humour is part of redefining professionalism. It does not mean abandoning standards of competence or integrity. Rather, it emphasises the importance of being relatable, approachable, and authentic. B2B tech companies that embrace a more lighthearted and humorous approach to marketing communication demonstrate an understanding of the evolving expectations of their audience.
The importance of likability in business partnerships
The selection process for business partners is no longer solely focused on technical competence. Likability has gained recognition as a significant factor in the decision-making process, and that's not just down to the sales team. Research by Fournier and Avery (2011) suggests that being liked by potential business partners can have a substantial impact on the success of collaborations. A likeable and approachable demeanour can foster trust, facilitate open communication, and lead to long-term partnerships.
Changing attitudes towards business professionalism indicate that being serious and dry in your marketing is no longer the only path to being taken seriously. Humour, when used effectively and appropriately, can play a vital role in B2B tech marketing, enhancing brand perception and fostering engagement. Moreover, being liked has become increasingly important in the selection process of business partners, emphasising the value of building relationships and connections. A little humour can go a long way. Like herbs and spices - used carefully it can turn the bland into the memorable.
If you're interested in learning more about the LogicLogicMagic approach and how we can help your organisation establish stronger connections with your target audience, you can download our quick guide: "11 ways to making technology marketing memorable", or the more comprehensive: "Mogic's guide to making marketing more memorable"
Ferguson, M. A., & Hlavinka, K. J. (2020). Make 'em laugh, make 'em trust? Humour, expertise, and advertising credibility. Journal of Advertising, 49(2), 197-211.
Fournier, S., & Avery, J. (2011). The uninvited brand. Business Horizons, 54(3), 193-207.
Martin, L. E., & Myers, C. G. (2019). Reconsidering professionalism. Journal of Business Ethics, 154(4), 931-942.