Obviously, you’re not Michael​: A short story about becoming a business-to-person brand

Are we a consumer brand, or a B2B brand?

I used to get this question a lot. Most people asking me this betrayed (or sometimes just outright admitted) that they believe consumer brands are cooler and allowed to push the envelope more, while B2B brands are more conservative and straightforward. As if B2B stood for Boring-to-Boring, an approach somehow both expected and perceived to be appropriate and effective.

Over time and after some contemplation, I realized that both the question and the assumptions behind it ignored a critical marketing truth, perhaps overlooked because it’s just too obvious.

People – not businesses – are buying your things.

This means that every marketer is a B2P marketer – business-to-person – no matter what they’re selling. Because yes, it’s possible to be a B2B marketer and still create a brand that people want to wear on a t-shirt, but only if you understand that you’re in the business of connecting viscerally and emotionally with other human beings, regardless of what you’re selling. And only if you know – and care about – who those human beings actually are.

Whether you’re buying a car, a new outfit or a new tech tool to add to your marketing stack, you’re making a decision that matters to you on some level and has implications that you care about and that you’re emotionally invested in. No, not all feelings are equal in intensity, but yes, I have feelings about GoToMeeting and WebEx based on experiences I had with the tools. Feelings get embedded, especially if the associated experiences and feelings were negative. (And then, Zoom walks into my life and makes me believe it’s possible to love video conferencing again…sigh.)

Every purchase decision is emotional, because people are emotional. And the better you understand that person – their emotional triggers, their needs, their wants and their pain points – the more effective you’ll be at selling them whatever you’re trying to sell.

“Are we a lifestyle brand, or a B2B brand?” is the wrong question, mainly because it’s a question about you.

The best brands know that it’s not about them at all.

If you’re a marketer, you’re a business-to-person marketer. And you should wake up every day asking yourself, “How do we make people feel?”

“Hi, Michael.”

What happened on a random Wednesday in March in our tech start-up happens every day to marketers all over the world.

A typo.

On this particular day, the typo was “Michael.”

Every webinar invitation that went out on this day started with the greeting, “Hi, Michael.”

In the big scheme of things, this was not the end of the world. I’ve certainly seen worse in my career as far as typos are concerned. Sure, a couple of recipients replied and pointed out the error, but most didn’t notice or respond. The open rate was a respectable 22%. We got some webinar registrations. It was a blip on the radar.

But we were concerned about how this email made our customers feel. Receiving an email with the wrong name makes you feel like you don’t matter, that your identity is not important. Our names are the most powerful words in the English language, and we respond viscerally when we see or hear (or fail to see or hear) our name in an expected context.

Two marketing team members recognized this, and decided to be human and transparent, take responsibility and use this mistake as an opportunity to communicate our values as an organization. (This is the part where I shout out Jasmina Shappy and Nathan Snow for their genius.)

Within a day, a follow-up email was sent to the same list – excluding, of course, anyone who was actually named Michael—with the subject line:

“Obviously, you’re not Michael.” 

The short-and-sweet email contained a humble apology, a sense of humor and a second call to action to sign up for the webinar.

Most importantly, it contained the acknowledgement and awareness of how the recipient felt when they got that first email, along with genuine empathy for their feelings.

It was our best performing email ever.

60% open rate.

8% click through rate on the link.

Significant boost in webinar registrations.

And several people replied with personal, humorous and humane responses that reflected their appreciation for our authenticity and humility.

Jasmina and Nathan built a micro moment with customers and prospects that felt personal and genuine…because, well, it was.

Happy “Michael Day.”

We’ve commemorated this day, and it’s now officially celebrated now as “Michael Day” on our team.

Michael Day is a day we remember that a marketplace is not always conquered by aggression and brute force (despite the business world’s strong preference for war and sports metaphors and propensity to use words like “beachhead” and “home run” to describe strategies and small victories).

Sustainable success belongs to brands that know how to woo the marketplace…one decision, one person, and one heart at a time. And they understand that this happens one subject line, one tweet, one post, and sometimes even one word at a time.

Michael Day reminds us of the value of empathy in building a brand that people love.

You can be a wildly successful, world class marketer whether you’re selling enterprise software to a CFO or toddler shoes to stay-at-home moms, as long as you remember that you’re always talking to a person.

Happy Michael Day, my fellow B2P marketers! Order your “World’s Best Marketer” coffee mug this weekend and make every day Michael Day.


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