Over the past several years of specializing in the topic of purpose-focused content I’ve heard more times than I can count the refrain “yeah, but, we’re B2B, so it doesn’t work for us.”
One problem with this line of thought is that it ignores the fact that B2B employees and customers are people. As such, they are just as receptive to emotion-generating, purpose-focused content as anyone else.
Yet, the reality is that while B2C has more readily embraced brand purpose as a north star for content strategy, B2B lags far behind. Really great examples are few and far between.
This was the problem I was facing when I was preparing my Keynote Track presentation called Content that Matters: Purpose-focused Content Marketing for the 2017 Content Marketing World.
I was down to the wire, just days away from boarding my flight to Cleveland, with a hole in my presentation where a good B2B purpose-focused content example needed to be.
Then, lady luck saved the day. Practically out of the blue, I was introduced to Craig Coffey, the marketing director at Lincoln Electric. Lincoln Electric is one of the world’s largest manufacturers and sellers of professional welding equipment. I was told that Craig had a great example of B2B purpose-focused content.
Sure enough, within the first few minutes of speaking with Craig, I could tell that we were on the same wavelength. Not only was I able to incorporate Lincoln Electric into my presentation, I was able to bring Craig onto the stage with me for a few minutes to discuss the connection between welding, Boys Town and Lincoln Electric.
In a follow up interview, I spoke with Craig about his efforts to be more purpose-focused in B2B, and his thoughts are inspiring.
Craig, what was the fundamental issue Lincoln Electric faced, and how did this influence your brand purpose?
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that skilled trades like welding have experienced big declines over the years. That means less potential consumers of our product, but a lot of competition for their attention. Competing on specs and features is a hard way to stand out in a crowded field. But putting our purpose on display is a great way to break though the noise. I’m a little embarrassed to say, but we kind of came upon this realization almost accidentally.
Competing on specs and features is a hard way to stand out in a crowded field. But putting our purpose on display is a great way to break though the noise
How were you able to turn your Brand Purpose into a viable content strategy, content initiative?
Really, it was a series of very fortunate coincidences that helped us see how valuable this approach was. We’d been working for a few years with an influencer named Jimmy Diresta. He’s huge in the maker/creator space on YouTube. He introduced me to Josh Temple, of HGTV’s House Crashers fame, who was looking for some support for a program at Boys Town called TradeLife.
They needed some help in getting their newly re-introduced welding program in full swing, and I saw an opportunity to do more than just make a donation. This organization was taking kids from the worst possible circumstances and teaching them a skill that would prepare them for a job, and ultimately a better life. We took a video crew to Nebraska to document these kids’ stories as a way to help Josh with a GoFundMe campaign to support TradeLife. After we saw the impact of that effort, it kind of snowballed from there.
Since then we’ve been actively looking to tell stories that are not only a good fit for us from a culture perspective, but that resonate with our customer base. We’ve been fortunate enough to do some great work with former NFL player John “the Builder” Malecki in support of the It’s About the Warrior Foundation and most recently with Krystal Hess and Motorcycle Missions, a program that uses custom motorcycle builds as a sort of group therapy for vets and first responders recovering from PTSD.
How effective has this initiative been?
The answer to this question has many dimensions. Let’s use the Boys Town project as an example. Sure we saw big engagement with the video—I think we were near 30,000 views on Facebook—which is great for us. We even won an Addy in Omaha for our efforts. But part of the way we measure our effectiveness is how we help the organizations we partner with. We were able to use our platform to drive donations to Josh Temples’ GoFundMe campaign (sad to say we did not meet his goal). Yes, we were able to tell a story worth telling, which is worthwhile and super satisfying, but I think the biggest impact was the effect it had on my own team. I know this is hard to believe, but marketing welding equipment is not always wall to wall excitement. Developing purpose-focused content is something that gives my team something really meaty to work on. You can see the change in morale– that pride of ownership. In talking to other B2B’s who are looking for hard metrics to justify this approach I ask them about employee engagement and retention. If there’s no other reason that you put your purpose on blast, do it to give your team exciting, interesting, and relevant stuff to work on.
Developing purpose-focused content is something that gives my team something really meaty to work on. You can see the change in morale– that pride of ownership.
Why do you think B2B has a challenge taking this approach to purpose-focused content?
I think that a lot of B2B’s think this approach is soft. I think that this can be disproven if you consider that studies show that over 50% of Americans have made a purchase based on what a company stands for. When you think about companies that do it really well, like YETI, you see that these brands can also command a premium price for their products, and they earn huge brand loyalty to boot. But I think the bigger issue is risk. Standing for something means you might have to stand against something else—it’s not easy for B2B companies to risk alienating potential customers. To be successful, they have to find something universal, but still something that can be uniquely theirs. Given this paradox, it’s easier for most B2B brands to default to specs and features.
Besides Lincoln Electric, what other B2B brands are providing good examples of purpose-focused content marketing?
I find inspiration in lots of places. Obviously consumer brands are way ahead of us—and this kind of proves the point that there’s value in the effort. Moving more to the B2B end of the spectrum are companies like Carhartt. They make work wear. Dungarees and jackets. But they also get a premium price for their products in a competitive field because their purpose is to bring honor to doing the work that most people shun. One of the lessons that B2B’s need to learn is that it’s OK to be selfish in pursuit of purpose. It’s the only way it will be sustainable. Consider Emerson and their I Love STEM initiative. It works for them because it solves for their selfish needs to 1) Gain a deeper level of engagement with the engineers that make up their target audience and 2) it helps them attract and retain engineers that make up their own employee base.
One of the lessons that B2B’s need to learn is that it’s OK to be selfish in pursuit of purpose. It’s the only way it will be sustainable.
What’s the difference between “doing cause marketing” versus producing content that is derived from being a values-based business at a company cultural level?
I think of cause or purpose-focused marketing on spectrum. On one end is charitable giving or events. Let me be perfectly clear: if your business only participates in causes at that level it is still a very good thing. Organizations like the Red Cross, American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen Foundation can only continue to do the work they do if businesses support them financially. But recognize that you are building your house on rented land. You can’t own it, and your efforts can be duplicated by anyone, including your competitors. On the other end of the spectrum, a purpose and a brand are synonymous. Patagonia is my favorite example. They live and breathe their purpose of enjoying the outdoors in the most sustainable way possible. Most B2B’s are somewhere in the middle, but hopefully they are learning something as they experiment with finding and celebrating their purpose.
With charitable giving, recognize that you are building your house on rented land. You can’t own it, and your efforts can be duplicated by anyone, including your competitors.
If this is viewed as successful by Lincoln Electric, how do you see yourself building upon this in the next several years?
In order for these efforts to be seen as successful, we have to be able to have some hard metrics (sales dollars) behind it. To get there, we also need to ask different questions of our customers about why they chose Lincoln. Going back to my earlier thought about the decline of the population of welders (our existing base) what if instead of trying to influence someone that already knows how to weld to buy our products—a brand conversion—we focused more on getting someone that’s always wanted to learn to weld to start with the brand that made them feel good about their purchase? In other words, create a new population of brand loyal customers? I also want to reiterate that the value from an HR perspective can’t be understated. Especially in a booming economy, giving your employees a sense that they belong to something greater than just revenue generation is a huge differentiator. It gives them purpose as well.
Especially in a booming economy, giving your employees a sense that they belong to something greater than just revenue generation is a huge differentiator.
In terms of what to expect from Lincoln, I expect we will continue to look for opportunities to tell stories that matter. In fact, we have what I’d consider a good problem to have—more ideas that we can follow up and execute on. We’ve established some criteria for what’s a good fit for us, and that will continue to evolve, but we have the bug. Look for great things from Lincoln.