Humanizing B2B: Connecting with real people in a machine-driven world – Interview with Kelsey Carroll of HPE.

One of our main goals at Content Factory is bringing out the human element in an otherwise machine and data-driven industry– to give it that human touch.

Kelsey Carroll leads branded social content for Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. Prior to her current role, she ran PR for an independent film studio in Austin, TX and then got her start in marketing with the integrated agency, W2O Group. When she’s not reviewing ad copy and creative, she can be found eating Mexican food and seeking out the perfect karaoke song.

Kelsey Caroll

She recently answered some of our questions and shared some advice on the importance of the human element while applying it to B2B campaigns:

Why is being human important (especially in B2B tech)?

The robots haven’t taken over (yet). While it’s true that many commoditized, repeatable tasks have been automated, B2B tech sales has remained a largely relational person-to-person business. People like doing business with people that they like and trust… it’s that simple.

But how can a big brand come off as likable, relatable? Being human is important, especially in B2B tech, because we believe there is a person behind every transaction and we attempt to connect with those people through shared experience. For example, one of Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s key partners is Dreamworks Animation. Instead of saying, HPE FlexFabric increases rendering efficiency, we might lean into the story that families love Kung Fu Panda and HPE technology makes that possible.

Since people are getting better at spotting and avoiding ads, how can you make sure your ads attract the right users’ attention?

Let’s say you’ve done everything right in the social advertising world, according to Dennis Yu. The plumbing is set, your targeting is on point. You’ve optimized the process so your content has landed in front of the right people at the right time.  You’ve “hacked” the mysterious algorithms (!) But, there’s still a person on the other end receiving your message. That person can skip, scroll past or even block your ad if it’s not useful, entertaining or valuable. Ads that attract and attain the right users’ attention are usually the ones that embody at least one of those key attributes.

How can content marketers make an emotional connection and get an audience to care about their brand?

As content marketers, we need to be honest with ourselves. Even though I am not necessarily the target customer for B2B tech sales, I’m always asking myself, and challenging my team to ask themselves, “Would I share this? Would this make me smile? How useful it this?” It has to pass the human litmus test, or else it will get scrolled past, skipped over. There is such a competition for people’s attention these days and any the most captivating, through-provoking, visual content will be worthy of anyone’s time, let alone your target customers’.

Kelsey Caroll. There is no B2B or B2C.

Social media provides a unique opportunity to make a connection, then track behaviors and responses to form a relationship, over time. From awareness to interest, to consideration, and ultimately, conversion, the narrative should remain consistent. It’s like someone who goes from being a stranger to acquaintance, and then a friend who becomes your best friend. The person doesn’t change, you just get to know them better, while they build credibility and gain your trust.

What’s the best channel to reach a B2B audience?

It depends on what your goal is, of course. If you’re going for more of an awareness play, I say, go where the eyeballs are. Facebook and Instagram’s ad tools allow for some pretty sophisticated targeting, plus they reach almost 2 billion of the world’s population.

Since one-to-one social selling is more about finding that exact right person within a company that makes the buying decisions, LinkedIn is most likely the best channel to search and locate for that person. With tools like Sales Navigator you can track and qualify leads all within the LinkedIn environment, which seems pretty efficient.

What advice would you give to a brand that doesn’t have a big budget for creating content or promoting it on social?

I think a common feeling towards social media marketing for small businesses is that they tried it and “it didn’t work.” Marketing on social media isn’t any easier than any other method, but it’s far more efficient.There are a variety of different levers that can be pulled, like width and depth of your targeting, and small tweaks in graphic or messaging. The more disciplined marketers will A/B/C/D/E test these different variables in order to optimize.

Sometimes smaller brands can create their own attention by being the early bird as social channels roll out new features. As we saw with Facebook Live, the News Feed has been favoring live content and brands who leveraged saw a bump in engagement and reach.

All in all, focus your efforts on one or two pieces of hero content that tell your story in a visual way. Once you nail down who your specific target audiences (the more specific the better), try promoting it for just a dollar a day. It’s a small enough budget that you can learn as you go. Once you’re more comfortable and you’re seeing a response, you can add fuel to the fire as you optimize.

What are your predictions for 2017 marketing trends?

Share of attention is shifting to dynamic & easily-digestible, mobile content

There’s a palpable tension building as mobile migrates toward mostly-video (i.e. Snapchat, Instagram) slamming into the fact that no one has the patience to watch videos that aren’t extremely captivating. The problem– or opportunity, if you’re savvy– is that by nature, every brand cannot create “extremely captivating” content. The cream will always rise to the top. Consistency is key for strong brand awareness. If a brand has a strong narrative in place, it’s easy to translate it from LinkedIn to Twitter, and maybe even Snapchat. Every marketing campaign should have a strong, concise message that is easily replicated across different platforms.

Remember these takeaways:

  • Show that there’s people behind the brand. Focus on relatable messages rather and shared experiences.
  • There’s people on the other end receiving your message- so make sure your message captures their attention and meets their needs.
  • The best channels for reaching B2B depend on your goals, but LinkedIn wins due to refinement and access to decision makers.
  • For small budget efforts, focus on content that tells your story and target a highly refined version of your intended audience with a $1.00/day budget. This provides a test bed to play around and optimize your message to see what works.

Are you thinking in terms of business-to-business, or human-to-human?

Dennis Yu
Dennis Yu
Dennis Yu is co-author of the #1 best-selling book on Amazon in social media, The Definitive Guide to TikTok Ads.  He has spent a billion dollars on Facebook ads across his agencies and agencies he advises. Mr. Yu is the "million jobs" guy-- on a mission to create one million jobs via hands-on social media training, partnering with universities and professional organizations.You can find him quoted in major publications and on television such as CNN, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, NPR, and LA Times. Clients have included Nike, Red Bull, the Golden State Warriors, Ashley Furniture, Quiznos-- down to local service businesses like real estate agents and dentists. He's spoken at over 750 conferences in 20 countries, having flown over 6 million miles in the last 30 years to train up young adults and business owners. He speaks for free as long as the organization believes in the job-creation mission and covers business class travel.You can find him hiking tall mountains, eating chicken wings, and taking Kaqun oxygen baths-- likely in a city near you.