B2B? Be authentic, not boring.

B2B? Be authentic, not boring.

Chris Wolfgang's Layout avatar

We’re all friends here. And the time has come for an intervention. B2B marketing doesn’t have to be bland. Your clients from financial services, from contracting firms, from banks need their sites to be compliant, yes, but there’s still room — there’s still necessity — for your creativity.

Know the industry’s rules.

“That demographic is really regulatory driven,” said Joe Graves, a partner at Workshed. Thanks to his background in financial planning, the marketing and branding agency has had its share of financial services clients. He explained that Workshed isn’t pigeonholed to those industries, but his team can offer a perspective that traditional businesses value.

“Understanding the challenges they face and being able to get said what needs to be said in a way that is compliant is key,” he explained. “And also understanding their specific needs.”

That bears repeating. In the midst of ensuring compliance, don’t forget about the individual client in front of you. “It’s about the client’s money, understanding the client’s discussion, what makes clients comfortable,” Graves pointed out. “Be able to extract each client’s unique value proposition and what makes them them. It’s really kind of — if I think about our practice — it’s really kind of consulting. And then the website and the marketing is kind of the deliverable.”

Joe Graves, partner at Workshed / Photo courtesy of Workshed

It helps to have the background yourself — psst, we didn’t say you had to have a degree.

Graves’ interest in all things money-related began in high school. “My truck in high school was a piece of junk, so I only had AM radio,” he said. “I ended up sort of listening to financial planning — go, NPR.” He began investing at 17 but opted for international travel instead of college right after graduation. By the time he came back to the states, formal education was no longer a fit.

“Finance was…” He paused. “I wanted to be able to help people.” In 2006, Graves began his own capital management firm, leaving only this past January to buy Workshed. Incidentally, Workshed built Graves’ first financial planning site in 2006.

“The short answer is I read a lot,” he said to describe his self-education in finance and web design. “But I’ve always been curious and always wanting to learn about things. So literally, reading books. Back when my site was built, Jeffrey Zeldman’s Designing with Web Standards was my first kind of internet book. And then I was thinking, oh, this is interesting, this makes complete sense. And then it just expands from there and I’ll deep dive into something for awhile, become functionally literate, and then move on to something else.”

Having a background education in your client’s trade means you’re not drowning in a sea of information, Graves explained. “We can come in and see clearly that these are the clients that you like working with, these are the ones that are profitable, or this is who you should be working with more,” he said. “Part of our design process is understanding that.”

Workshed Door

Photo courtesy of Workshed

You don’t have to target the entire industry — find the clients attracted to your style.

Workshed’s conversational, approachable voice comes across in its site copy. It’s clear cut and professional, and it’s completely lacking in stuffiness. Is it possible to find an agency voice that still feels like you while offering a certain level of “this feels familiar” to your B2B clients?

“If I had to have one tip of advice of how we do what we do, it would be to be authentic,” Graves said. “You can’t hide behind what you are or what you aren’t. That’s what I discovered in my financial planning practice — there are certain people who are just going to gravitate to my style of investing. I’d like to attract those kind of people rather than be someone I’m not and have there be friction in the relationship because I’m not exactly what they wanted.”

Authenticity, Graves stressed, is how you’ll avoid sounding exactly the same as all of your competitors. “The regulations are written by attorneys, so what you can actually say is very limited. So you’re all going to sound the same,” he pointed out. “If you want to communicate how you guys do things, don’t tell them what you think they want to hear — tell them what you’re going to do to solve their problem and then let the chips fall where they may.”

To that end, the team at Workshed has had some fun posting tongue-in-cheek, PSA-type videos on their site, as well as tutorials for how to make content and design suck less. “So my irreverence and our joking around is probably offputting to some people,” Graves admitted, “and I’m okay with that. If you don’t get the way we’re communicating than that’s perfectly okay. It’s not right for everybody. But if you do get it and you’re willing to sit down — I guess if you try to define Workshed on paper, we’re not a lot of things. I don’t have a degree in computer science, and we technically haven’t been doing it that long. So on paper it doesn’t sound that attractive, but if you sit down with us, I understand your business pretty well. And I can probably connect dots that people may not even see.”

Such a slightly untraditional approach to traditionally formal industries means that Workshed is probably most attractive to self-starters and entrepreneurial types. At least, that’s what Graves supposes. “They’lll probably appreciate what we do more — one of my big sort of pet peeves is that I don’t work for people, I work with people. If a company that’s attempting to engage is, you know, big on themselves … I’m not chasing that sort of thing.”


Workshed office space / Photo courtesy of Workshed

Keep your client’s client in mind.

Remember: Being authentic means being authentic for your agency and authentic for your client. “We look at what we’re doing through the lens of who they are,” Graves said. “We have our own design aesthetic that we would want on our own stuff, but that has to be filtered through who the client is.”

But it goes beyond that, he admitted. “You have to design not only with their principles in mind, but also who their clients are.”

Stephen Covey suggests “Begin with the end in mind,” in his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Graves is a big believer in the advice. “Be very clear on what you’re trying to achieve. If you start with ‘We’re building a website,’ ehhh, that’s pretty amorphous. It’s easy to get off track. If you say ‘We’re building a website to try to attract new insurance clients for auto insurance,’ well, then you can start to make decisions based off that. And sometimes you make concessions in that process — this may not lead to more clients, but we just really like the way this feels. At least you’re informed about making that decision.”

Joe Graves

Joe Graves, partner at Workshed / Photo courtesy of Workshed

Comments ( 1 )

  1. Ian Garlic

    September 16, 2014

    We have been preaching authenticity for years. We have proven its effectiveness but people are scared to be different.
    "I’d like to attract those kind of people rather than be someone I’m not and have there be friction in the relationship because I’m not exactly what they wanted."
    This is the biggest missed opportunity with internet marketing, from web design to SEO. Why not target exactly whom you want to work with?

    Great article!!

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