Lessons from Barbie: Why play-time is over for B2B comms

Posted on November 23, 2015 by Xenia Kingsley

In the same week that Toys ‘R’ Us removed gender filters from it’s website, Mattel’s ‘first ever advertisement for Barbie featuring a boy’ hit the headlines. The ad and the ‘fierce’ little boy who stars in it quickly went viral.

Despite it actually turning out to be a Mattel approved fauxmercial by fashion designer Jeremy Scott (the Barbies in question were strictly limited edition and aimed at collectors rather than actual children), it still represents an acknowledgement, however slight, by the toy giant of how their products are really used and who their audience is (in this case, girls, boys and adult collectors).

Boys have always played with dolls, just as girls have always played with toys that are not traditionally meant for them. As a little girl, my most-prized toy was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sewer playset!

Barbie dolls

Making assumptions about your target market is a trap that we, as B2B marketers fall into all too often.

It’s hard not to make assumptions about our audiences based on their job titles and (as in the toy industry) their assumed gender and age. Try to picture a typical CFO... Is the image in your mind a middle aged white-guy in a suit with a copy of the FT tucked under his arm? I’m not too far off, right?

There was a fantastic study by Quartz last year, which revealed that only 3% of the C-suite now rely on print media as their primary news source. The majority of business leaders consume news on their phones, via email newsletters, news sites and apps. So, while our imagined CFO with the paper under his arm might exist, he certainly doesn’t represent the majority of his peer group.

We need deep insight about who we are targeting to be able to truly communicate with (and sell to) them.

B2B is a vast, all encompassing term for a wide array of industries and what is true for one organisation’s buyer base may not be true for another. That's why it's crucial for marketers to truly understand their customers, the unique challenges they face, and what drives their decision-making.

We recently undertook a buyer persona study for a financial services client, conducting in-depth interviews with customers to uncover ‘what keeps them awake at night’ along with their attitudes and approach to business finance. We found a set of common challenges and using these, were able to categorise the buyers into five distinct personas. This formed the basis of the client’s annual marketing programme and has since been incorporated into their CRM system to enable client-facing teams to have more valuable and meaningful conversations.

B2B audiences are human beings, not just job titles, and people are complex. It’s something that Mattel (and Toys ‘R’ Us) are starting to acknowledge with their own audience – some little girls like sewer playsets (!), some little boys like fashion dolls. By taking the time to really consider and research their audience, I’d be willing to bet that in the long run, they sell more toys that kids genuinely love to play with.  


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