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The marketing of B2B white collar professions (and its rationally irrational approach)

Homo Marketus*. 

The “marketing man”. 

Someone who responds to the rational, benefit-driven marketing presented to him (or her).

Similar in nature to his cousin, Home Economicus, who behaves in a rational, maximizing manner.

Here's the problem - neither 'man' exists.

And yet, we continue, especially in the B2B white collar services realm, to market to this ficticious persona. You’ve heard the sayings, “you aren’t selling a drill bit,  you’re selling a hole” or “you have to clearly communicate the benefits of what the consumer can expect to receive”.

The benefits over feature argument was popularized by Theodore Levitt in the 60’s (though references to drill bits and holes goes back to the 1940’s). 

For marketers, this was a turning point in how we messaged. But have we gone too far, especially in B2B, service-based marketing?


If you study B2C marketing and advertising, you see less of the Homo Marketus approach. 

Rolex. Porchse. Louis Vuitton. Nike. 

None of these products are marketed within the “benefits over features” framework. They’re selling something completely different. 

Exclusivity. Prestige. Glamour. Heroism.

Ego benefits. These aren’t rational; they’re completely irrational. And yet, they are powerful drivers of behaviour. 

In the B2B world, especially white collar service professions, we don’t stray from the rational homo marketus model for marketing. In fact, most industries have converged on a signularity of messaging (I know this is true for insurance, and I’m willing to bet it’s the same with accountants, lawyers, and financial advisors, too).

Why is this? I don’t definitively know, but I can make some guesses.

#1 We are serious people providing a serious service, so we have to say serious, boring things.

We tend to project out our seriousness. White collar professionals do serious things. Taxes. Law. Finances. And it seems like the tendency is to project out this seriousness. 

I mean, no one wants to work with an insurance broker who is not completely serious and is a trusted advisor providing the best coverages at competitive rates, right?

The problem is, in conveying this seriousness, we become boring. And we blend-in.

#2 People will think we aren’t serious

See the point above. If we don’t say serious things, how will they know we’re a serious organization?

It's a valid concern.

#3 If the industry leaders especially the “big guys”, are doing it then it must be the right thing to do.

Because an organization is an industry leader, we tend to assume they have it figured out. We ignore, or don’t know about, the path they took to get there. We think, “hey, if they are saying ‘this’ and they are successful, then we too must say this to be successful”

The problem is, when you say what the market leader says, you’re basically promoting them. They will have more brand recognition. You might as well put their logo on your marketing and ask for a royalty.

#4 We don’t know what else to say

Yeah, most of us don’t. Creating a message that resonates, stands out and is memorable is not easy. It’s quite hard. The problem is that we will have to choose a path. A direction. One that might not be liked by everyone. 

Which means we’ll have to be okay not appealing to everyone. This goes against the fibre of every business owner. Me included.

Look, no one is saying you have to be completely irrational in your marketing. Exactly the opposite. What I’m saying is that it’s beneficial to question why we habituate to the familiar, the comfortable, the safe. 

Questioning "why" is the start to buildiong out a strategy that can be distinctively our own.

That’s where the good stuff is.

Away from the Homo Marketus profile. 

* credit here to Shultz (2007) for coining the phrase. No idea if my definition jibes with his.  


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