March 27

What A Professional Comic Can Teach B2B Marketers

What A Professional Comic Can Teach B2B Marketers - James Rostance and Russ Powell

Free alcohol, always being the funniest person in the room, invites to glamorous events as well as being the envy of friends for their chosen career path.

Of course, professional comics also enjoy those kind of perks too, but what can B2B marketers learn from a professional comedian?

Well, as it turns out their ability to understand and connect with people on an emotional level is the core skill which we as B2B marketers are all keen to develop further.

The drive to engage with customers as real people with thoughts, feelings and emotions really is where the money’s at.

So without giving the game away, my guest this week - a former professional comedian turned agency owner will be sharing his rather unique take on how to do just that

James Rostance: Please welcome Mr. Russell Powell.


Russ Powell: Yeah. Thanks very much. Absolute pleasure.


James Rostance: Well, yeah. I mean, so you've taken the the often promoted career path of professional comic to be to be agency owners. So could you start by telling us what take us through how on earth did not end up happening?


Russ Powell: What the dirty little secret that I was? I was actually a marketer before I was a comic and the two have kind of grown side by side. There was a very short overlap at the start, actually. So I was working in the company and part of the grand scheme and we there was a gig, a stand up gig was being put on as part of the Prince's Trust initiative. And the guy that was running it was a good mate of mine. You're funny. You should have a guy like just just give it a go. And I was like, you know what? I've always wanted to give away, so why the hell not, you know, and kind of cobbled together? I think it was seven minutes of pretty awful material, but I took the stage and and delivered it and it went surprisingly well, actually. And little did I know that first ever gig that I did was compared by a chap called Lloyd Griffith who went on to host Sock'Em and was headlined by Robeck. It now Saturday night favourite. The guy with the teeth say I was in good company from the start, really, and did that first gig kind of thought nothing more of it.


Russ Powell: And then my mate who picked me up first like you were good mate. You should do it again. Keep going, keep trying, keep going with it. And and did and and it really kind of developed from there. And I spent the best part of ten years almost on, on the stand up circuit. And I've done I've done gigs, I've kicked the Comedy Store and the stand in Edinburgh. I've done the Edinburgh Festival as well. I've done festivals in Spain. I've worked with and excuse the name dropping. But people I've like Jason Manford, Bill Bailey, Tim Vine and I did tour support for Katherine Ryan. I've been on telly. I did I did a gig. I did Wolverhampton Civic Hall to 1500 people when I was supporting Stuart Francis on tour. And like it was an incredible way to spend my 20s basically just travelling around the country and different countries, sometimes getting paid to make people laugh and have a drink and make some friends along the way. And yeah. So I go, yeah, yeah.


James Rostance: Well, I was going, I'm what I got. Let me start again. So I realised that yes, our topic is B2B marketing, but I would like to know just from you what if any other would be your. Highlights of having been a comic on the circuit


Russ Powell: Or highlights of being one of the highlights is getting to a gig at my favorite hometown club. So I'm from Brighton originally and get a gig at the Comedia in Brighton was always a massive highlight for me. And take gigging with people off the telly is always, always great fun as well. But one of one of the funniest, I guess one of the funniest highlights I did a gig for I think two hundred odd Navy SEALs. No, not Navy SEALs. What was the ah. Equivalent of the SEALs.


James Rostance: The SBS.


Russ Powell: Yeah. So you had the double our blokes from, from the Navy. Down, down, down in Exer. I think it's the toughest of the tough and going straight to the gig. It went really well and a guy comes up to me afterwards, he goes oh my. I tell you what, you are so brave. I know what it's like. You do know what you do for a living. I'm just I'm just the bloke on stage telling objects like you. You are out there from the day to day basis. So, yeah, I mean, like, there's there's all these lovely little stories about that. And it's I think the great thing with comedy is being able to to to make people happy, to cheer people up. And if if you can be part of the the highlight of their day and it's saying that remembers me, that helps him escape or do something different, then that's that's fantastic. That's all. That's all highlight stuff.


James Rostance: Nice. Well, with that said, so you transitioned then from professional having started in marketing to then comedian and now you've gone all in on B2B marketing. So yeah. What is it that frustrates you? I agree with the way B2B marketing is done at present.


Russ Powell: Yeah. Say the B2B marketing and the stand up kind of went hand in hand. So as I was gigging on the circuit, I was also gaining experience as a B2B marketer. So I worked for a variety of different B2B tech firms. Some you would have definitely heard of, a lot you won't have heard of, and kind of gaining experience and moving up in in seniority the whole time and through through that time. As a B2B marketer, there's really three main frustrations. I felt the first is a lack of creativity or a lack of attempt to engage with people as people. And the second is the marketing. And marketers aren't often valued properly by their businesses. There's still a lot of businesses out there who refer to their marketing department. Is the Cullinane department which which any marketable? No, that's absolutely not what the market is that day. And the third is that quite often there's a lack or a misunderstanding of the commercial responsibility marketers have to their business. And that is often tied in with the whole value situation as well. Marketers aren't seen as adding value because they don't know what value they need to add to their business in in a monetary sense. So, yeah, it's kind of the creativity, it's the value and it's the commercial responsibility of the three the three big bugbears, I guess, for B2B marketing.


James Rostance: So from your point, from your perspective, if those frustrations that you've just covered aren't addressed, what do you think is the likely outcome of that?


Russ Powell: The outcome of ignoring creativity and not talking to people like people is it is a continuation of B2B marketing as it exists in a lot of cases, which is dull, bland. Everyone's got a blue logo, everyone uses the same photo, the photos, everyone talks about hyper converged, ultra optimized, scalable solutions. That doesn't mean anything to a person. How do you make someone's life better? How do you help me do their job better? How do you help them spend more time with their family? Like, what's what's the real message you want to get across that's going to grab someone and really engage them?


James Rostance: I think and that's a great description you got there. I couldn't repeat it, but hyper convergence,


Russ Powell: Ok, optimized slashing, edge leading, hyper converged like is the waffle waffle job jargon, bingo stuff that is just B2B is just rife with it and it turns people off. People, people don't understand it, they don't engage with it. And I don't I don't understand why B2B businesses still talk to people like their businesses, not people like their people.


James Rostance: So this is where now I guess you've got this a unique perspective on this, which is ultimately the what do you see as being the solution to be able to address those?


Russ Powell: And this is as you say, this is where the comedy element of things comes in, because comedy and it's about being funny, but you don't necessarily always have to be funny. It's about eliciting a reaction from people. And sometimes you need to elicit potentially negative reaction like a like a or not quite sure about that to then make the next thing work. But it's all around finding those commonalities, these shared experiences. They shared thought patterns that you can tap into and then use to get your point across. And it's it's a very primal thing. So I know there was research done and this is this is a great story. There's a guy who's a biologist. So I was researching DNA and the similarity of structures across DNA. And he then got talking to someone at a party one time and they started talking about stories and what what is what is the DNA of stories. And he then got what is basically the the ultimate job. He went around the world to different cultures, different civilizations, different types of people, and looked at the stories that exist in all these places. And one of the things he found was that the Little Red Riding Hood story exists in almost every culture. And in some in some instances, it's not a wolf. It's a different animal. In some instances, it's not one little girl.


Russ Powell: It's two two little kids or it's different. But the the general premise of the story of a child is duped into thinking that an animal is its relative exists globally. But the key thing, the one key element that persisted throughout every instance of that story, and this is the Brothers Grimm version, this is the modern version, is that the animal makes the little kid or kids drink the blood of its grandmother. Right. And what I'm kind of getting at here is that that's the hook, that's the weird thing that stands out and and means that that story has impact and is remembered and it's those kind of things that you need to look for and and having messages and stories off of how you think about it. Like when we were when we were nomadic, when we were when we were tribal, we had to find our way around different places. In the way you find your way around is with landmarks. You look for the rock that looks like a man. You look for the the clump of trees that look like a cow or whatever. But it's those things that you can hook hook stories of of that are common and that people will engage with. And I realize I've talked about drinking blood and rocks that look like blood, but you can extrapolate it forward to modern times.


James Rostance: Well, I guess as a way of summarizing what you've put there is that, first of all, you're making a great case for not doing bland. Everything is colored blue marketing. And with that storytelling, you're very much championing the idea of that. You need to stand out in some way and have a hook that actually creates an emotional reaction of some kind. Is that really the you must have non-negotiable, the fact that it's got to have a hook that that creates some kind of stirring emotion


Russ Powell: If you want to get marketing and marketing, that makes impact? Yeah, absolutely. You need to have you need to have that commonality, that thing that not everyone but your target audience is going to go. Yeah, yeah, I get that. I understand that. And that's part of my life, part of my existence. So what have you got to say to me about that?


James Rostance: We there and I imagine taking up that concept that in order to come up with a hook and so I'm saying it's inspired from what you've just covered, that it's therefore worth putting time and effort into actually coming up with these hooks. And this, in turn, is probably what most most B2B marketers aren't actually doing. They're not coming up with strong hooks. So what you're putting forward is, look, put the effort in to come up with some kind of hook. Hmm? Yeah.


Russ Powell: So and what I will say as well, the hook doesn't have to be something directly related to the services you provide or what you do. For instance, there's there's campaigns that I've been a part of where the hook has been an think. Calenda, because everyone understands what an event calendar is. They understand the mechanism of it. But behind that mechanism is the story you want to tell with the information you want to get across. And stuff like Easter egg hunts is stuff that we're running in the moment and we build video games and things like that. It's stuff that resonates with people as people.


James Rostance: Right. Thank you. You've got the words clarified that because I was going off on a tangent of like, all right, cool. B2B campaigns have got to be shocking and and really stand out. But you're busy shaking your head. That is like, no, no, it doesn't have to be outrageous because I was going to ask, how do you find the balance with that? So Easter egg hunt, I can imagine, is not going to upset too many people. But what you're seeing is I guess we're coming up to Easter. Could you. Are you able to share something about that campaign and why that ticks the boxes?


Russ Powell: Because it's it's again, it's it's the commonality thing. People understand Easter. They understand what an Easter egg hunt is about. And it's about finding these little treats, these little these little treasures. And we kind of use the Easter egg hunt as the mechanism, as the mechanism set that as the mechanism to to then present people with these little treats and little treasures that are information that helps them do their job better or opens their eyes to a new solution, a new way of doing things, or a new a new partner that they can work with to do so with you.


James Rostance: Ok, now I appreciate I've probably jumped ahead on a few things and I was just looking at my site, but I've been watching listing myself. I must have had a good, good preproduction chat before doing the live show, but I've gotten excited and jumped all over the place and so my carefully planned show notes are all over the place. So I know you've got your your your is it your three pillars of your approach to B2B marketing? And I don't think we've we've we've I've given you enough chance to cover those property in detail because the next step was going to be where you explain in detail what the pillars are and and why they're important.


Russ Powell: So I don't mind going off piste. It's it's fine. It's fine. It's good. But the three pillars are really dealing with those three frustrations that I mentioned before. It's around it's around creativity. It's around market, seem to be adding value. And it's about that commercial responsibility or acknowledgement of that commercial responsibility that marketers have.


James Rostance: That was. Yes. All right. So just to bring anyone who's just joined us up to speed. So these are the three pillars of B2B marketing and if you will, a solid campaign moving forward or any work that you do has to have these three pillars. And with that, you will then on a beautiful rock solid base. So with that said, could you go into detail and as to what each one comprises and why?


Russ Powell: Yeah, sure. So with creativity, there's potentially a misunderstanding in a general sense of what what creativity means or what creative creativity is. People think that to be creative, you have to be a creative, you have to be an artist or a designer or something like that. But you can be creative with data. You can be creative with technology. You can be creative with with systems and processes. It's all about taking what you've got and reimagining, adapting or thinking about it in a different way to come up with something new. So when I'm saying that BCB needs to be more creative, it doesn't necessarily mean to be neat, to be fantastic graphics. And you're spending hundreds of thousands on getting Damien Hirst in to do your artwork and all kinds of stuff like that. It needs to be taken what you've already got, thinking about it, reimagining it in a different way to create some. That's new and interesting and engaging for the audience that you need to target. And this is kind of the other thing which relates to value is that if you're trying to create something for everybody, you'll end up creating something for nobody. So it's about understanding who your audience are, what their needs, challenges, wants, desires, wildest dreams are, so that you can then get creative to deliver value to them, which in return means that you as a marketer deliver value to your organization. So this is again moving on from marketing, being seen as the current in department and getting the old requests from the sales guys of I've got a sales that can you can you sprinkle some marketing magic on that or can you can you just this up, which is one of the things that I'm sure every market is being nasty and it's showing that marketing is so much more than that.


Russ Powell: And we're all marketers. We're all going to believe this, but we need to demonstrate that value to other people in the business. And the way we do that is by bringing insights, information, understanding of target market, of trends, of types of messaging, of types of content, of things that work and and be in this pool of knowledge that and pool of expertise that the rest of the business can then tap into. And then obviously a client that is the commercial responsibility that marketers have say whether it's a very hands on grip on it or it's a very light touch. Distant marketers need to have an eye on the prize, which is revenue marketing. Whether it's right now or whether it's down the line needs to be aligned to some sort of revenue generation, whether that's engagement with an audience that creates and creates awareness that then feeds through through bank brand campaigns to opportunities that happened down the line or whether that's direct sales activation that results in results in sales and inquiries. Marketers need to have that that alignment to to to our own understanding of that commercial responsibility, because I'm sure I'm not sure how many people are watching at the moment. But my myself, I've experienced a number of redundancies in my career, and it's often the case that marketing and marketers are the first to go when when redundancies come up. But those marketers that get retained and those marketers that don't get made redundant are those that can effectively articulate and communicate the value and the way that their business.


James Rostance: Nice. So as a beautiful recap, then, the names of those three pillars one more time


Russ Powell: And let's call them creativity, let's call them value and let's call them commercial. Uh.


James Rostance: Responsibility, I like that, yes, responsibility. All right, well, with all that said, then, so what would be, as far as you're concerned, some easy wins that's B2B marketers could get right now as a result of embracing those three pillars. So, yeah, so what would be the easy wins that they could quickly get about?


Russ Powell: Super, super, super easy. One is to stop talking like a marketer so much and to start talking like a business person. Even when I say that, I don't mean to talk about hyper converged, ultra optimized solutions. But you could. You could. Yeah, but I mean, get a grip on on the things that matter to the business because marketers we love marketing chat and marketing marketing metrics and stuff, but we can get stuck in a marketing bubble where we talk about things that the rest of the business doesn't really care about. And so we need to find out what those things are that the business cares about and start talking about marketing in those terms. And so I wrote a blog about it actually kind of seven business terms. Every marketer should know. And there's there's seven business terms in there that I think every marketer should know that will help them more effectively communicate with the the other areas of their business.


James Rostance: Well, we can't leave everyone hanging. What are those seven business terms that I knew


Russ Powell: You were going to say? I know you're going to ask me. And I can't remember because I wrote a little while ago, but it's stuff like it. Stuff like like how many marketers understand what a book to bill ratio is, OK? If things like that, it's sales terminology that every salesman salesman sells, women's sales person will have a down payment. But as a marketer, do we understand that? Do we understand how what we do as marketers can influence or impact a book to bill ratio or what. What what. Ibbett Doloris like, do marketers understand what Evett Diaries and how how that needs to be influenced in terms of what comes in, in terms of revenue for the business as well. So is it shifting the conversation of marketing from Colerain in department to value add in ROIC and in function.


James Rostance: Oh yes. You know, how about this, right. I can appreciate you haven't got them to hand. And you know what? If I'm put on the spot to remember seven precise steps, I'd struggle as well. So would you like to maybe use the Internet and find your seven points right now? And I can fill for twenty seconds whilst you find that. How does that sound?


Russ Powell: Let's do that. I know exactly where it is as well. OK, all


James Rostance: Right. So if you're just joining us right now, Russ Powell live from Wokingham is is busy getting the seven business terms that's set. Seven business terms are all B2B marketers should and need to know and where he's going with this. Is that by as a marketer, if you know and appreciate and understand these business terms, you'll then be able to ultimately make more of a compelling case for what it is that you do within the business and equally the value that you can bring. It was pretty much on point with where you were going with that, Russ.


Russ Powell: Yeah, and I think to to to to sort of regain a bit of faith I did right in July last year, so it was a little while ago. So so they were great. But yeah. So the seven business terms that all marketers should know, gross profit, EBITDA, net profit.


James Rostance: Well you can explain what better than just for anyone who doesn't


Russ Powell: Say Bittar is a is an acronym stands for earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization. Perfect is the word that I always struggle to say. Yeah, I'm amortization is a fancy financial word. That means speckling payments over multiple periods. Direct from the blog say yeah, gross profit, EBITA net profit. But to build LTV, CLV say lifetime value or customer lifetime value add are monthly recurring revenue very important in SAS land and capex and OpEx. What's the difference between the two and how does a marketing investment get funded?


James Rostance: So capex is capital expenditure and OpEx is operational expenditure, right. Indeed, yeah. There we go. We could be a really good pub quiz team for if it involves heavy B2B marketing. Yeah. Questions so. What would be some of the mistakes to avoid to let me say this again? So what would be some of the mistakes to avoid when setting about following your principle for the three pillars?


Russ Powell: Um, so I think mistake number one would be around the creativity angle. And obviously with experience as a stand up comic, people are going to think that I'm advocating that everything needs to be funny. But there's a big difference between saying that's funny and something that's fun. And it's it's handy to to make sure the distinction is there. So the way I like to talk about it is that one group of people would say that Peter Cave is very funny. Another group of people would say that Frankie Boyle is very funny, whether you think they're funny or not, if you cross streams with those two groups of people. No, nobody's going to think anything's funny, whereas if something to fun, it's more lighthearted and again, this is kind of tapping into these hooks and these these common commonalities. And, for instance, there's there's an advert on on telly at the moment for zero, the accountancy software. And it's got a bloke who's got a stack of receipts in a garage and he's got a little robot friend that helps him. And it does the receipts and they go off to a funfair and they have a lovely time and they get jokes about clown and all that kind of stuff.


Russ Powell: And it's not funny per say, but it is fun and that's what people engage with. So it's about you don't have to be funny, but it's good to be fun. And I think the second one is something I've already mentioned is that don't try and make something for everybody. Find your audience, understand them and and market to them. You don't you don't have to market to everyone. You have to market to the people who are going to buy from you either now or down the line. And I would say that and with the the value and ROIC side of things is don't assume that everyone's going to get it straight away. So people people have entrenched views about marketing. People have different thoughts and opinions on marketing. And you may not be able to change those with one conversation, but if you can consistently and consistently is the key word, consistently demonstrate value and a focus on ROIC, then you will change perceptions and get marketing viewed in a much more positive valuating way.

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About the author

James Rostance

James specialises in producing B2B marketing marketing videos.
He has a particular interest and focus on sales psychology, persuasion and influence techniques.

The art of direct response copywriting is another key area of interest and specialism, whilst his favourite topic area is the alignment of sales and marketing teams within B2B.

James is a three-time published author in video production and marketing, and he is the founder of WOW Video Production.

As presenter of the UK’s #1 B2B Marketing podcast, The 414, he has a unique understanding of the latest best practices and techniques.


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