Ask any human being of a certain age who, given the choice of C-3PO and Han Solo, they relate to more. Ask which one of the pair they’d prefer to be likened to.
You already know the answer, right? It’s the sexy, wise-cracking guy with a blaster that somehow makes a waistcoat and jodhpurs look cool.
And yet many B2B marketers actively choose to be C-3PO as soon as they enter their workspaces.
In case you’re struggling to remember, or have never seen the original Star Wars movies (in which case shut your browser right now because you’ve got more important things to do), C-3PO is the shiny, gold robot who talks like, well, a robot. His appearance is flawless and polished, his manner pointlessly formal and subservient.
C-3PO has a thing for using technical, complex language and is hugely risk averse.
In short, C-3PO is B2B marketing.
If C-3PO had a Linkedin profile it would read something like this:
First-class droid, skilled in physical, mathematical, and medical sciences and programmed for etiquette and protocol.
Fluent in more than six million forms of communication and comfortable with high technical complexity.
Built by Jedi Anakin Skywalker but also has served Princess Leia Organa and Luke Skywalker at senior level as well as numerous others across the Resistance.
Awesome podcast guest with inspirational story, global interstellar experience and a powerful network.
While we B2B marketers inadvertently resemble C-3PO with our addiction to corporate and technical jargon, perfectly shiny appearance, religious faith in logic and boring, scaredy-cat approach, we actively snub everything we love about Han Solo. In fact we show nothing but contempt for the characteristics we admire in Captain Solo.
What makes Han Solo a fierce leader of the Rebel Alliance are the same things that make him the opposite of C-3PO. He’s flawed. He’s scrappy. He’s cocky. His tendency to act on instinct in the absence of a plan. His refusal to bow to anyone but then also, his loyalty to friends and commitment to doing the ‘real’ right thing as opposed to the ‘politically’ right thing.
And his bravery.
For if we’re looking at substance over style, the main thing that separates Han Solo from C-3PO is that Han is prepared to take a risk.
C-3PO is a pessimist who fears the worst. He has a weird fetish for oversharing to anyone in the room, the improbability of success and indeed the likelihood of a horrible death in the next few space-minutes.
All the other characters involved in the Rebellion believe in hope and optimism. Including R2-D2, C-3PO’s best friend and fellow droid. So if you’re wondering whether this is just me indulging in a rather nasty strain of ‘droid-ism’, it isn’t.
In fact, if for any reason R2-D2 were seeking an alternative career, he would make a far more effective B2B marketer than C-3PO. R2-D2 combines unrivalled data expertise with creativity and perhaps most importantly, bare-faced cheek.
I’ll bet C-3PO loves thought leadership white papers. Unnecessarily long introductions full of complex words and phrases – that then in turn necessitate a glossary to explain those words – are, I don’t doubt, among C-3PO’s favourite things.
R2-D2 would not, I suspect, enjoy thought leadership white papers. Han Solo definitely wouldn’t. He probably doesn’t check his emails regularly enough to find them pitched in his inbox but even if he did, he wouldn’t download them and absolutely wouldn’t read them.
Do you sound like a droid?
I estimate there’s a million blogs and other pieces of content urging you to make your business sound more ‘human’. I’m sure I agree with many of them.
But even after we’ve read these blogs and nodded sagely, there’s the small matter of how we do that and who decides on our tone of voice* (*for more on tone of voice, “the only weapon at the marketer’s disposal with the power to triple the value of a business” according to Doug Kessler at Velocity Partners, read the chapter in my book Boring2Brave entitled ‘Find Your Voice’).
Have a look at your content, your sales collateral, your email campaign subject headers, your sign offs, your social media posts and ask yourself: ‘Do I sound like a person or a droid?’
‘Am I allowing myself to be funny or irreverent…even scrappy?’
As a first step, think about why you love Han Solo or, for that matter, why people like each other.
Why do we love funny people? What is it about the making of an instinctive, spur-of-the-moment joke that makes people feel so alive and engaged?
It’s part of the same reason we love blooper-reels from our favourite shows and movies.
Sometimes coming off as real, maybe even making a mistake but bringing everyone in on the joke, makes for better content than always sounding perfect and polished.
Can marketing content be funny?
Experiment with it. It’s not for everyone. There’s probably less opportunity to be funny if you’re in cyber-security or health tech. It’s no bad thing though to find someone capable of writing really good jokes in your copy when appropriate. Humour’s powerful. It makes people like you (and what else is marketing all about, if not that?)
Approaching your marketing in C-3PO mode means the majority of your target prospects and customers will remain blind to your messaging and copy. You’re not giving them a single match with which to spark any excitement.
You want proof? How many of you have posted something like this onto social media?
‘Excited to be hosting this exclusive webinar/panel/fireside chat aimed at showcasing how today’s most forward-looking businesses are capitalising on the latest trends to elevate and maximise their opportunities in tomorrow’s marketplace by utilising ‘next-generation’ frictionless data solutions’.
Any idea what this session is all about or how you might survive it if you were sitting in the front row and couldn’t leave early?
Not just a B2B thing
By the way, accidentally being C-3PO isn’t just a B2B thing. B2C companies sometimes unintentionally choose to be C-3PO rather than Han Solo too. Check out this incredible job description attached to a vacancy at Unilever (thanks to copywriter extraordinaire ‘Wordman’ Dave Harland for directing me to this):
MAIN JOB PURPOSE:
The Enterprise UX Assistant Manager is a member of the Packaging Excellence Team (within the Packaging Capability) and reports to the Digital Experience Change Leader. The purpose of the UX Designer is, to establish user experience design practices for Packaging’s internal digital tool development through applying collaborative design techniques and user/client centred communication approaches. This will help deliver valuable, usable, appealing and engaging digital enterprise user experiences underpinning the strategy to Disrupt through Digital.
How much do you love that? Clearly written by someone who’s bigly into SEO. Read it again one more time and hover for a moment to luxuriate in its glorious gibberish.
I adore that the Packaging ‘Excellence’ team sits within the Packaging ‘Capability’ team.
“Rob, you’ve done it. You’re joining the Excellence team…the packaging elite.”
“Great, who do we report to?”
“You’ll report into the head of ‘merely capable’.”
Impressed with the pure ‘C-3PO-ness’ of the job description I went looking for the job application form. If you’ve got the appetite for more – or you just want to feel better about the copy of the last job ad you published on LinkedIn, cast your eyes on the instructions for applying for this role:
“Please note: As part of the job application, you will be asked to complete a brief online application form. Completion of the form is required in order to be considered. Please allow yourself enough time to complete the application form as when filled out partially or not at all it may adversely affect the progress of your application. Please be aware that you will have to complete the form at once as you will be unable to return to it later.”
I mean…wow. Just, wow. “There’s a form to fill in to get the job. You know, like an application form. Only, you should have it under advisement that the form is necessary if you want to be considered, so definitely fill that thing in. With your details. But – and here’s the big ‘but’ – if you DON’T fill it in, we won’t actually be able to consider you for the job. Because the two things are connected. And when you fill it in? Well, you’ll need time – time to do it. Because that’s the other thing we didn’t tell you yet – actually filling it in will take you some…time. And fill it in fully too. Don’t go missing important bits out because then…then it wouldn’t be ‘filling the form in’; it would be like, ‘not quite filling ALL the form in’…and that’s no good either…” Etc
You get my point. Many of us are wasting a lot of time sounding like a Star Wars character that at best, we all felt a bit sorry for.
We should start sounding like the character everybody gravitated to, the one everybody listened to, the one we all wanted to be.