A version of this story appeared in Total Annarchy, my fortnightly newsletter that helps you be a better writer, storyteller, marketer. Get it in your inbox; you’ll love it.
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Pop quiz time:
You run Marketing at a B2B company that sells industrial floor-cleaning equipment. You want to amp up awareness and demand with your audience of commercial and municipal facilities managers.
But it’s… well, industrial, floor, and cleaning.
What would you do as a tactic in your 2020 content strategy? Pick one:
- Point a camera at your CEO in a regular fireside chat to demonstrate how the brand is there for you in these trying times
- Hire an Instagram influencer and their family to literally eat off a scrubbed, sparkling, Covid-free floor
- Launch an old-school, year-long essay contest to find stories about janitors
If you’re Tennant Company… you go all-in on #3.
And I love it.
It speaks my love language: Writing. B2B. Storytelling: telling true stories of actual people in their own words.
And also: Embracing the most-outlandish-idea-wins brand of marketing. Not just thinking outside the box, but shredding the box and recycling it into something new. Like maybe paper to write an essay on.
You might say this program… wait for it… floored me. 😂
B2B Storytelling at Its Finest
Tennant’s Custodians Are Key contest invited anyone to nominate a K-12 school janitor who is making a difference. The winning custodian would receive $5K; the school, $10K.
More than 2,000 US teachers, administrators, and other staff nominated custodians, each writing an original, 500-word-ish essay on their favorite janitor, and why he/she matters to their school.
The winner was Kris Kantor of Hayes Elementary in Lakewood, Ohio. Kris was nominated by School Health Aide Maureen Yantek, who wrote:
Kris makes a lasting impression about the importance of doing a good job while showcasing kindness and decency to everyone.
Kris knows the name of all 300 students at Hayes Elementary, she said, and he created a lunchtime woodworking program (“Kids with Kantor”), supported by the local Home Depot and a local independently owned hardware store in Lakewood—partnerships Kris initiated.
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I just thought of another, more personal reason why I love this program: When my son Evan was in kindergarten, he asked me if we might give a holiday gift to Charlie, his school’s custodian.
“Did you know that Charlie traveled into a secret compartment above the ceiling to fix the lights?” Evan said at the time.
He actually used the word “traveled,” like Charlie was a Hogwarts custodian apparating through a drop ceiling, brandishing a fluorescent tube like a wizard wand.
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How can your own B2B storytelling program similarly… well, clean up?
I talked to Tennant’s Bryan Smith (senior marketing manager – Americas), who generously shared the details:
B2B STORYTELLING works only when it’s got a human hero at the center.
“Custodians are much more part of the community than in other vertical. In many verticals, cleaners work at night or at off hours and are not really seen as part of the team. While school custodians are not always recognized for what they do, the rest of the school community knows them, knows what they do, and has a higher degree of appreciation for them.” —Bryan Smith
Takeaway for you: Who’s the unsung hero at the center of your story?
TRIGGERS TO SHARING. This program delivered unprecedented earned media + social sharing for a company that struggles to generate either.
Takeaway for you: If people don’t want to repeat your story… it’s probably not a story.
CUSTOMER INTELLIGENCE. The floor-cleaning equipment sales process is—as for many B2B products—a complex labyrinth of multiple decision-makers, difficult purchasing procedures, government contracts, and distributors. This program helped Tennant understand whom they were actually selling to.
Takeaway for you: If you don’t sell directly to the end-user, find a way to engage them emotionally in your marketing while also respecting distributor relationships.
OG B2B INFLUENCERS. Principals, superintendents, and business managers typically think of floor-cleaning only as an expense line item. A story well told helps to drive brand affinity among decision-makers.
TIMING + AGILITY. There’s no way that Tennant could have anticipated how much schools would change between the start of the program (September 2019) and its end (June of 2020). But with society’s renewed focus on cleanliness, custodians will likely be asked to do more—not less. Tennant plans to launch a new version of this program in two weeks.
Takeaway for you: The pandemic (or another crisis) shouldn’t alter your story. But it 100% changes how you tell it.
THIS IS THE ROI BULLET. Custodians are typically not decision-makers or influencers in Tennant’s world, but many of the nominators are. So, Tennant’s BDRs were able to nurture them into sales leads: “a very warm to call to thank them for recognizing a colleague and then steer that into a sales conversation. We have seen very strong call to MQL conversion—north of 30%,” according to Tennant’s Smith.
Takeaway for you: HOLLA. That’s not just a drop in the bucket, is it? (These puns are just writing themselves this week.)