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Visual of From A Prank To The BankBy: Laura Thompson, Digital Marketing Specialist

April Fools-style marketing tactics have become extremely commonplace in the consumer world (so much so that I expect any email or digital communication that I see on the 1st of April to contain a hoax message).  While planning for April email campaigns earlier this year, I began thinking about the implications for non-consumer brands. Since this methodology has helped generate some truly impactful and memorable campaigns in the B2C world, can it be leveraged to support B2B projects?  I have seen a limited offering of examples or best practices as applied in this space; however, if properly planned and executed, I feel that there is the potential for short and/or long-term benefit for B2B programs.

Hoax Campaigns in the Consumer Marketing World

Taking the approach outside the realm of April 1st, some companies have played upon the hoax strategy as part of foundational marketing efforts and have seen success.  MailChimp’s recent multi-channel campaign (which apparently targets B2B + B2C) reinforces the brand’s vibrant personality by making fun of the company name (MailShrimp/Kale Limp/Jail Blimp).
A few years back while at an email-focused agency, I worked on an April Fools campaign for a CPG brand that ended up impacting the company’s evergreen marketing strategy.  For the campaign, Annie’s Homegrown wanted to play off their iconic bunny mascot, Bernie, along with the overwhelming success of their mac and cheese product.  On April 1st, we deployed a product announcement email featuring  “Bunny Tails” (with pasta in the shape of the backside of the bunny).  The joke campaign was so well received that Annie’s collected an onslaught of communications from customers asking for the product.  The company added it to their evergreen product offering, locking in long-term benefit from both a profitability and brand equity standpoint.

How Can We Apply this Type of Planning to B2B Campaigns?

Here are some tips to help guide evaluation of the potential impact on your brand:

1.     Revisit Marketing Goals – When considering this form of campaign strategy for B2B support, it’s important to evaluate potential alignment with your marketing goals and methodology for measurement.  Is there a potential brand problem (lack of engagement, limited brand personality, etc…) that could be solved with this type of tactic vs. more traditional marketing strategy?  Or could you potentially surprise and delight your target audience, while preserving and strengthening your brand?  Hoax campaigns provide a great opportunity to display an atypical facet of the company’s voice by allowing the brand laugh at itself or turning traditional brand attributes upside down.  If the method opens the door for engagement, you can potentially deliver a targeted offer or route the customer dialog back towards a more traditional CTA path.

2.    Balance Risk vs. Reward – To help temper any potential risk from this type of campaign, a brand could lean towards a conservative, brand-safe approach. For April Fools last year, Salesforce played it safe with their hoax messaging and touted the launch of PuppyForce, a Twitter-focused campaign centered around a playful incorporation of dogs into the company’s operations.  In doing this, Salesforce took part in the April Fools fun in a manner that was non-disruptive to the brand.  One key consideration here… if you make the message too subtle, people may not realize it’s a joke.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are situations where the potential reward or opportunity outweighs the risk and justifies a more extreme approach.  Electronic invoicing solutions provider Basware created a disruptive April Fools campaign by distributing fake invoices to customers to drive awareness of fraud in the space.  West Elm used a similar “transactional” approach to drive engagement for a B2C campaign – deploying an email with the subject line “Thanks for your order!” and a fake receipt highlighting potential savings (this was not well received by their customers).  The inadvertent risk for this type of approach is high; however, by using the element of shock and surprise, the brands aimed to capitalize upon the opportunity to capture the attention of their target audience and drive engagement.  If you decide to take a riskier approach, potential considerations for legal or regulatory guidelines are key along with creation of an adaptive remediation strategy, in case it is needed.

3.    Evaluate Audience Impact – Once the campaign goal(s) and other parameters are clarified, it’s important to identify your target audience and associated business rules.  Regardless of where your target falls on the lifecycle of lead to customer, it is helpful to think about the standard personas and attributes for the audience with consideration for generational variables. For example, since authenticity is fundamentally important for messaging to millennials on both a consumer and professional level, allowing the brand to take a more human approach by making fun of itself could be an impactful way to engage the decision makers in this audience.

4.     Weigh Timing, Frequency & Delivery Method – April Fools’ Day falls on a Saturday this year and therefore outside of the standard business week.  Considering this, along with the fact that most of your audience may be inundated with hoax messaging on 4/1, it may be best to target another date (or another period of time overall) for deployment. Due to the nature of this type of strategy and the surprise factor, frequency is also a key consideration (you don’t want to create an expectation for the joke… remember the boy who cried wolf?). Because of  timing considerations and the viral nature of this form of messaging, hoax campaign strategy naturally aligns with digital marketing channels (social, web, email, content/PR); however, isolating a channel vs. offering a channel mix could impact the visibility and results that you see.

In closing, there are numerous reasons why a hoax campaign could work to support B2B goals, but evaluation of risk scenarios is an important consideration.  At the very least, this type of strategy may be worth testing as an option to spark engagement or showcase a different brand facet.