B2B - A different view

The narrative themes of childhood loss and endeavour recur on 3 floors of the Foundling Museum in London where the contents of the UK’s first home for abandoned children are curated. But there is hardly a child featured. It’s a little surprising for a museum about children – almost as if they have been abandoned for a second time. It could be deliberate of course, but it doesn’t feel like it. The omission of the primary subject almost feels like… an oversight. A mistake.

The walls are hung heavy with the oily portraiture of worthy saviours and benefactors, but there are no children. There are videos of reminiscent adults now able to articulate their stories, but there are no children. There are ledgers that recorded the consumption of boiled beef, gruel and pottage served daily from the kitchens, but there are no children. There are carefully displayed tokens and keepsakes left by parents. But there are no children.

The museum exists because of children. It attracts visitors including children. But the subject matter has been almost entirely missed from the experience of visiting and the content presented. There is undoubtedly a story to be told about the abandoned children of London, but this isn’t it.

It wasn’t until I completed 3 floors of disappointment that I ventured into the basement to discover an exhibition by the artist Jacob Epstein. The subject of his studies in bronze were exclusively of children.

I turned a corner and saw a low-level statue in the middle of the floor entitled, '12th Portrait of Peggy Jean (The Sick Child) – 1928'. I was looking at the bronze top of a child’s head. The artwork revealed very little from my elevated perspective, so I found myself squatting down on my haunches as you would to talk to a child at his or her own height. From that angle the face became visible, everything started to work the way the artist intended. The statue simply came to life.

I ended up sitting, staring at the bronze, cross-legged on the floor attracting knowing looks from the curators (and some ‘tisk-tisking’ from the worthies). At last, I was fully engaged.

All it required was a change of perspective.

What does this have to do with B2B marketing strategy or B2B branding? Well, it struck me as a reasonable metaphor for B2B brands, and their supporting content strategy, that somehow miss the subject and fail to engage or inspire the audience. Re-read the above few paragraphs and replace the word, ‘children/child’ with the word, ‘brand’, and you may see what I mean.

Corporate structures, edifices of museum-grade B2B tedium have been built, filled with mostly irrelevant platitudes considered to be ‘thought leadership’ and labelled throughout as company brand marketing. And yet the entire point has been missed. The customer perspective requires a changed position. Sometimes the vantage point is not elevated – an alternative position can transform a subject from the ordinary to the extraordinary and reveal otherwise hidden truths of much greater value.

It can take a long time before a B2B organisation realises the improved potential of a better brand position. During that time however, they waste energy attempting to force the brand into places it doesn’t want to go – ask any parent about the futility of that exercise... The company spends time creating a corporate ‘brand museum’, void of creative marketing, where customers fail to enjoy the experience. Brand awareness is ‘built’, processes become automated, data is gathered, analysis is presented.

And yet almost everyone ends up asking, “Where are the visitors…?”