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The Bard of B2B


"O, my prophetic soul!"

That's Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5. The eponymous Prince of Denmark is responding to intel from his father (a ghost) that his uncle murdered him (the father, not the prince). In modern English, he's basically saying "I knew it!" Literature professors often point out that Ham didn't, in actuality or at least in the text, suspect his uncle until his father clued him in. But that's neither here nor there. Hamlet suddenly believes he did, so he did.

In Shakespeare, as in advertising, perception is reality.

William Shakespeare lived 400 years before the setting of fictional agency Sterling Cooper (Draper Pryce). But, many of his most famous quotations offer great lessons for agency people and marketers. Especially B2B marketers. Here's what we mean ...

Let's start with one of Will's earlier plays, Henry VI, written in 1591.

"Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven."

What the playwright is saying, far more poetically, is "Do your freakin' homework." Whether you're an account executive, creative director, media planner, or myriad other titles working for a client, take time to study their business, their market, their competition. The most clever, pithy, and memorable campaigns are only effective because a team of people did a lot of digging before they actually created the campaign. This is especially true for B2B campaigns. There's a good chance that you, a marketer, are not a prospective customer of your client. You have work to do before you sit down to do the work.

In his history play about another Henry, Henry VIII, Shakespeare gives related advice.

"Things done well and with care exempt themselves from fear."

In marketing, as in most pursuits, mistake happen when you rush, cut corners, or act care-less-ly. The simplest example is proofreading. Does anyone really enjoy that mind-numbing task? No. But, have you ever felt the terrifying, punch to your stomach when you realize that something went out with a typo? It's a lesson that stays with you.

Romeo is similarly advised wisely by Friar Laurence (y'know, before the good friar gives Juliet the sleeping potion that simulates death that makes Romeo kill himself and then Juliet kills herself and ends Romeo and Juliet with a double suicide).

"Go wisely and go slowly. They stumble that run fast."

In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare points out the difference between knowing and actually doing.

"If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men's cottages princes' palaces."

In more pedestrian language, walk the talk. Spouting marketing theory is all well and good, but you have to get your hands dirty.

Hamlet may have been a bit (okay, more than a bit) delusional, but the play has many lessons for marketeers.

"Brevity is the soul of wit."

Short and sweet is almost always preferable, and can be a particular challenge for B2B. Staying away from laundry lists of technical specs and features is a near constant battle. That doesn't mean that technical specs should be  tossed, but they have a time and a place, and — guess what — that's not your outbound email or social media ad. With so much digital and mobile marketing, brevity is now even more important. (Hmmmm. Maybe Hamlet was more prophetic than Professor Barnet gave him credit for.)

"Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice."

We've long soliloquized that the best marketing is a two-way conversation. Don't talk at your customers; talk with them. In fact, go a step further and let them direct the dialogue.

"Suit the word to the action, the action to the word."

Here, the melancholy Dane, dressed perpetually in black like a New Yorker who can't afford dry cleaning, was speaking to a troupe of actors. We'll interpret his direction a bit differently. Suit the word to the picture, the picture to the word. Copy and art direction need to go hand in hand. They work together. In fact, that proposition isn't limited to pictures. Typography, colors, layout, design elements ... every tool a designer has at hand should support the written word, and vice versa.

And here's one last thought from Hamlet.

"We know what we are, but know not what we may be."

Okay, that's actually from Ophelia, Hamlet's on-again/off-again, ill-fated significant other. As B2B marketers, this is another area where you need to dig. Think beyond job titles to inner vision. Don't create campaigns for emergency room doctors, create them for superheroes. Don't limit yourself to programmers, imagine Jedi knights. Appeal to a person's idea of who they are and who they want to be, regardless of what's on their business card.

And finally, it does seem like Shakespeare made an accurate prediction of what life in a twenty-first century ad agency would feel like. He described it pretty accurately. As King Lear reads ...

"When we are born we cry that we are come into this great stage of fools."

Then again, fools just want to have fun. If we didn't love this business, the day-to-day ups and downs, the action, we'd be doing something else. Right? Or, as we can learn from Troilus and Cressida ...

"Things won are done; joy's soul lies in the doing."

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