Three years ago, LinkedIn Sales Solutions launched the Real Faces of Sales campaign to counter negative representation of salespeople in the media. It’s now one of the longest-running marketing campaigns in our business’s history. It has helped to raise awareness of the role modern sales professionals play in the success of their customers, and also increased unaided brand awareness of LinkedIn Sales Navigator by 250%.
The Real Faces of Sales effort has taught us a lot about how to successfully combine brand and purpose in business-to-business marketing:
1. Purpose-driven marketing must be authentic to your brand. Critics say marketing campaigns focused on social issues can distract from the real roles of brands in their customers’ lives, and don’t really differentiate one business from another. However, a purpose that is important to your particular audience—and relevant to your business—can bring your brand and customer base closer together.
The idea for Real Faces of Sales was sparked by LinkedIn research that told us 79% of business decision-makers believed media portrayals of salespeople sold the profession short in the stereotypes that populate TV shows, movies and stock image libraries.
While we had a clear objective to raise awareness of our LinkedIn Sales Navigator suite of tools, we also believed salespeople weren’t getting the credit they deserved. A campaign to dispel myths about salespeople helped bring together a community. It also enabled us to show not only that we understand salespeople and the outdated perceptions they deal with—but that we cared enough to do something about it and had a solution that could help.
2. End users are the best possible cast for your brand story. When you’re serious about a cause that means a lot to your community, make members of that community the heroes of your campaign. It’s an approach that a growing number of B2B tech brands are adopting.
The first phase of the Real Faces of Sales campaign addressed the issue of negative media stereotypes directly, by creating a new image library of real salespeople who reflected the diversity of modern sales.
We made our images available to download for free on stock libraries, like Unsplash and Pexels, and launched the campaign with a film introducing the people behind our Real Faces of Sales. So far, our images have been downloaded about a half a million times, and appeared in publications like Fast Company and Forbes.
Our marketing team has used these real salespeople, who we featured, as a sounding board and ongoing storytelling resource. We’ve turned to them for insights about the sales profession, including during the rapid pivot to virtual selling over the last year. And we’ve been able to revisit their stories in different phases of the campaign.
3. Brand purpose needs codes and consistency. One of the concerns about purpose in branding is that these campaigns often don’t contain enough brand-building elements. Because cause-related campaigns are focused on a specific issue at a specific point in time, they don’t stick around long enough to build salience in the minds of an audience. Because they’re focused on an external issue, they don’t have consistent brand codes and tone of voice.
We’ve built on Real Faces of Sales every year with new content and campaigns. In each phase, we have used the same language, and applied LinkedIn’s visual style and iconography to ensure a brand connection. The authenticity of the stories also became a form of brand code in itself, and the consistency turned Real Sales into a brand platform.
4. A clear sense of purpose facilitates agility. Purpose can give a campaign more than just a strong emotional connection to your audience. It also provides a valuable sense of direction to help keep marketing aligned and relevant when circumstances change.
With sales professionals navigating the pivot to virtual selling in 2020, the Real Sales campaign focused on the new ways that salespeople have worked to build relationships from a distance, under the theme “Connecting With Your Customers’ New Reality.”
The Real Sales campaign has continued to resonate even as the landscape for sales has changed. And that’s because it’s more than just a campaign. Purpose isn’t just a tactic. When it’s genuinely relevant to both your business and your audience, it’s one of the most enduring and flexible assets a brand can have.