05 October 2017

Here’s Where We Draw the Line: How Illustration Can Help Market Technical B2B Products

Sometimes it seems like B2B marketing is all about contradictions. When we’re providing messaging and marketing for technology companies, we want to:

  • Give it personality, but be serious.
  • Explain it correctly, but make it easy to understand.
  • Show it accurately, but make it visually engaging.

Frequently, we find the solution to these contradictions in a surprising place: illustration. For many of our B2B clients, illustration lets us have the best of both worlds. With illustration, we can be technically accurate and personally approachable at the same time. Here are three reasons that illustration helps resolve the contradictions in technical B2B marketing.

Attitude

Traditionally, illustrative marketing is associated with softer industries. It’s appropriate, for example, when the audience includes children, or to market products that need to seem friendly and full of personality. But that does not mean that an illustrative style has to be juvenile. It’s easy to avoid associations with children if shapes are clean and sharp, and nothing looks “cartooney.” No smiley faces, guys…

What we do find is that illustrations, even grown-up ones, can give a welcoming and approachable attitude. Take the example of KCF Technologies and their highly-sophisticated sensor. The sensor monitors industrial systems for signs of wear and tear. It looks highly technical. Engineers who see it want to get their hands on it, but photographs or blueprints might not speak well to KCF’s audience of business owners.

Moving to an illustration of their sensor let KCF focus on the primary message. “This product gives voice to your machines.” Most importantly, it took a technical concept and made it relatable. As soon as we added word bubbles showing how the sensor “talks,” it had an attitude. It was no longer just a thing. It was a helpful thing. Everyone on the project started thinking about the sensor with affection. That sort of connection to a product is every marketer’s dream. And it’s possible to achieve through illustration without seeming childish.

Clarity

The second reason we love illustration for B2B clients is clarity. You’ve already determined the core messages you need to send to your audience. Well, illustrations can be designed to show just what matters–and leave the rest out.

Importantly, this does not make illustrations less accurate than photos or realistic design. Rather, it lets them focus on the most important features. When Drucker Diagnostics developed a new centrifuge, they wanted to focus on its speed and flexibility. Instead of explaining that verbally or using photos, we created a video. Animated line drawings called attention to exactly the right features, showing them in action.

With illustrations, we could show only what mattered. The product became relatable, and its value was clear. That’s why illustration worked for Drucker.

Flexibility

The final reason that illustration works well for technical B2B clients is its flexibility. Technical workflows are hard to describe, and they’re hard (often impossible!) to show visually with photography or video footage. But visual storytelling is important for marketing. Where photos and footage fall short, illustration is flexible enough to make visual storytelling easy. With illustrations, even the most complicated workflows look clear.

When a product needs to be shown as part of a bigger workflow, illustration can let you do just that without hiring a big video crew. For example, Minitab’s Companion software is designed to improve process improvement. That’s a complicated idea: you have the original process, existing improvement strategies, and then Minitab’s solution on top of it all. By illustrating workflows, users and computer screens, we could tell the whole story. It was visually unified, clear, and only as detailed as it needed to be for the specific audience.

Better yet, the same style can be used again, for additional materials directed to a different audience. Changes in focus and storytelling are easy with illustration–far easier than organizing more footage or photoshoots. For a unified style that’s completely flexible, illustration is the ideal solution.

Where We Draw the Line

Relatable attitude, clear value propositions, and flexible presentation of information. That’s why illustration matters for technical B2B marketing. And it’s why you should add illustration to your own marketing toolbox.