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B2B Storytelling – How Philips puts people at the heart of a blockbuster strategy

August 23, 2023 Our Work

Let’s talk about storytelling in B2B marketing. In my experience, B2B companies love the idea of telling a good story, but when it comes time to actually doing it, they start sweating a little, and start to say things like, “Yeah, but what about the real-time data? The real-time data’s our USP – they really need to know about the real-time data…”

Well, yes, there’s no doubt that you’re selling to a business, and there’s definitely a time and a place for the product and its features. But there’s still a human being at the other end of that, and people respond to stories.

So, to make my point, I want to show you the 2015/2016 Philips “Innovation and You” rebranding campaign. 

The art of the story

To give you a little context, Philips has long been a well-known leader in consumer electronics, but wanted to change its brand perception to show itself as a leader in the health tech sector as well. That’s why, in 2013, Eva Barrett – Philips’s Head of Global Brand Marketing Communication – and her team decided on a strategic B2B content marketing campaign that would be emotionally engaging and “connect and create conversations with [their] audience”. And of all content marketing strategies, there is no better one to do this than video.

They wound up producing 50 videos. We’re going to focus on just 3 of them. 

In 2015, Philips partnered with T Brand Studio to create a series of beautifully-shot, raw, and authentic stories discussing health solutions and their impact. The power here is in the story, not the solution. 

And when I say power, I really mean power. Let’s start with “The Longest Night” – the crown jewel of the health solutions campaign. For just short of 4 minutes, the movie follows the life of an Icelandic fisherman who struggles with insomnia, even after working in harsh and tiring conditions for days at a time. And for just short of 4 minutes, the score, the close shots, the pace of his speech and of the narrative all give you – the viewer – a taste of just how worn-down and helpless this man feels. Talk about power…

The second video features a cyclist with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). It’s similar in tone and reinforces the central theme of sleep and breathing disorders related to chronic conditions. 

The third video follows a 72-year-old Karate master in Okinawa, Japan, but this one is suddenly different. The old man is happy, he’s in good health. He talks philosophy and gratitude, but as the images go by and you see him growing up in the sport, you realise what Philips is saying: innovation is helping seniors live longer.

If you haven’t already, I really, really, really suggest you check the videos out.

Why it works

I want to zoom in a little more now (no pun intended), and take a closer look at the actual marketing elements at work. 

First up, the locations. By showing three different conditions, in three different cultures, I would argue that Philips and T Brand Studio do a great job at demonstrating the universality of the problem. After all, how many of us are Icelandic fishermen? Or sports cyclists? And yet the variation really drives home that this could be any of us.

Next, there’s Philips itself. I really think there’s an elegance to the fact that there’s no brand mention until the very end of these short movies. There’s not even any product placement (as far as I can tell). The videos give centerstage to the people, and Philips only appears at the end with a brief mention of their support and then their logo. Instead of saying “buy our products”, Philips is showing that they understand and care. How they help is almost incidental. They have already successfully evoked emotion, and this (almost) alone will drive brand awareness. 

And last, there’s the people (I don’t want to call them “characters”). What would you say Philips and T Brand Studio are doing by drilling their stories all the way down to single individuals like this?

The case I would put forward is, first, that these short movies are 4-minute-long mission statements. Businesses love to say that they do whatever they do for the people. Unfortunately, not only has that statement become cliché, it’s pretty anonymous. By contrast, each one of these videos give the statement a face and a voice. 

Second, I would argue that the people are the common ground between Philips and its real target audience. Because remember: none of these people are going to walk into some shop and ask for the Philips product. Philips sells to healthcare companies – this is still B2B marketing. By putting the focus on the end benefit, Philips is, in essence, creating a shared purpose.

And then, let’s talk about features for a second. Features definitely have their place, but I’m very squarely in the school that believes marketers – especially content marketers – need to drive home value. We can get into the why’s and how’s some other time, but I truly believe that, without even having to state it, T Brand Studio helped Philips say, “Our product and your expertise help these people live better lives.”

Increasing the impact

Despite the great deal of creative freedom Philips gave T Brand Studio, the content was highly targeted. Studio Director Kaylee King-Balentine commented that Philips “gave us the freedom to tell the best story we thought the audience . . . would want to see.” 

No piece of marketing succeeds in a vacuum – build it and no one will give a damn, ‘cause guess what? The market’s crowded. 

This meant creating a range of other content, more direct in its approach. In a series of paid advertorials in the New York Times in the US, in the Guardian Australia, and on websites like Forbes, Philips promoted its campaign with infographics (scale of sleep apnea across the world) and testimonials (end-users). Philips also partnered with Ogilvy in the UK and “The Longest Night” became a Vimeo staff pick, which essentially guaranteed it thousands more views and reinforced its value as a non-editorial feature. 

At the same time, Philips created an “Innovation and you” digital storytelling platform on their own website, where they could curate stories from their research labs, sales teams, etc. Most of us would call this a blog, but the attention, here, is again on using it to tell stories.

What about how?

Dan Squire, a Content Writer at The Marketing Practice makes a really good point on how you’d go about creating a great series of stories like the Philips campaign. “I don’t think the starting point would be hiring a ‘storyteller’,” he says. “I’d start by talking to sales, because they’re the people who know the customer best.”

He then goes on to remind marketing teams that it’s important to not get lost in an “esoteric cycle of abstract complexity”. What Philips did, he explains – and what content marketers should always use as their North Star – was to weave a simple, yet dominant, message into its campaign.

Additional resources

Somersault – Since we’re on the topic of B2B visual storytelling, I want to point you towards the guys at Somersault. Their client list includes Pearson and the London Stock Exchange, and have some great case studies where their “external” storytelling has helped transform their clients’ internal mindset and sense of purpose.

Breaking Bad – It just so happens that another example of great storytelling involves one of my all-time favourite TV shows. If you haven’t seen it, you have your priorities all wrong. Unlike most TV shows, which strive to run as long as possible, the story of Walter White, chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin, was so important to Gilligan, that he turned down an offer of $75 million to make more – now that’s commitment. Click the link to watch a short highlights reel.

And now it’s over to you – did you enjoy this case study? What are some other campaigns/companies/content strategies you’d like to hear about?

Get in touch and let me know!

Take care,


Tammer Mahdy

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