Emotion-led B2B tech marketing with Richard Maclauclan, VP Brand at Workhuman

Focussing on the end user can get your B2B tech organisation ahead. While we often think about the final decision makers who sign on the dotted line for B2B purchases, it’s often users, researchers and non-executive roles who champion your product. 

On this episode of the FINITE Podcast, Richard Maclauchlan shares his approach to emotion-led, human-centric B2B tech marketing. As VP of Brand at Workhuman, Richard knows what it takes to strike a chord with customers and drive a business with purpose. 

This episode covers:

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Full Transcript:

Alex (00:06):

Hello everyone, and welcome back to the FINITE Podcast. Thank you for joining us for another episode, where today I’m speaking with a guest who has a career spanning some very innovative products and organisations. Richard Maclauchlan is always hired to get things off the ground, such as the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour by Coca-Cola back in his B2C agency days. 

He pivoted him to B2B tech when he led the development of brand and activation for Log Me In’s portfolio of enterprise SaaS products, including GoToWebinar. Now, Richard is VP of brand at Workhuman. It probably needs no introduction, but Workhuman is a leading enterprise HR platform where Richard is currently taking an emotion-led approach to brand marketing. 

On the podcast, we’ll be hearing more about Richard’s background, and how he’s making the end user a central focus at Workhuman. Enjoy. 

Before we continue with the episode, I’d like to give a quick shout out to our partner Terminus. The only account based engagement platform built to deliver more pipeline and revenue through multichannel account-based marketing as the only native multichannel marketing platform. Terminus helps you convert target accounts through orchestrated campaigns using personalised advertising, email signatures, and chatbots. Visit terminus.com to learn why doing effective ABM at scale means better marketing.


Alex (01:20):

Hello Richard and welcome to the FINITE Podcast. Thank you for joining me.


Richard (01:24):

Alex. Thank you for inviting me. I’m honoured to be a guest.


Alex (01:27):

Very happy to be talking. I think as we were talking about, just before clicking the record button, brand is high on the priorities list at FINITE and the more we can do to shine a light on anything brand related, I think the better. So I’m looking forward to this discussion. Before we dive into it, I’ll let you tell us a bit about yourself and your background. And I guess the interesting journey you’ve been on to your current role.


Richard (01:49):

Thanks Alex, 105 podcasts in, it’s about time we started talking about brand in B2B marketing.


Alex (01:56):

We have done some by the way, so we haven’t waited for 105 episodes, but you’re right. We should definitely do more.


Richard’s background in marketing 

Richard (02:00):

So a little bit of background and experience. I spent a decade of my life, mostly on the agency side, really started in as a product marketer on FMTG brands and then moved over into an agency called Ignition, which was really hyper focused on experiential global sponsorship marketing for some of the biggest brands in the world. That organisation was acquired by The Creative Group where I spent several years leading sports entertainment content marketing arm of the group in the Boston region, really focused on experiential media, experiential events and activation and all about infusing this never before done type activation into really traditional mediums. 


After a decade, I had spent so many hours and experiences around the world working on some of the biggest brands, and now really being the Vice President of Brand Marketing at Workhuman. And what does that mean, it means I oversee an incredible group of around 70 marketers around the world, where we focus on brand management, creative operations and technology workplace experiences, with an integrated plan of how all of those things connect from a brand perspective, but then also how they fuel sales and customer acquisition and retention.


Alex (03:48):

Cool. Quite the journey. I know we’ll talk a bit more about that move from B2C to B2B soon. Tell us about the current marketing team structure and how everything works at Workhuman. What’s the size and shape of a marketing function?


Richard (04:03):

Yeah. So’s marketing is approximately 70 people with a presence in the EMEA markets as well as in North America. We have a really customer acquisition and retention marketing organisation, we have a brand organisation, a traditional structure in that both my counterparts report up into a CMO and we support everything from top of the funnel all the way through the customer relationship and customer communication. So we are young in nature and really scaling a hyper-growth organisation like Workhuman.


Moving from B2C to B2B marketing

Alex (04:39):

Cool. So let’s dive into it. I think an interesting starting point is that move from the B2C to B2B world. What prompted it?


Richard (04:56):

Curiosity and growth. When you’re sitting in the Boston region in a community that is so focused on innovation and technology and this education hub that we’re in, you realise really quickly what you don’t know, and that is a lot. And specifically spending over a decade on these sexy consumer-focused brands where you can be experiential in your creative, but also in your tactics. 

There’s a large part of the B2B organisations, which I just didn’t know anything about. And there were just too many conversations in succession where I would sit in a room with a community of marketers and not know what they were talking about and that really spiked my curiosity. 

Making a shift if I was going to make a shift, it had to be dramatic. A major learning curve where I could bring that B2C marketing experience to the table. And that was the major move of going to a hard technology sales organisation like LogMeIn.


Alex (06:00):

I guess any career shift can come with a risk, but was there any aspect of, it’s quite a bold thing to do. And I guess a lot of people might not have, sounds like you wanted the growth, but some people might not have the confidence to, do that kind of thing. Was it difficult at the time?


Richard (06:15):

Yeah, it was extremely difficult. I think it’s extremely difficult to convince a B2B organisation and marketing organisation that your skills and experience in building B2C brands from strategy all the way through to execution and measurement can ladder into their world, making the move less difficult. 

I think it was worth the risk in that there is an incredible opportunity that you can always go back to B2C. I could have always gone and stayed within the agency. I could have gone back to other agencies. I could have gone to B2C brands. And I asked myself the question, what would it add to my base experience? 

And there wasn’t much, and I think the B2B route was risky, but the reward would be extremely high. Even if it didn’t work out, I would learn something that I just didn’t know as a marketer before.


The state of brand in B2B tech at the moment

Alex (07:12):

Yeah, it makes sense. And so what’s your take on the landscape right now of B2B tech brand. I mean, it’s probably a broad and generic question. I think we see all kinds of different B2B tech companies in all kinds of brands, from the extreme and corporate to the much more human and emotional, but can you zoom out and look at B2B tech as a broad category?


Richard (07:37):

Yeah. I think on the marketing front and with only a few years within the B2B marketing front, my sense is that brand is placed into a bit of a bucket. It’s automatically placed into marketing as a function. It’s treated a little bit like a walled garden.

Everybody knows they need it, but they’re not too sure how to use it and because it’s placed into marketing, it becomes a weighting exercise where most B2B organisations that I’ve been a part of, specifically weight more heavily towards your customer acquisition and retention, which is really critically important. 

It’s my role to make sure that we can make acquisition and retention of customers easier, but through the foundation of brand, I think we’ve proven over and over again, that prospects both current and future who are exposed to brand level messaging, brand campaigns, brand assets, and creatives that are really top of the funnel really help drive a higher volume and quality of engagement and activity further down the funnel versus those who are not exposed to those brand messages higher up in the decision making stage.

I think there’s also a component of, because you’re in this waiting organisation of customer acquisition and retention, and it’s such a hard technology sell. In most cases, we also tend to focus heavily on the decision maker while neglecting the role of the end user in that entire ecosystem. 

And I think ultimately that does not support some of the other goals that we know as a marketing organisation, which is really about delighting the end user to inform customer retention. So I think this weighting of where brand is usually placed, who it has to compete with for budget in order to survive, but then also its larger role, that brand is usually everything that the organisation does from the employees to the messaging to campaigns. 

And I truly believe that brand is equally as part of acquisition and retention and demand generation marketing as it is a part of brand marketing as a function.


Optimising for the end user rather than the decision maker

Alex (09:54):

Interesting. I think that point around decision makers is a fascinating one. Like the amount of companies I see obsessing over their buyer personas being the CTO, CIO, whoever it might be in the decision making. The person that signs on the dotted line for the contract, but actually even in the research phases, it’s often not them looking for solutions, it’s potentially the end user or potentially people beneath them. 

So I do find we are often over optimised towards people that we think are the most important, but actually there’s a lot of people around the edges that are really involved in the decision making as well. So it’s interesting you say that.


Richard (10:32):

I think there’s an incredible component of that, which is that in most cases, when we talk about the target audience, we automatically reference the title versus the interplay. And if we focused on the interplay of how a decision is made, you won’t see it as decision maker versus end user. 

We will look through it as a series of activities that we know we need to influence where therefore there will be certain instances where decision makers or C-suite do come into that. But it might not be where you start decision makers, it might be where it ends when a decision is ultimately made. 

And specifically with some of these larger enterprise technology deals, there are multiple millions of dollars. And therefore there is a cohort of individuals that need to make a decision incorporating our end users, actually going to adopt this technology into the organisation.


Alex (11:26):

And is that what you refer to when you talk about human centricity generally within the marketing funnel? Because I think that’s that relationship between that top of funnel brand. And we could probably do a whole other episode on demonstrating how investing in a brand impacts demand and how that captures demand. Demand gen can be so much more effective when the brand is strong. It’s often hard to connect the dots, but it sounds like that human centricity piece is a big part of your way of thinking about the whole marketing funnel.


Richard (11:56):

Yes, I think unless you’re selling into robots, which sometimes we tend to classify decision makers as. There is a part of being human in the marketing that needs to occur. And that means that there is the need for emotional engagement and placing emotion as part of how we build the product, how we infuse it into our messaging and our marketing campaigns at brand and customer and within the acquisition and within retention. It’s going to be absolutely critical and has always been critical. 

I think it’s the reason why we’ve seen some of the more B2C brands start tapping into these cultural moments. Nike owning the black lives matter movement. We’ve seen that with Burger King and this whole rise of their moulding burger. We’re starting to see that now in the rise of B2B around being really emotionally engaging first. 

And I think it’s one of these incredible opportunities where the human is driving and leading in the market and that the human and employees have just become the worth more than any other tangible asset in the global economy. When you think about what the pandemic has done to businesses right now, it has ripped the life out of these ecosystems that currently exist. And for the first time in a really long time, CEOs are asking these difficult questions around engagement and culture and social connection and human connection in the workplace. And it’s literally become a trillion dollar problem. It’s a trillion dollar problem for the organisation. 

And bringing that back into the sale is most likely gonna be feature functionality and process based. And we’re gonna be comparing feature to feature, sale to sale, process to process. There is a way here to differentiate on how do we go to market as a brand to appeal to the human aspect of decision making. 

And then at the same time, how do we build the right service model to be customer centric, to focus on their challenges and support them both in a product as well as in human users, our sales and consulting group, our customer success teams to work with our customers every day to help them solve some of these biggest human challenges that they’re facing within their organisation.


Can purpose-led marketing pose risk to a B2B tech org?

Alex (14:13):

Do you think that getting, you gave examples of like Nike and the black lives matter campaign, and subjects that can be at times quite divisive, whether they should be, or shouldn’t be, can sometimes feel risky for a brand to put their name to, or get behind at risk of pleasing a certain group or alienating another. 

Do you think B2B is generally more risk averse and not willing to put their neck on the line when it comes to those types of big campaigns or issues we face as a society generally?


Richard (14:45):

I definitely think there is a component of that. I think when we focus so closely on the decision maker, we lose the link to the emotional part or the human component of a decision maker of how we would treat an end user. I think it’s definitely one of the aspects as a company where we are a purpose built organisation. 

Human is a part of our brand proposition and there are significant challenges facing the workplace. Some of them, I mentioned before, some others are DEI in the workplace, gender equity in the workplace, it’s become part of our marketing strategy to hit those head on. We run an online event called Workhuman spotlight, where we specifically take an unfiltered unscripted approach where we are bringing in thought leaders. 

We are bringing in our customers where we are asking them to tackle these subjects of DEI and gender equity in the workplace head on, and be frank and be direct and tell us what we are doing and what we are not doing as a collective community to make it better. And I think it’s just one of those experiential to experiential activation, but also innovation in how we see our role in the workplace. And as a brand in the world.


Implementing experiential B2B marketing 

Alex (16:02):

Tell me a bit more about that experiential side of things. Because it sounds like your time agency side and working on more consumer brands, that was a big part of what you did. Is it a focus for what you do now, still in the B2B world?


Richard (16:14):

It’s really cool to who we are. I think when we think about experiential and that form of marketing, it really is about creating a memorable connection between a brand and a customer, both current and future. I think naturally we’ve extended the experiential marketing function into our events portfolio, both online events, as well as physical events on the ground, where we run something called Workhuman live every year. 

This is not your traditional HR conference. And sitting there, I know what you’re probably thinking about when I say HR conference, this is in some way the complete opposite of that. And we take that into how we source our speakers, how we drive content, how we work with our sales organisation in sales pursuits. 

It’s how we look at our data, how we visualise that, and then how that manifests itself into let’s say digital experiences as well as physical experiences. I think when we look beyond connecting experiential to innovation, there is a really fine line between those two terms. And I think it’s how we look at everything now in terms of how we engage our customers, how we use experiential and how we use the assets that we have our own assets across data and event properties, and figure out how we actually take those into market. 

We’re doing some things traditionally and then looking at traditional models of proven things that we know have worked and then executing them in new mediums that we’ve never executed in before, which in most cases, most B2B brands are not activating in. So looking at the medium level at the same time. 


Alex (17:54):

Interesting. So obviously you’ve done the B2C/B2B shift, but this is actually your second B2B environment. LogMeIn was prior to Workhuman. Are there differences that you’ve seen between the two environments, how you think about brand, how you do marketing? I guess LogMeIn was the first B2B. So yeah, big differences between the two or actually lots of similarities?


Richard (18:16):

A ton of similarities. I would say obviously these two brands are in very different marketplaces. One is focused on remote work tools and Workhuman is a trust and advisor to human executives, really focused on retention and engagement. And it’s one of the aspects I really love about B2B. They share a lot in common regarding the pandemic in that the pandemic drove an incredibly fast focus on remote work tools. 

Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Goto. I remember that moment in time where the pandemic hit and the rise of the LogMeIn business and the competitive landscape, really the entire market came to us at LogMeIn. And that’s very true for Workhuman. When the pandemic hit, being the leader for 20 years, it placed this attention on people in the workplace, employees’ work life balance, remote workplaces. 

And I spoke a little bit earlier around how the CEOs and boards started to focus more on the great resignation and now the great talent swap. And I would say the last 24 months brought the markets’ focus back to both brands, both Workhuman’s suite of products, as well as LogMeIn’s. I think the fundamental difference between the two organisations specifically in how we go to market has really got to do with the depth of product knowledge, someone’s depth of product knowledge as an end user, as well as the interplays and decision making on remote work tools. 

What we’re leveraging right now is extremely high and the direct connection of that to business outcomes, I think that’s one of the things around Workhuman. What we’ve been doing for quite a long time is about creating this frame of reference on what we offer, what its impact is on the bottom line for businesses and then how we live alongside these more traditional process driven technologies that enterprises have as part of their standard suite of products.


Whether a B2B tech company should be product led, process led or tech led 

Alex (20:28):

I want to talk a little bit about how to tell when a B2B tech software company is led by product, tech, or more process. I know we were talking before about something that can be more human led and I think you have a really strong focus on the end user. Actually I hadn’t thought about it this way before, but actually now talking about it, it makes a lot of sense to think about that differentiation.

What’s the difference between them? How do you decide the approach? I think we’re guilty in the B2B tech world of leading by the product and features and what it does and how it works and less so on the impact, or even the why we exist and what we believe about the world as a company.


Richard (21:11):

Yeah, I think it’s a really interesting perspective. Product led, sales led, marketing led, process led is mostly associated with a business model and a revenue model. I think with Workhuman, human is our name, and I think there’s a big part of it in that we can be all those things. I think what guides our decisions, how we support our customers is really through human insights and therefore being purpose led. 

We are a purpose built brand. We are a purpose built organisation. It’s why Eric Mosley founded this business 20 years ago. And it’s how we approach our day to day work, both from marketing, from sales, to how we develop our product, to how we design them, to the features and functionality that we actually build.

It is all in service of helping our customers, which are some of the biggest customers in the enterprises in the world, to solve these major challenges on turnover and culture development and performance management and the simple act of recognition, gratitude and appreciation in at the individual level. 

And then how that manifests itself in building the culture across these global enterprises. So I would say from a Workhuman perspective, we’re purpose led and that purpose drives how we go to market. And then also how we service our customers beyond just our product. 

We have a strategy and consulting organisation. We have the Workhuman IQ teams who look at really deep dive into the human aspect of data and what’s happening within our organisation. And how do we create better connective networks that allow performance to thrive, culture to thrive within an organisation. 

And then also how would we make sure we appeal to the end user? How do we make sure we focus on HR executives as well as the program owners of our technology within the workplace. And then how do you do that? Over 180 countries in 30 different languages allows us to scale and adopt that across our variety of different customers, sizes, verticals, segments, et cetera. 


Should B2B tech companies always be emotion-led? 

Alex (23:28):

Do you think there’s ever a situation where a B2B tech company shouldn’t be as interested in this side? Everything we’re talking about emotion is there. You’ve been in LogMeIn and Workhuman, which are both actually end user focused. They’re solving a problem. They’re very human solution focused. 

I think Workhuman to another level, but even LogMeIn as well. I guess maybe I’m just playing devil’s advocate, but is there a case where actually you don’t you need to worry about building a strong emotional, human led brand? Actually you can just get away with being a big boring technical, dry corporate tech brand?


Richard (24:08):

I’m sure there are instances where that statement is true. I think from my perspective, if we are selling a technology where a human is behind that decision, I think it’s proven over and over again that emotional engagement is critical for all companies to advance and scale. 

And if we took a people leadership model, where if you appeal to the heart, everything else will follow the role of emotion and getting the right level of emotion. Let’s say getting that level of emotion right, that represents your brand, your purpose, but also connects to how that manifests itself within your organisation, how it manifests itself into your employer brand, how you recruit the right people to fit or not fit your organisational culture. 

I think there is a distinctive role for emotional brand building behind a purpose that’s going to drive business success regardless of the vertical. If you’re B2B2C or the traditional B2B model.


Alex (25:13):

That’s a great answer. And I think the point at which we wrap up as we’re out of time. I think there’s a lot of reflections there, but I think that particularly for me the focus on the end user. And I think if there’s a takeaway for everyone to think about is not that obsession over the decision maker and actually having a bit more of a holistic view of everybody that your product is serving and helping, is a healthy way of looking at things. But it’s been a pleasure talking, Richard, thanks for joining.


Richard (25:36):

Thank you so much for inviting me. I really enjoyed it.


Alex (25:39):

Thanks for listening. Before we go, just one final shout out to our FINTE partner, 93x, the digital marketing agency working exclusively with ambitious fast growth, B2B tech and SaaS companies. Visit 93x.agency to find out how they partner with marketing teams to drive growth.


Alex (25:55):

We’re super busy at FINITE building the best community possible for marketers working in the B2B tech and SaaS sector to connect, share, learn, and grow. Along with our podcast, we host online events, share content and have an active slack community with members from around the world, including cities like London, New York, Singapore, Tel Aviv, Stockholm, Melbourne, and many more. Head to finite.community and apply for a free membership to strengthen your marketing knowledge, build your network and connect with ambitious B2B tech marketers across the globe.


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