B2B: Boring, bland, boorish, beige, bummer? Or bow ties?

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on August 8, 2013

From The News Desk

Visage CEO Bzur Haun

When people pitch me a B2B enterprise story, it's like a masochistic challenge. Can I write about this complex, boring company that helps other companies in a way that won't make people fall asleep? I'll be honest, it's really hard. Usually by the time I cut through all the jargon, I want to kill myself.

Anyways, my ears immediately perked up when I met a B2B company that had a different branding strategy than overwhelming you with excited, hyphenated phrases like "best-of-breed," "top-tier," and "world-class." Enterprise mobile company Visage takes a new tact and they put a bow tie on it. Literally.

I came across this story because I sat next to Visage's CEO Bzur Haun at a dinner and I asked him why he was wearing a bow tie. I thought perhaps he was just a hipster-preneur, but it's actually his company's "thing." Visage salespeople show up to every conference wearing jeans, vests, and a variety of bow ties. They tell their customers in advance, "Look for us. We'll jump out amidst the sea of company polo shirts." They hand out free bow ties at their stand, and all the employees have become expert bow tyers.

Visage may not have the sexiest mission in the world. They track businesses' "mobile spend," ie whether employees of a company are wasting money in the way they use work tablets and phones. You know, sending a million texts while on a work trip overseas, or expensing your cell phone bill every month instead of being on the company cell plan. Visage lays all the information out in a pretty, readable way so a company's execs can delve in and see what departments, individuals, and behavior are costing it unnecessary money.

This is not a story about what Visage does though. This is a story of why Visage employees are way more fun than what they do.

The company decided that B2B doesn't have to stand for boring to boring. For the last year they've been using their bow tie shtick to spice up the brand, and CEO Haun has been recognized in random places -- like airports -- as "that guy from the mobile company."

Granted, it's not like companies sign up for Visage simply because it's the bow tie company. But the stunt does help the Visage name stand out in a sea of same-ness, especially at conferences.

"It makes us approachable," marketing VP Neil Cohen says. "We've got a limited budget. We're a startup, and we don't have Cisco marketing dollars. So this is a way to convey...the personality of the company."

It all started because CEO Haun had a slight penchant for bow ties (I knew it! Hipster-preneur!) He would wear them on the good days -- when Visage closed a deal or hit a milestone. Then he started wearing them to conferences and business meetings. Before he knew it, strangers would see him at mobile events and come say hi -- he became a mini-mobile star.

Then Visage brought on the bubbly Neil Cohen as head of marketing, and he immediately spotted the bow tie branding opportunity. After meeting Cohen in person, I'm not surprised. He's a whirling tour de force of social power. The man knew my entire back story before we ever met, and kept the dinner party laughing all night long. I'm half convinced he drank a few Red Bulls and prepped a stand up comedy routine in advance.

Cohen turned the Bzur Haun bowtie brand and applied it to the whole company, setting in place the new marketing motto -- put a bow tie on it. He tries to make Visage's marketing efforts quirky so that they stand out.

Bow ties aren't the only thing he's tried -- he also turned himself into a mini-celebrity when the company attended a mobility conference at The Venetian Hotel in Vegas. In the weeks leading up to the event, instead of tweeting generic statements like "come see us at booth 193," Visage created the "Gondola Neil" Twitter profile, with a photo of Cohen dressed up like the Venetian gondola rowers. Gondola Neil tweeted funny things in advance, like "How are you going to expense your gondola rides at #CF2013?" Cohen, of course, was an insta-celebrity when the conference actually happened. "People enjoy that we don't take it all so seriously, even though it's a serious business," Cohen says.

Of course, it's a little hard to track whether bow ties and social media stunts are having a demonstrable effect on Visage's bottom line. It may draw attention to them, but that doesn't mean the attention translates into sales.

Fortunately, it's not like Visage has to invest a lot into its quirky strategy. Haun just passes out his bow tie stash to employees at every conference, and makes sure to wear one himself wherever he goes. "I think B2B consumers are just like regular consumers. They buy Coke and McDonald's and Nike," says Cohen. Business execs are people too? Shocking.

[Image credit: Jessie Edwards]