Can You Learn the B2B Boogie? 

Using Mascots to Market B2B Products

by John Hiatt, InternetViz Editor in Chief


How “Lean” and “Rusty” help get the point across 

Consider this scenario: You’re presenting to a group of flinty-eyed prospects. You’ve rehearsed well; your whiz-bang PowerPoint slides are heavy with features and benefits. But when you look at their faces, your heart sinks: They just aren’t “getting it” are they? You can tell from the blank looks, the glassy eyes. One or two are looking at their watches. Uh oh.  

I'm Just Not Getting it!

If you’re nodding your head and recalling that been-there feeling, you’re not alone. That’s just the sort of situation that led Lou Washington, senior marketing manager of Cincom Systems’ Manufacturing Business Solutions division in Cincinnati, Ohio, to think about new ways to communicate complicated business concepts so prospects don’t need a degree in industrial engineering to get the point.

MIPS and Pixel to the rescue  ( See the slide show)

A couple years back, faced with marketing what he calls a “legacy product set,” Washington needed a way to communicate all the reasons why mainframe systems, even though they no longer get a lot of play in the media, are still viable and may be superior in certain IT environments, compared to newer, sexier technologies.

He teamed up with graphic designer Tom Hortel, and the two started brainstorming ways to use cartoon imagery. The goal: compare and contrast old vs. new technology in a lighthearted way that emphasizes the positive side of both. They came up with two anthropomorphic characters called “MIPS” and “Pixel.”

MIPS represents entrenched technology and looks like a large box adorned with knobs and dials. He instantly triggers memories of mainframe installations, temperature-controlled environments and centralized computing power. Pixel, in sharp contrast, is lively, faster on his feet, and adaptable to all payoffs from newer, distributed technologies. The two good-natured adversaries enliven articles Washington has written for Expert Access, and have appeared in customer presentations.

Although the two mascots have not achieved Laurel-and-Hardy cult status just yet, the response to MIPS and Pixel has been positive to say the least. Requests have poured in for hats and t-shirts featuring the beloved duo, and additional marketing opportunities are being explored, including featuring them on company websites.

 Lean and Rusty join the fray

The newest members of Washington’s cartoon sales force are “Lean” and “Rusty” who help communicate the value propositions inherent to ERP-based systems and lean manufacturing methods. Rusty looks like an old-style, steel smokestack on a brick foundation. He moves around on treads and, well, feels a bit clunky. Washington says, “Like he’s had too much Dioxin.” Lean, like his cousin Pixel, is ultramodern, lively and probably dances to hip-hop.

Among other things, Lean and Rusty educate customers and prospects on the value of “green manufacturing,” and how Lean ERP systems can help companies meet their green goals.

Lean and Rusty will likely appear in customer presentations and adorn merchandising premiums such as t-shirts and hats.


And ... Dare You Try? 

The "Big Lou B2B Boogie"  -  a world premiere music video trailer.

But ...







The success of Lean and Rusty has encouraged several low-brow, no-class anthropomorphic imitators.

Low-Brow, No-Class Imitators Will Appear

See the slide show!

Want your own B2B Mascot?

Businesses have used mascots for years in consumer marketing, to help establish brand identity and give products or services personality. As for the marketer’s Holy Grail, aka “top of mind” recall, who doesn’t know that Tony the Tiger hawks Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes or recall the Pillsbury Doughboy? Both are directly responsible for millions in top-line revenue.

While new to the business-to-business (B2B) marketing scene, the Aflac duck is a more recent example that gets plenty of play on television. “No one knew about Aflac until the goose walked out,” as Washington puts it. “Our objective with Lean and Rusty is similar. We want to get the word out in a positive way, with a strong image and build awareness.”

Washington offers this advice to fellow B2B marketers who want to explore using mascots to get their point across:

  • Set realistic expectations. Clearly, the B2B sales dynamic differs from the consumer world. Chances are your products and services are more expensive, the sales cycle is longer and clients aren’t wide-eyed little kids saying, “I want that, Mommy!” Washington is quick to caution, “Mascots are not salespeople and cannot take their place.” Mascots can build awareness, he says, so that “people will pay attention to your message and remember you the next time you call.”

  • Don’t let the mascot outshine the message. It’s easy to get so caught up in the mascot and its story line that you allow the mascot to overshadow the marketing message you want the customer to remember. One example is the recent Geico “Neanderthal” ad campaign. It has become so popular that there will be a spin-off sitcom featuring the woolly characters on American television this fall. “If you didn’t tell me who the sponsor was, I wouldn’t know it was Geico. Their little gecko character is a lot more memorable and a better tie in.”

  • Get the graphics right. “You need that creative someone on your team like Tom Hortel. He is not only a brilliant artist, he also understands the business you are in,” says Washington. Otherwise you’ll spin your wheels educating staff, while they come up with a cute mouse or other characters that don’t support the message you want to send. Our inspiration for MIPS and Pixel, for example, was a pair of cartoon characters from the old children’s magazine Highlights, which he read at the doctor’s office. “Goofus and Gallant were strong characters that communicated proper behavior and sent the right message,” Washington says.

  • Figure out a way to measure the value. As mentioned earlier, the response to Washington’s characters has been significant  but largely anecdotal. “I wish I could point to a direct three percent increase in revenue,” he says. Experts often advise using pre- and post-testing to determine recall rates in advertising, or measuring click-throughs on your website to gauge popularity. Other measures to consider include downloads of free screensavers or orders for imprinted merchandise.

To stand out from your competition, Washington says, “think outside the outside box.” Pull out all the stops. Allow yourself to be creative, to brainstorm for fresh ideas and let your inner child come out and play. Otherwise, you may get bogged down in “corporate-think” and retreat to something everyone will accept, something too plain-vanilla to get the “ah-hah” reaction you want. Instead, use something original to captivate that flinty-eyed audience you were trying to reach.

Mips, Pixel, Lean & Rusty         Slide Show

Low-Brow, No-Class Imitator  Slide Show

The Big Lou B2B Boogie           Music Video


John T. Hiatt, InternetViz Editor

John T. Hiatt worked his way through the University of Wisconsin J-School freelance writing, performing on stage at the student union and hustling pool.  His first job out of school was writing a management newsletter for a major life insurance company. After a few years in PR, advertising and marketing for small businesses, he ended up in California at Entrepreneur Magazine, becoming editor in chief. That led to a stint as managing editor of Financial News Network, back when it was a startup operation.  Since then ,John has focused almost exclusively on B2B writing and editing. He's held senior editorial management positions and launched newsletters for publishers like Harcourt Brace, Prentice Hall and Marsh USA.  


John tells everyone he is a semi-retired pre-geezer, but we don't believe it either.


John is also a member of the world's first (and only) kick'em to the curb e-breakdancing InternetViz E-Zine Team.

About Lou Washington, AKA Mainframe Master of MIPS and ...

I started my career in information management from the somewhat misunderstood field of Records Management. Following four years of working for the University of Missouri System's Office of Records Management, I joined Tab Products Co. in 1980. Shortly thereafter, I became interested in the software business, PCs and how those systems would shape the enterprise of the future. We were transferred to Tab's then corporate HQ in Palo Alto, CA. I was the first Product Manager for Tab's Tracker systems software products that utilized a PC-based bar-coding system to track the movements everything from files to capital assets. I believe it was the earliest example of workflow automation available on the market. I was also peripherally involved in Tab's Laser Optics division, which brought to market one of the earliest business systems employing CD-ROM and WORM technology as an information storage media.

In 1990, I returned to Cincinnati and joined Cincom Systems where I began to learn about and work with mainframe-oriented products and systems. In those days, there was a real "split" between the mainframe forces and the desktop proponents. I always found this to be amusing since both had so many positive things to offer an enterprise. I could never understand why anyone would offer one at the exclusion of the other.

My present role at Cincom involves a number of things including product security, pricing, finance, packaging and industry research.

My wife, Barbara, and I reside in Park Hills, KY. I am a member of Blessed Sacrament Church, and I am active in a local car club, Cincinnati Cruisers. We are a group of PT Cruiser owners who enjoy tricking out our cruisers and driving around annoying people who have to drive boring cars. I am the Webmaster for the Cruisers and I invite everyone to visit and check out our awesome rides!