Is branding less important in b2b so that b2b marketing budgets are smaller?
This was one of the topics discussed at the latest ISBM meeting that Vivaldi attended along with a number of ideas for b2b marketers. ISBM is a great network of business-to-business marketers, a discipline that is near and dear to our heart at Vivaldi. We argue that b2b selling relationships are based on trust, and that a solid reputation can be short-cut in what is a long and complex selling process – which makes brand central to the value proposition in b2b. B2b brands also often have very complex, multiple targets that require a sophisticated messaging architecture, nuanced by target audience but building up to a common theme – so we would argue that b2b branding often involves more complexity that consumer branding.
A few key ideas emerged as “red threads” across the meeting as ideas for b2b marketers. First, the idea of “challenger salespeople” (a concept from the recent Corporate Executive Board book) as being the most effective – salespeople who throw off buyers by offering an entirely new, unexpected perspective. This concept is akin to Daniel Pink’s idea that sales today is more about “problem-finding” (i.e. identifying a problem the customer may not be aware of) rather than “problem-solving (executing a predetermined approach for a problem that may not fit the mold). One of the meeting participants shared her allergy of “problem-solving” as a cliché of b2b branding – a sure candidate for killing on any b2b company’s boilerplate. In contrast, “problem-finder” brands train their salespeople to think content, not sales tactics. Just as in the digital world, savvy brands act as publishers (using content marketing or sometimes even native advertising that were much discussed), effective sales today means more than sales – more than order-taking – more than service – but “problem finding”. Challenger salespeople internalize what the brand stands for and live it out ruthlessly, and “problem-finder” brands train their sales teams to carry its values even in the most tricky situations.
The second idea was to have a marketing approach targeted at every stage of the funnel – which in a digital ecosystem can become much more precise. Advanced targeting (through tools such as Semcasting) can help identify buyers from specific companies. Analytics can dig deeper through attribution modeling (with tools such as C3) that lays out the buying process through a series of touchpoints (online banners, blogs, social media) and helps understand the link between “early-funnel” tools and the final buying decision. Retargeting can then help drive prospects more efficiently through the funnel by adding additional touchpoints for prospects identified as high potential (e.g. by adding advertising, offering rebates etc). 3rd party data overlay helps gather data from a number of sources into a consistent model. Finally, demand-side platforms can help optimize the marketing budget by avoiding intermediary mark-ups.
Finally, beyond a more targeted distribution focused on the most promising buyers, the engagement strategy for each funnel stage also relies on targeting content. There was a great discussion on the role and changing nature of content – from “content is king” of the late 1990s to today’s targeted content: we are not talking anymore about one type of content but about targeted content for each funnel stage. Content to build awareness or reputation will not be the same as content conducive to building trial or loyalty. In a similar vein, talking about “bite-sized” content may be misleading – one of the great comments was that bite-sized will always lack depth for sophisticated buyers such as engineers. In b2b, the size of the bite is different from what consumers can chew off.
As a conclusion, companies often put a lot of creativity into defining their brand – to extract their ROI, the same level of creativity is needed for an engagement program that will make sure that the new brand is truly internalized by the sales force who are equipped to become “problem finders” and challenge clients. Similarly, the marketing plan for the new brand is central to its success – this is where the rubber hits the road. This marketing plan needs to be thought through on a granular level – with specific tools and approaches for each stage of the funnel. The tool palette of the b2b marketer has expanded dramatically, and making the right choices is what will determine whether the brand gets enough visibility or not. Launching a new brand is the crowded b2b space is hard enough – you are better off getting all your ducks in a row first.