In a recent edition of her Total Annarchy newsletter, Ann Handley made a bold statement about branding when she referred to ‘Weird Barbie’ as a ‘Hero in Marketing.’ Being ‘weird’ or different than everyone else, she explains, is what makes you memorable. “It's your own stories. Your own history. Your own perspective and point of view. What you say and the way you say it. That's your weird. That's your fate.” That’s branding.
Yet more often than not, B2B brand strategy efforts focus more energy and resources on sales activation over branding. After all, sales activation brings short-term wins, satisfying our desire for instant gratification while temporarily alleviating anxiety.
In its resource, “2030 B2B Trends: Contrarian Ideas for the Next Decade,” the B2B Institute predicts three major emerging developments in B2B brand strategy by 2030. From the outset, the authors bet on branding over sales activation with the bold statement, “B2B brand builders will be the most in-demand marketers by 2030.”
They explain this in detail, but here’s the nutshell version: Rather than creating demand, sales activation enables businesses to capitalize on the existing demand that already exists. “Brand building is what actually generates demand, in both the long term and the short term.”
Now that the publication is three years old and the predictions still have another seven years to (possibly) come to fruition, our team decided to explore these predictions in more detail from our own ‘weird’ B2B marketing agency perspective.
Although the above statement about demand gen versus branding may seem to favor branding, the authors recommend a 50/50 split between the two. Kuno agrees for the same reasons they do, the first being that while those short-term wins are necessary, brands build trust. People are more likely to buy from brands they’ve heard of versus a no-name brand with a logo they don’t recognize.
The challenge for some CMOs will be getting out of the habit of thinking that anything that doesn’t drive leads right now in a tangible way is worthless. Building awareness is key to sales down the road, but it’s difficult to directly attribute sales to brand assets. We often have similar conversations with clients around content like blogging and social media posts, which are all about awareness and rarely generate revenue.
That is, at least not directly and in a way that is measurable.
Let’s say a potential customer comes across one of Company A’s blog posts when searching for alternative energy sources for their manufacturing plant. The blog post discusses one of their alternative energy innovations. Later, they see a video of one Company A’s products in a LinkedIn post, which directs them to a product page. They review the product page and download the sales sheet. And then they sit on it for a while.
Maybe they hear one of Company A’s employees speak at a conference and happily recognize the brand that has become familiar to them. Then, when they see a retargeting ad that suggests a free consultation, they click on the link. Is the ad responsible for the sale? No, but neither was the blog. Or the product page. It was the brand recognition and trust, ultimately, that drove the sale. And that brand recognition was the result of many contact points for the customer that included the logo, name and other brand assets.
Want to increase your revenue? The Institute recommends increasing price rather than offering sales and discounts, and claims, in another bold statement, that “decreasing price sensitivity might be the single most important effect of marketing.”
They cited research showing that increasing pricing by as little as one percent can result in a 10% percent profit increase, while increasing sales volume by the same amount doesn’t yield the same dramatic results, with only a three percent profit increase. Unlike B2C marketing, B2B buyers often don’t know the price ranges out there and they aren’t concerned because they aren’t spending their own money.
“Buyers are willing to pay premium prices for strong brands,” they explain. We’ve seen this hold up with the premium brands we’ve worked with. The Institute's research revealed brand building becomes increasingly important as a company raises its prices, which also makes sense. If you’re spending money, you’re more likely to bank on the winning horse in the race, and that horse is the premium, widely-recognized brand.
So if you want to work smarter, not harder by raising prices rather than increasing sales volume through discounts, make elevating your brand a part of your B2B brand strategy.
In keeping with the publication’s title, the Institute argues that to be successful, you need to be bold. Even if you make the ‘right’ decision, “...if all of your competitors make the same exact decision, then you wind up with no competitive advantage and at that point, you might as well be wrong.”
This means taking risks. Our clientele is a mixture of B2B and B2C from a variety of industries, but weighs much more heavily on the B2B side. Big risk-taking is not something most of our clients are willing to do, unlike the B2C conglomerates cited in the article, such as Disney.
The report’s writers support our observation that B2B companies are unwilling to take huge risks. “We are so afraid of creative flops that we attempt to de-risk the process by making lots of small bets,” and in the cluttered noise of the information age, that won’t cut it.
“If you’re not spending at least 50% of your budget on a single creative idea, you are not betting big enough,” they advise. This goes back to their original statement that being both contrarian and correct is the winning combination, and so you need to bet big when you have a different but right idea.
They argue that Disney’s brand strategy of betting big on familiar stories with distinctive or ‘weird’ styles and then pushing those stories out in every channel possible will work for B2B companies.
At Kuno, we often find that new CMOs want to try new, not familiar, things on a smaller budget. They might even seek our help because they’ve whittled down their team and need to outsource certain areas of marketing.
We agree that people like familiar stories told in unique ways. All you have to do is to pay attention to modern movies and books. Successful ones are often re-creations of a familiar story, such as the movie Ten Things I Hate About You, a 90s retelling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.
While advising clients to bet 50% of the marketing budget may send them running to another agency at this point, we do agree that the ‘weird’ and ‘unexpected’ are more memorable and that every company should find assets that no other brand possesses but are known to everyone in that industry and then capitalize on it.
When we did a rebranding project with one of the largest greenhouse growers in the United States, we did just that. We found something that they were doing that none of their competitors were doing and capitalized on this, incorporating it into their brand name, logo, copy and other assets.
And it worked beautifully.
Hypertargeting through tactics like personalization as a way to reach the ‘right’ audience has become a marketing best practice in recent years. With the growing popularity of Account-Based Marketing (ABM) to target niche markets, I was surprised to read that this is the “greatest mistake of the past decade,” according to the Institute.
“Our research shows that 68% of B2B marketers believe hyper-targeting is more effective than broad targeting. But we believe that hyper-targeting is consensus and wrong. Category targeting is contrarian and right.” Like salmon swimming upstream, the authors have a reason for going against the popular current. Hyper-targeting relies on third-party data and assumes the marketer has a great deal of information about the target they may not actually possess.
“As a general rule, the more niche you go, the less accurate the data becomes.” Since people change jobs and even industries frequently, they argue that targeting widely to reach a network of people is a better approach than narrowing the focus to one individual, such as a procurement specialist. The Institute recommends “Category Reach,” which is targeting everyone who could buy from you now or in the future.
We agree on this last point...to a point. It is true that one person is not usually the sole decision-maker in B2B marketing and that you should cast your net wider to reach a network of people. But casting your net wide doesn’t mean you can’t also narrow your focus.
Let’s say you manufacture medical devices and the decision maker is a busy surgeon or hospital administrator. You can target these functions or roles through a campaign that also targets the perfusionist whose job will be more greatly enhanced by the device. That person will have an emotional and compelling reason to want the product and will also have the power to persuade the decision makers.
Blogs and social media posts are great ways to build awareness with a broader audience and have the potential of reaching the buyers of today and tomorrow. These can and should often be part of your campaign.
It is in the above scenario that we’ve seen ABM tools, such as Apollo, become really effective. ABM allows marketers to create ideal customer profiles in specific industries and functions, rather than limiting themselves to specific positions that could be difficult to target. This kind of marketing brings us out of hypertargeting and into focused targeting.
Hypertargeting methods such as personalization will always have a place in marketing, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also cast the net wider to reach more targets in a category. While hypertargeting and focused targeting are pieces of the marketing pie, they’re not the whole pie.
When Kuno Creative was conceived more than 22 years ago, it was a traditional marketing agency that brokered print, managed billboards and designed graphics for promotional products. Now we help clients with complex problems that require technical skills, including digital migrations and integrations. While our categories and services have changed, it is our brand that has helped us evolve.
In an uncertain and ever-changing landscape, some elements of B2B brand strategy will always have a place. You will always need to know your audience, even if the methods of doing so change over time, and you will need to invest in your brand and everything that contributes to your brand identity, because it is what makes you stand out from every other company. It is your personality, your fingerprint, your ‘weird.’
Think you might need a brand refresh? Talk with a brand expert today.