Why Aligning Brand, Demand, and Technology Yields Ultimate Success
01. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
02. SETTING THE STAGE
03. BUILDING A BRAND
04. BUILDING DEMAND
05. BUILDING TECHNOLOGY
It’s a tune that all marketers already know— the idea that our hyper-connected, multi-channel, always-on world is saturating its human inhabitants with a relentless tide of personal and corporate messaging.
To the modern enterprise, the latter is characterized as “marketing content” which, when strategically crafted, packaged, targeted, and assimilated with sophisticated technology platforms, will generate demand for its products and services.
To the digital-savvy buyer, however, that same marketing content most often translates into something far less attractive: noise. And given the marketing industry’s deepened commitment to content marketing and cross-channel syndication, those noise levels are reaching epic levels.
All of which begs the question, how does a B2B organization insert itself into that cacophonous, multi-channel marketplace confident that its messaging will stand apart from the crowd?
More specifically, how does the B2B organization stand apart in the minds of buyers at every stage of their journey, particularly when it comes to decision time?
The answer lies not just in a company’s ability to leverage all these new technologies, nor in the kinds
of content it produces and shares through them. Instead,
it depends on—indeed, its success is predicated upon—the meticulous synthesis of brand awareness, demand generation strategies, and marketing technology working together in concert. In short, it depends on integration.
In this paper, we’ll discuss why brand awareness campaigns are so important to B2B firms, why multi-channel strategies are imperative in nurturing customer relationships, and how implementing the right technology platforms for your organization’s needs can provide the competitive advantage needed to build real business results.
SETTING THE STAGE
Like a metaphorical Big Bang,
the Internet didn’t just explode into existence; it created an entire new cosmos of interconnected devices, channels, social constellations, and media that continue to expand and reshape the way customers and businesses interact.
The one-to-many marketing formula that for so long epitomized the buyer-brand relationship has been turned on its head. Today’s B2B buyers employ a library of interconnected gadgetry to poke and prod about this new universe of websites, peer forums, social networks, and traditional channels in a self-orchestrated search
for the information they need to make informed buying decisions. In fact, 82% of B2B buyers are following
some semblance of this process before engaging with sales directly.
Not surprisingly, this informational power shift has greatly complicated life for the B2B marketing and
sales organizations eager to influence that decision-making process.
In response, B2B marketing departments are scrambling to incorporate the new channels, tools, and tactics used by their industry’s buyers into their own demand generation activities, but too often with the unintended effect of amplifying the noise without any gain in signal.
One might surmise that buyers are quite happy with such developments. After all, enterprise content and the tools to locate and consume it exist in great (and growing) abundance. But as is so often the case in “too much of a good thing,” today’s B2B buyers are drowning in undifferentiated content that complicates their customer journey.
The keyword here is:
B2B marketers are understandably flummoxed
as to why their adoption of new technologies and channels isn’t generating demand from the buyers they meet there. What’s vital to understand is that in order to see results, brand, demand, and technology need to be working harmoniously—and that process often begins with brand awareness.
While building brand presence is an integral part of
any demand generation effort, it too often is given short-shrift or is otherwise undervalued by digital age marketing managers keen on more “tangible,” quantifiable practices.
This is especially true of newer companies looking to unseat the corporate old guard. These companies, while adept at leveraging our era’s newer technologies, overlook the simple fact that brand recognition, and more importantly trust, goes a long way in determining whether a buyer is going to give them a look.
So while companies may have the right demand gen strategies and technology platforms in place, they
will fail to be fairly recognized by their audiences without first establishing brand awareness over
time through a combination of message exposure
and brand interactions.
Indeed, as we’ll see, without strong brand awareness even the most laser-focused, data-driven, and meticulously executed marketing activities will struggle to succeed. In this section we’ll look at three aspects
of the B2B buying cycle that depend on brand awareness for their success: the buyer’s journey, the buyer(s) themselves, and the content experiences used to lure those buyers.
"ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL, PEOPLE WILL DO BUSINESS WITH, AND REFER BUSINESS TO, THOSE PEOPLE THEY KNOW, LIKE AND TRUST."
-Bob Burg, Author of The Go-Giver
BRAND PRESENCE AS A COMPASS POINT
Consider, for a moment, the modern-day odyssey otherwise known as the B2B buyer’s journey. It
is complex, time-consuming, and quite often requires teams of already-overworked enterprise specialists tasked with wading into an information-saturated
world to arrive at an independently informed,
Each of these buyers brings with him/her not merely a unique professional background and organizational mandate (e.g. he’s from IT, she’s from sales, etc.),
but also their own psychological makeup, their own preferences for content types and channels, and their own decision-making habits.
For example, Google claims that 71% of B2B professionals start their research with a generic search, while purchase rates on mobile are up 22% in the past
PURCHASE RATES ON MOBILE ARE UP 22% IN THE PAST TWO YEARS
OF B2B PROFESSIONALS START THEIR RESEARCH WITH A GENERIC SEARCH
All of which is why B2B organizations must begin by building brand presence long before any buyer’s journey is embarked upon. After all, without this all-important awareness it is entirely possible that one or more of these buyers will fail even to consider a solution provider that otherwise would make a perfect candidate.
Even if these buyers subsequently stumble across the brand deep into their journey, the complexities and time commitments required to grandfather it into the search likely will preclude it from being considered. And let us not forget that we’re usually talking about teams of
buyers; meaning brand awareness to one buyer is not awareness to all.
Similarly, the sheer length of the buying cycle makes it incumbent on B2B organizations to ensure their brand is visible for the duration of the journey. Planting the brand flag at the trailhead of a six-month journey, for example, is unlikely to reap dividends if those buyers fail to encounter it farther down the line.
Lastly, the many channels available to buyers means brands must deliver a consistent, multichannel experience anywhere and everywhere these individuals are likely to explore.
The Bottom line: Remember that an effective brand presence can serve as a kind of informational constant to which buyers can set their compass.
Far too many companies make the mistake of believing B2B buyers are somehow different from their B2C counterparts—that their decision-making process
exists solely in the left-brained realm of rational, quantitative analysis.
The truth is nobody is born ready to carry out sophisticated B2B buys. Instead, they cut their consumers’ teeth influenced by the same
emotionally charged ads, seek comfort in
peer-approved recommendations, and struggle with the same buying decisions over cereal, toothpaste, and bug spray as the rest of us. In short, B2B and B2C labels may still exist, but we’re really talking Person to Person.
Just like any other customer, each member of a B2B buying expedition is guided by unconscious yet well-known psychological habits that go a long way in determining the brands they include in their buying decision, including:
For obvious reasons a risk-averse buyer is more likely to consider an established or well-known brand over an unknown. Or as the 1980’s business proverb so eloquently put it, “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” By employing a consistent brand experience (digital advertising, branded promotions) that trumpets a company’s thought leadership credentials (white papers, guides), a company becomes a trusted face in the crowd.
Neuroscientists have demonstrated that buyers—yes, even B2B buyers—routinely make split-second decisions based on their “adaptive unconsciousness” or, what Malcolm Gladwell has coined “thin-slicing.” Again proving that a strong brand presence before and during the entire buyer’s journey is instrumental to making any buyer’s short list.
The complexity and length of the buying cycle coupled with the time pressures of the modern era means B2B buyers are eager to find the right information as quickly and efficiently as possible. Hence the more consistent, targeted, and useful a brand’s presence across the buying cycle, the more likely it will take up permanent residence in the minds of convenience-driven buyers.
The magnitude of a B2B purchase can have enormous positive—or negative—consequences for an organization. As such, buyers are eager to avoid making risky decisions that also could impact their jobs and careers.
The Bottom line: A consistent brand serves as a kind of comforting Polaris (North Star) on an otherwise long and risky journey.
CONTENT THAT CUTS THROUGH CLUTTER
In the same way B2B organizations have made assumptions about the psychology of its buyers, so too have they erred in predicting the most interesting content approaches to those buyers.
McKinsey & Company research, for example, found that B2B content strategy was badly out of line with buyer expectations and needs. Where many B2B branding efforts cast social responsibility, sustainability, and global reach “in a leading role,” customers were in fact far more interested in the company’s commitment to supply chain management and market specialization. Similarly, McKinsey researchers found that a key customer consideration—honest and open dialogue—was not even mentioned in its 90-company sampling.
Why the uniformity of error? Turns out that the very same risk-avoidance behavior exhibited in B2B buying teams begins at home with the company itself.
Meaning that B2B marketing organizations have “a tendency to follow the herd rather than create strongly differentiated brand messages.”
This look-alike content creates enormous obstacles for B2B buyers, who find themselves awash in a sea of content “characterized by numbing sameness, commoditized feature wars, and laundry lists of product benefits.” Instead of brands doing the difficult but important work of differentiating themselves and their messaging, the buyers must do it for them—an incredibly risky prospect for any B2B organization hoping to make the cut.
At the same time, companies also must ensure that they integrate their brand identity into every facet of the organization. Meaning that sales executives, copywriters, project managers, creative directors—everyone—must adhere to the same brand guidelines if the organization is going to build a strong, consistent identity over time, channels, and devices.
The Bottom line: B2B companies that develop unique, compelling, and useful content are far more likely to stand apart from the crowd.
As we've seen, demand generation tactics
in the absence of strong brand awareness and supporting marketing technology are akin to adding another tenor to a choir of tenors. What is needed is a soprano, basso, or contralto—voices that complement the other’s strong suits.
The truth is that today’s B2B companies must execute a delicate balancing act of “technology-driven, branded demand generation,”
wherein the internal siloes that once separated marketing and sales are permanently razed. In a vast
and cluttered sea of look-alike offerings navigated by unseen, multi-channel customers, it is critical that companies create a unique brand story/message and deliver it to the right customers at the right time and in
a form and format of their choosing. Key steps in that process include:
NAIL THE BIG IDEA
To stand apart a company must be willing to both take a risk (i.e., step away from the copycat, herd mentality that dominates the B2B landscape) and tap into creative storytelling talents that are capable of identifying and crafting a “big idea” that clearly and unequivocally explains its unique value proposition(s) in a way that becomes its brand signature.
Recall the McKinsey research from earlier that indicates a customer’s messaging preference is for one that differentiates a brand through its unique market expertise. Companies that take the time and effort to parse out a truly compelling story that’s uniquely their own are naturally going to command more attention from buyers throughout the buying cycle.
COORDINATE AND DISSEMINATE, CONSISTENTLY
Because B2B buyers are conducting their journeys from differing psychological and professional approaches using disparate channels and devices over considerable stretches of time, it is important that companies create a coordinated and consistent approach in the dissemination of that unique brand messaging. In other words, prioritize customer experience management.
Complains bestselling author Kevin Daum, “So many people in marketing think that each marketing tool creates return on its own.
They must, because so much of what I see is wholly uncoordinated.” Which is why it is imperative that companies—while packaging brand-centric messaging for different channels, devices, and stages of the buyer’s journey—also must integrate those demand generation activities around that core identity.
Only then can the B2B organization ensure that the unseen members of that buying team will be engaged and nurtured with a consistent brand experience regardless of their individual behaviors and motivations.
CUSTOMER JOURNEY MAPPING
Data has been likened to the “new oil” of our time, an informational currency generated by and feasted upon by all of those new devices, channels, and programs. B2B companies can use all of this “digital exhaust” in conjunction with demographic, psychographic, programmatic media, and marketing automation to accurately identify buyers at different stages of their journey and deliver content that speaks to the buyers’
immediate needs while clearly articulating the brand’s core value propositions.
Thus a buyer at the trailhead of his/her journey is served Google results that paint the brand identity in broad, all-encompassing strokes, while the buyer nearing decision-making time is retargeted with sequential messaging that keeps the brand front-of-mind while simultaneously overcoming any last-minute concerns.
The rise of information-impowered buyers
equates to a far more dynamic, fast-changing B2B marketplace where organization’s branded demand generation campaigns must be equally as nimble. This means companies must utilize interconnected technologies to match their customer’s always-on mentality, listen to their conversations, and quickly adapt to tangible changes in brand perception.
Of course, not all organizations’ martech needs are the same, and it’s important to identify the right platforms that will best support individual brand awareness and demand gen initiatives. However, regardless of the company’s unique technology needs, there are a few overarching principles that every technology platform should address:
Companies that neglect the importance of communication will ultimately fail. Plain and simple. Whether that’s between departments, channels, or platforms, success is centered around the ability to apply insights from one area of the business in order to inform and capitalize on another.
In terms of marketing, integrated cloud technology gives organizations this ability. By ensuring that analytics, CRM, media channels, and content management systems are all aligned to one another, B2B organizations will begin to connect the dots across their digital touchpoints and build a full customer profile for each of their individual buyers.
But how can businesses know they’re selecting the right solution? Well, picking a platform isn’t as simple as just comparing features, so it’s vital for businesses to have a methodical approach that takes into account the complete needs of their organization.
UNDERSTAND THE FULL SCOPE
Oftentimes organizations are faced with the reality that different areas of their business call for vastly different technical features to capitalize on their objectives (IT vs. Marketing, Operations vs. Creative). Therefore brands must document and understand their complete organizational requirements in order to guide the decision-making process. By incorporating a group of diverse voices as part of the investment conversation, you’ll ensure that your platform has the comprehensive features and capabilities that’s right for every area of your business.
"WHAT WE HAVE HERE IS A FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE."
-Cool Hand Luke
WHO IS INVOLVED IN THE MARTECH DECISION-MAKING PROCESS?
Chief Marketing Technologist
VP of Content
VP of Analytics
VP of Digital
CONDUCT A COST ANALYSIS
Cost is an obvious variable for any investment, but for martech platforms it’s important to look at what lies past the sticker price.
What organizations truly need to calculate is the “total cost of ownership” for each technology platform they’re considering. Besides actually licensing the software, what are the hardware and IT costs involved in setting up the system? What’s the price of implementation and integration? Will the platform need additional customization for individual needs?
And what’s the cost of supporting and maintaining the system over the next 5 years?
While answering these questions accurately may seem overwhelming, luckily for brands there are marketing technology consultants that exist to give organizations a level of comfort in making informed decisions. By outsourcing to a company that provides technical expertise and implementation capabilities, seasoned B2B marketers can lower overhead costs and ensure long-term marketing stability.
According to an email benchmark study by Experian, personalized emails deliver six times higher conversion rates, yet surprisingly 70% of B2B brands fail to use them.
So where is the disconnect? For one, although many B2B organizations have content management and marketing automation systems in place, they sometimes struggle to capitalize on content personalization due to a lack of internal expertise to deliver it. As the expectations of B2B buyers continue to rise, content personalization has evolved into a necessity for marketers looking to make a tangible impact on business results.
Some industry leaders have even gone as far to say that personalization is more important to B2B marketers than their B2C counterparts. According to Glenn Taylor from Demand Gen Report, “B2B marketing, unlike B2C, is primarily account-based, which means that buyers are purchasing on behalf of an entire company. In enterprise, this process rarely involves one individual, but does make qualities of buyers at the account level more predictable.”
By aligning predictive analytics and social listening tools with their CMS and CRM platforms, B2B organizations can begin to create a fully integrated experience across each of their brand channels and deliver unique experiences tailored to individual buyer journeys.
By 2018, B2B companies with effective personalization on their e-commerce sites will outsell by 30 percent competitors without the same level of personalization. – Gartner
Leads who are nurtured with targeted content produce a 20 percent increase in sales opportunities.
– Demand Gen. REPORT
LEARN & REFINE
A major reason B2B organizations continue to shift budget allocation away from traditional marketing programs towards digital is its ability to both attribute campaign success and prove marketing ROI. As analytics systems and data management platforms continue to become more sophisticated, they’ve evolved into the cornerstone of any B2B marketing strategy.
In the end, data is only valuable if you’re able to act upon it. That’s why it’s essential for marketers to prioritize their analytics programs and put a reporting structure in place that allows internal stakeholders to easily digest complex data points and recognize areas of opportunity. Only then can businesses begin to assess the real impact of their marketing efforts and build content experiences that impact B2B buyers at the most strategic moments of their journeys.
SELECTING THE RIGHT ANALYTICS / DATA MANAGEMENT PLATFORM ALLOWS MARKETERS TO:
See campaign performance
Discover audience behavior
Filter metrics by channel, device types, audience types
Store media information and integrate with your other technology platforms
Generate audience segments
Connect cross-channel activity into a unified location
Target buyers at different stages of their customer journey
Make data actionable
This is an era of great change and complexity
for B2B marketing and sales organizations. The demand generation practices of old, while not exactly being eliminated, must be reconciled and augmented to reflect and accommodate a new breed of information-empowered buyers.
While in days past these organizations may have been able to depend on large, single-channel advertising budgets or experienced sales executives to lead the charge, today’s multi-channel environment populated with self-educating buyers means B2B enterprises not only must differentiate themselves, but do so in concert with existing and evolving demand generation practices and integrated marketing channels.
To do this, organizations must focus equally on the tools and technologies to empower their marketing initiatives, the unique nature of the B2B buying cycle, the psychology of the buyers themselves, and the myriad ways that strong brand awareness can generate demand out of all these variables. Prioritize the technology platforms that can support your business objectives. Invest in your brand message as a key component in your campaigns. Drive that through to all demand generation communications and content and you will see amplified results.
R2i is a national full-service agency with diverse expertise and a hands-on approach to guiding companies through a complex marketing landscape and building solutions that deliver on the promise of new integration. R2i’s unique alignment between marketing cloud expertise, brand expression, and demand generation accelerates customer engagement and action.
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