Since the advent of digital and mobile, leading B2B marketers have continuously adapted, enhanced and merged ever more disciplines into the Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) model.
As IMC nears its third decade, marketers have also needed to address the fact that the B2B buyer, because of the ease of accessing information via digital and mobile, now controls the purchase research process (i.e., the buyer’s journey or “buy cycle”) rather than the sales representative.
The result? A significant evolution that marketing practitioners are just beginning to fully address.
Simply put, B2B marketers must now seek omnipresence across the buyer’s journey.
In its ideal state, IMC strategy, through creative and content, speaks to the buyer’s information needs along the buyer’s own journey instead of pushing out messaging based on our internal sales process.
As marketers, we must deliver relevant messages through the most appropriate channel (or combinations of channels) at the time, place and device aligned to that buyer’s needs in the exact moment of engagement.
As Marc Blumer, VP, Director of Demand Generation Strategy, frames it, “IMC in 2017 is focusing intently on integrating your brand and demand generation strategies into a seamless experience built around the buyer.
“B2B marketers must relentlessly pursue efficient strategies that meet each buyer’s unique information needs at each individual touchpoint at the time and place most suited to them.”
“IMC in 2017 is focusing intently on integrating your brand and demand generation strategies into a seamless experience built around the [B2B] buyer.” —Marc Blumer, VP, Director of Demand Generation Strategy
So, what’s changed?
The incredible ease of researching solutions online has forever changed the relationship between the sales team and the buyer.
Today, B2B buyers are more than two-thirds of the way through a purchase journey before contacting a prospective supplier (see below).
For marketers to succeed, a flip in perspective is both mandatory and, if mastered, much more likely to drive measurable marketing ROI.
That’s right—B2B buyers now spend around 11% less time talking to sales than they did just a few years ago.
Source: Hank Barnes, Gartner. 2015.
MarTech, the blend of marketing and technology, now enables the delivery of content relevant to the buyer’s needs in an automated and ever more omnichannel manner.
Almost any digital touchpoint with the buyer can leverage data such as personas and buy stage information to make messages more relevant. These touchpoints are fully trackable. And by capturing engagement data, we gain deep visibility into the full pipeline from suspects to prospects to leads to opportunities.
IMC must evolve to meet buyers’ needs and, in the process, efficiently convert them into leads, customers and (most importantly) loyal customers.
This article, the first of six, lays out the foundational approach Slack and Company employs to deliver deeply and fully integrated brand and demand generation marketing strategy for our clients.
Understanding branding from the inside out
When a strong B2B brand lifts performance by 20%, the worst thing a marketer can do is ignore the non-digital parts of the business—e.g., people—and their role in building and reinforcing the brand experience.
One “off-brand” experience with digital marketing messages, sales outreach, customer service chats or another area of your business is all it takes to create strong dissonance and degradation of the brand you’ve invested in and counted on to drive customer preference, increase demand generation conversion rates, protect margins and grow loyalty.
But all too often, we see companies try exactly that—overhauling their entire brands with no plan or process for employee onboarding or engagement. Thus, missing out on the one of the most powerful brand assets a company has—its employees.
Instead, they expose their brands to the market and want to immediately start selling and marketing to customers. Pitching, tweeting, emailing and targeting external prospects with the new brands, and ignoring their most important customers—their internal ones. With no formal internal message around the full vision, voice and values of the brand, a prospective buyer’s first real exposure to the company (via sales) is chock-full of brand dissonance.
If recent headlines have taught us anything, it's that a company’s employees are the living, breathing (and occasionally questionable decision-making) face of its brand. For better or worse, whether through a clever tweet or dragging someone out of their seat, your employees have the power to change the way people feel about your organization—ultimately impacting brand preference and purchase decisions.
Kelley Fead, EVP, Director of Brand Strategy and Partner, sees it this way: “People have so many choices these days of brands to work with. A brand ideally has emotional appeal and it engenders trust. If employees have no idea what their company stands for, how can they possibly create a consistent experience from one touchpoint to the next?”
How critical it is, then, to make sure everyone on your team has the same understanding of your brand. What it stands for and how it behaves. The promise it makes to your customers. How they should talk about it. Deliver it.
The brands you hear about that do this really well? They actually do two things really well.
- Communicate brand values clearly and effectively to employees, and
- Empower them to act on those values.
So, how do you grow your brand from the inside out?
Whether a new company is creating a new brand or an existing company is undergoing a rebrand—the approach is the same. It all starts with a little self-discovery guided by an experienced outside team (such as the brand experts at Slack and Company).
“If a client were to say, ‘I only have budget to build our brand internally or externally—but not both,'—we would recommend they focus internally. Because if a brand is not authentic internally, it can’t succeed externally.” —Kelley Fead, EVP, Director of Brand Strategy and Partner
Brand strategy at Slack and Company is built around an understanding of what we call “The Four Cs”—Customer, Competition, Company and Context.
Through thoughtful internal and external research, we’re able to identify what space buyers care about that the brand can uniquely fill—setting you up for success with customers at every step of their buy cycles.
To bring our approach to The Four Cs to life, here’s a framework that we’ve created that ensures the brands we work with are planned and implemented to best ensure consistent delivery and the performance rewards that come with organizational brand execution:
Look inside. To achieve a meaningful brand, you have to work from the inside out. Ask yourself, your leadership and your employees: Who are we today? Who do we want to be tomorrow? What’s our vision? Our values? What makes us different? What do we want to stand for in the minds of customers? In the world at large?
Look outside. Talk with customers and prospects. Listen to industry mavens and people in adjacent fields. Check out your competitors in creative ways. Keep talking and listening until you and your brand sherpa find it. The insight—that thing that makes you go, “YES! That’s it. There’s nothing else it could be.” That thing that so perfectly captures and defines your brand. You’ll know it when you see it. You’ll feel it. It’s like falling in love. Let’s be honest, for us marketers, it kind of is.
Get real. Once you’ve done the digging and found what seems like your brand’s perfect self, it’s time for some discipline. Is your brand authentic? Is it too precious or too corporate? Does it ring true, both for your people and your customers? This is when you go back and ask more questions and listen between the lines, even harder than before. There’s nothing worse than a brand that doesn’t accept or reflect reality. People can spot it from a mile away.
You have to be willing to embrace who you are—and own who you’re not. Take a stand. Have an opinion. Be the very best version of you and you alone, and let your brand tell that story. Your employees and customers will respect you all the more for it.
Rally! Rally! Well done. You’ve got a believable and meaningful brand people can identify with. But the key to brand stickage is getting enthusiasm and support from every corner of the company, and at every level. Not just from the top-down, but from the bottom-up. HR to IT, leadership to sales and marketing, manufacturing to procurement.
“Everyone thinks the best way to achieve alignment is through brand education and training,” says Fead. “It’s not. We believe in brand engagement. By enabling people to talk about different elements of the brand—how the brand relates to them—they can define it for themselves and make it their own.”
Brand ambassadors are an excellent force for good(will) when it comes to fostering the ideals and culture that are at the very heart of your brand. You may think only those with positive feelings about the new brand are the best for the job. Au contraire. Often, the best way to turn brand skeptics into believers is to task them with ambassadorship.
“Find the connectors,” says Fead. “But also find the people who aren’t necessarily engaged—so you can understand where you’re not saying something the right way. There’s no better advocate than someone who’s been converted.”
And once you have rallied everyone internally, you benefit not only from a strong brand and cohesive customer experience, but also because you have the ability to align your brand and demand generation efforts—and use the former to drive higher ROI to the latter.
Converse and empower. Finally. Your resonant, differentiated brand is now a platform for more engaging dialogues, more personalized conversations, more compelling storytelling and storyhearing and, with all that, improved marketing performance.
Your ongoing task is to empower your people to create your company stories to share with your internal audiences, just as you would externally. Communicate with them all the time. Seek feedback always. Advertise to them. Ask them why your brand matters and what you want them to do with it. Meet them where they are, on the channels they use every day. Speak with them in their language. And give them the tools they need to communicate the brand effectively with their customers.
Also, don’t forget any external partners that touch buyers and customers on your behalf. Such as the three-person agency writing your Google AdWordsTM campaign, the fulfillment house packing shipments, the massive external call center managing off-hours CSR—everyone must be on the same page.
Most importantly, give them the power to live your brand through their actions, every day.
We at Slack and Company live and love branding. If you need an expert hand in building or rebuilding your brand (and you want enjoy yourself while paving the way for greater ROI), we’re always a click away.
Stay tuned over the next five months as we reveal the remaining five foundational elements to seamless brand and demand.
Up next in our 6-part series: Immersion, embedding and in-flow (re)alignment. Click here to start reading.
Ready for more?
Reaching today’s B2B buyers requires a strong brand and agile demand gen. Check out our infographic to learn more about why that’s so important—and how you can get started.
Or, you can check out the rest of our Shortest Distance blogs right here.