Welcome to the second part of Slack and Company’s brand and demand generation integration series.
In the first installment of this series, we moved from the importance of branding from the inside out to our proven process for how marketers and agencies can best work together to achieve and maintain close alignment with each other and with critical stakeholders across the entire business.
As we’ve illustrated in our infographic, marketers who can get and keep their brand and demand generation efforts aligned realize tremendous business benefits:
- 71% of B2B buyers would switch suppliers if offered a better digital experience. (CEB and Google)
- Companies that provide a tightly aligned marketing and sales process for buyers experience a 24% increase in growth rate. (SiriusDecisions)
- B2B brands that integrate closed-loop reporting and optimization realize an 18% lift in revenue. (Forrester Research)
Over 29 years as an IMC agency, three related relationship needs have become quite apparent and led to deliberate agency approaches and processes in our client work.
- An IMC marketing agency’s real strategic value can only be delivered when the full working team is deeply immersed in the client’s full business strategy and culture.
- For marketers and their agency to get and keep brand and demand generation in alignment, both must stay truly embedded, and not siloed from, the larger business ecosystem.
- Expecting and planning for adjustments and pivots in business, product and sales strategy is paramount. Marketers and their agency must be present and help lead in-flow alignment adjustments to each stakeholder’s evolving strategy.
While the outcome of this approach drives dramatically improved business performance, the idea undoubtedly demands the breaking down of silos within and outside the organization in order to work.
As Gayle Novak, EVP, Director of Client Experience, explains, “I cannot overstate that our clients who consistently drive strong ROI are filled with marketers deeply engaged in daily business strategy alongside sales, product, finance, etc. What’s more, they are marketers who actively break down the ‘client/agency’ silos … avoiding the ‘agency as vendor’ mindset. So if you really want to integrate brand and demand on a permanent basis, you’ve got to get yourselves and your agency an ongoing seat at the table.”
"If you really want to integrate brand and demand on a permanent basis, you’ve got to get yourselves and your agency an ongoing seat at the table."
Gayle Novak, EVP, Director of Client Experience
Agency immersion is not a web conference briefing
Any B2B marketing agency that has had success over time has some standard process for really digging into the client’s business and industry.
It’s just a central difference between B2C and B2B that those of us working in the latter don’t (with obvious category exceptions) ever market products or services offered directly to buyers. Most of our clients market something that is a considered purchase, with a longer buy cycle, often not targeted to an individual but instead to a full buying team, sold through a sales organization or a channel partner.
Good agencies must, and do, learn all that along with the product/service value proposition and the rational and emotional needs of the end buyer.
Accomplishing a level of immersion that allows us to help marketers align brand and demand requires, as Novak puts it, “heavy-duty discovery.” That means:
- Immersing in the full scope of the business: R&D, product, marketing, sales, fulfillment, customer service.
- Immersing in what each area of the business has undertaken in the recent past (i.e., key initiatives) to better identify, reach, convert and serve buyers, and learning how these initiatives have performed.
- Immersing to understand each stakeholder’s idea of “the future."
From this deeper immersion process, we’re well-positioned to help marketers identify gaps in organizational alignment that will inhibit the alignment of brand and demand:
- Social values vs. social gaps (a culture profile would detail these)
- Business values vs. business gaps
With these insights, developing a comprehensive and realistic approach to integrated marketing strategic planning has a far higher chance of success as both strategy and execution that will align with the objectives and business realities of all stakeholders as they deliver their parts of the full customer experience.
Furthermore, this level of discovery allows our agency to assemble a client team that aligns with both the strategic and cultural needs of the client.
“We find that there are three types of clients from a corporate personality standpoint,” says Novak:
- Highly corporate
- Highly collaborative
- Underdeveloped marketing culture (no process at all)
The “highly corporate” organization has numerous decision makers across functions. More often than not, these individuals play roles or sit in hierarchies that belie the org chart and must be identified and planned for.
“In highly corporate environments, we ensure that key team members have a very high EQ (emotional quotient) so they’re able to accurately read the relationships and intents of all stakeholders at the table and respond strategically and tactically in ways that complement and don’t fight that culture,” says Novak.
Conversely, the highly collaborative client requires a team with “high marketing IQ” that enables them to focus disparate disciplines on the big picture and drive “results-oriented, highly actionable next steps in every meeting,” says Novak.
Finally, for the B2B client that has not yet built a mature marketing function, and therefore does not have a process at all for working together to define marketing programs and integrate, it is critical that key team members have a mix of EQ and IQ as well as, in Novak’s words, a “thick skin and penchant for education.”
Getting and staying embedded within the larger organization
Once the discovery process is finished, the marketing strategy is built and the initial campaigns are underway, it’s even more critical for the agency to stay embedded over time, working with client marketers at every level as they interact with their cross-functional counterparts, if brand and demand are to stay aligned.
As an agency partner, we never forget that we need to earn our way to ongoing strategic involvement in the larger business. Two things are critical to keeping this trust.
First, we must proactively find and present parallels between our client’s business and other businesses (including our previous and current client roster) to see if there are relevant observations to evolving challenges.
Continuing to offer the “outsider” view to the larger organization offers higher-level strategic benefits than mere tactical, transactional work and incents stakeholders to want agency team members at key meetings.
Second, building professional and personal relationships, one-to-one, among team members and their client counterparts is critical to maintaining momentum through the ebbs and flows of business.
“Schmoozing is not the point of our daily efforts at building client relationships. What we’re working to do is to get to know the professional and personal goals of our counterparts so that they know that we’re invested in both their company’s and their own career success,” says Novak. “This enables us to provide ongoing feedback with full candor because stakeholders trust we want what’s best for them.”
Planning to pivot with the business
Marketing plans tend to fall into the predictable annual and quarterly formats. So do business strategies—until they change.
Shifting executive priorities, underperforming business lines and changing market conditions can all lead to shifts in marketing budgets and strategy at any point in the cycle.
It is these moments when marketing’s brand and demand generation strategies are most likely to fall out of alignment. Planning to react to these changes in an agile manner is key both for marketer and agency.
On our part, the hard work we’ve done in discovery and staying embedded allows us to efficiently react.
We understand the business’ shorthand and what key stakeholders’ directions really mean. We’re able to connect (or negotiate) the dots between new executive direction and the larger business and marketing strategy to enable the evolution of plans and not wholesale changes. And we can provide outside viewpoints of new or different paths to solving short-term issues that the company may have never considered.
It is in these moments of business pivots that happen every year that we feel we deliver our highest value as an agency. Enabling the business to efficiently react without tearing up the blueprint ensures that all needs are met and that marketing continues to deliver value quarter by quarter.
Ultimately, this agency/client relationship structure does more than just keep brand and demand in alignment across the organization over time. It offers to our clients high-order value well beyond pure marketing communications—raising the stature of marketing within the company and the hard-working team driving it.
If this is the kind of marketing partner your company has been seeking, we’re always a click away.
Stay tuned over the next four months as we reveal the remaining four foundational elements to seamless brand and demand.
Up next in our 6-part series: Map and build upon actionable buyer journeys. 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.