The Meat of the Brand that B2B Marketers Always Forget

The Meat of the Brand that B2B Marketers Always Forget

As previously published on 11/4/21 in The Drum

by Scott Gillum
Estimated read time: 5 Minutes

Business-to-business (B2B) sales can be tricky, but not if you envision your brand like a sandwich. More importantly, don’t forget to focus on the often forgotten middle part of your brand where all of the tasty connections are.  Here’s what you need to know.

Think of your brand in three pieces, or because it’s almost lunch time as I write this, think of it as a brand sandwich.

The top layer is what you would commonly think of as corporate branding – brand attributes, value, positioning. The middle piece, or meat of the sandwich, is the connection between your brand and your products or services. The bottom layer is the customer experience – sales, product and service.

As a customer, you experience these three brand experiences at various points in the buyer’s journey – before, during and after the purchase decision. Metaphorically, customers are taking a bite out of the brand sandwich and getting a flavor of each level.

In order to move a prospective customer along this journey, the brand sandwich needs to be cohesive to provide a consistent experience and taste. For many B2B organizations, the breakdown occurs in the middle of the sandwich – the meat.

Why? For one, the corporate brand is highly visible and warrants the attention it receives. It’s for your employees, investors and customers. Given the energy and effort dedicated to getting the brand positioning, messaging and campaign correct and launched, most feel the job is over.

The problem is that the middle meat of the brand, which connects the brand direction and the company’s offerings, is often forgotten or missed. Part of the gap exists because of the way marketing is organized. Corporate marketing owns and is responsible for the brand. The middle brand often lacks an owner.

A few years ago, Cisco created a beautifully aspirational brand campaign for its internet of things (IoT) offering. Called ‘Tomorrow Starts Here,’ the positioning was so good that chief exec John Chambers said he could see them using it for the next 10 years. Except for one thing – sales, business partners in their case, didn’t know what to sell.

The brand message was so high level and futuristic that the partners didn’t know which Cisco solutions would enable the IoT future. Eventually, the company was able to connect the campaign by organizing their partners into three roles aligned to envisioning, enabling and expanding the IoT solutions:

Cisco’s envision group included large consulting firms that could articulate the solutions and sell the concepts – e.g. what is a ‘connected transportation system.’

The enablers were industry-focused value-added resellers (VARS) that could design and build a specific solution once designed, such as ‘a digital healthcare system.’

And finally, the expanders that were mostly distributors that supplied the IoT solution builders with products and solutions once they were being adopted.

For each group, they built specific sales and marketing materials using the new branding and positioning but, most importantly, the connective tissue built by mapping the current set of products, solutions and services into this new future vision. The bottom-up approach gave partners a roadmap. It connected products they were selling currently with a realistic view of a new solution to come.

The lessons learned, a good brand positioning and message should be aspirational and challenge the organization to fulfill its promise. The shelf life of a rebranding effort should be at least three to five years, and, in the Cisco example, 10 years.

To realize the return on the significant investment in the new branding, organizations have to connect it to the products and services currently being sold. If you have ever led a successful rebranding project, only to hear negative feedback from the sales organization, know that you have missed addressing the middle brand.

Making customers hungry for your new brand sandwich is critical, but if you don’t connect it to your current solution set, it’s going to taste a little bland, and sales will be asking, “where’s the beef?”

New E-Book on Personality Based Marketing

New E-Book on Personality Based Marketing

It started with a simple question: why hasn’t B2B sales and marketing performance improved?

Despite advances in strategy and the industry’s massive investment in technology, the needle simply hasn’t moved over the last 10 years or longer.

Our curiosity led us to investigate this performance challenge. We noticed that our tools – mostly glorified task lists and activity trackers – were only picking up on rational factors. So we started to explore what wasn’t being tracked and discovered a “hidden buyer journey”.

As we explored buyer behaviors, motivations, and personality types, we found that purchase decisions made by buying groups were driven by individuals’ personal motivations, not titles or roles.

For two years now, we’ve been using research on buying groups and AI-enabled Personality-Based Marketing to help clients improve their sales and marketing efforts.

This eBook shares our insights and how you can apply Personality- Based Marketing to improve your B2B marketing performance – at last.

Download the E-Book now!

WVU Marketing Horizon Podcast

WVU Marketing Horizon Podcast

Scott was a guest speaker at the WVU Marketing Horizon podcast, a sub-series of WVU Marketing Communications.

Marketing Horizons is forward-thinking, looking ahead, through the front windshield and beyond, into the marketing future. Hosted by Cyndi Greenglass and Ruth Stevens, Horizons is a podcast dedicated to looking ahead to the new ideas, technologies, tools and strategies that are emerging to help marketers navigate over the marketing horizon.

Listen here.

3 Pathways To Accessing ‘Locked-In’ B2B Mindsets

3 Pathways To Accessing ‘Locked-In’ B2B Mindsets

As previously published on 9/9/21 in The Drum

by Scott Gillum
Estimated read time: 5 Minutes

I went for a bike ride on a trail that I’ve traveled many times but have avoided lately because of the ‘Covid crowds’.

Taking off in a southern direction on the 10-foot-wide path, my focus was on the bike computer between the handlebars. As typical, I was locked in on my speed and spin rate. Knowing the scenic path along the Neuse River well, I put my head down and focused on my performance.

That was until I ended up in a parking lot. Trying to piece together where I was and how I got there made me realize that I didn’t notice any of my typical landmarks, which then caused a bit of a panic.

Pulling my phone out to unravel the mystery, I discovered that the focus on my performance put me two miles past my usual turnaround spot. After figuring out the situation, I decided to keep my head up on the return.

As I pedaled back, I noticed that a scenic overlook, which served as an important landmark, had been expanded and recently landscaped. The biggest surprise, which was somewhat startling, was a 100-yard clearing of trees for the expansion of a housing development not more than 30 feet off the trail.

The scenario I just described is not unlike what happens with our audiences during their workday. They step on to the 10-foot path that is their job in the morning and travel it like a well-worn trail to their usual destination.

Their computers narrow their focus and attention even more, just like my bike computer. It’s a heads-down routine that often makes them oblivious to changes all around. This creates an opportunity for us to discover new insights that enable us to redefine our position and messaging that gets their attention.

A ‘locked-in’ mindset makes us vulnerable to bias and blind spots. The longer someone has been in the job or industry, the more likely they are to believe they know ‘the path’. The brain seeking to reserve ‘brain power’ moves routine tasks to a part of the brain that requires little cognitive energy. This is the reason I ended up in the parking lot on a trail I thought I knew well.

As a result, we can bring new insights to this audience. Typically, there are three fertile areas to explore:

  1. The unknown. This is the typically the hardest to discover, but the most powerful.
  2. The underappreciated. What has changed that makes something known more impactful or significant?
  3. The undervalued. What are they missing that may be impacting their success, their mission or their customers?

Depending on our audience’s personalities, some of these areas are more impactful than others.

For example, on the way down the path I kept my head down and focused on my performance. This very much aligns with a personality type that is career driven. We can gain their attention through messaging that alerts them to something ‘unknown’ down the path.

If that audience segment only focuses on one or two things that they believe drive their business or performance, like my speed and spin rate, what can you tell them about the importance of understanding another factor?

What is on their ‘path’ that they may be missing, like a parking lot two miles from the usual turnaround spot? What ‘unknown’ is just over the horizon that may impact their success?

On the return journey, my behavior was like another key audience that is constantly scanning the horizon for new things to share with others. They will be looking for the changes to establish ‘landmarks’ to share, like me telling a neighbor who also bikes the trail about my discovery of the construction area.

This audience segment seeks and brings new information into the organization. They’re not as focused on the ‘path’ as much as they are on what is happening around it. As a result, that typically leads them to sharing information highlighting the undervalued or underappreciated.

In both cases, the new information I gained will change my behavior and will cause me to act, which is the goal of marketing. The new construction will disrupt my biking experience. In the future I will avoid that section of the ‘path’. I also now have a new appreciation for checking the distance traveled, and occasionally picking my head up to determine where I am along the trail.

Buyers ‘lock in’ every day at work, and a message right in front of them on the well-worn path will not disrupt. They’ll ride over like a bump on the trail. To capture their attention, search off their beaten path and over the horizon. It’s what they don’t see, or realize, that matters – because no one wants to end up in a parking lot.

Feel lost? Understanding the hidden B2B buyer’s journey

Feel lost? Understanding the hidden B2B buyer’s journey

As previously published on 8/5/21 in The Drum

by Scott Gillum
Estimated read time: 4 Minutes

Years ago, doctors treated gastric ulcers as a chronic disease, most likely brought on by stress or spicy foods. As a young pharma rep carrying the world’s first billion-dollar drug in my bag, I’d actively promoted how this wonder product could relieve the symptoms for their ulcer patients.

That was until the day I met a doctor who questioned why we weren’t selling a drug to cure the problem. It was a very valid point, one that would not be fully understood until a couple of years after I left that job.

Given the success of that drug, other similar products would soon follow, all for the relief of ulcer symptoms. Pharma companies followed the money, rather than investing in developing a cure.

Recently, I recalled this memory while looking at Scott Brinker’s Martech Landscape, which now includes 8,000 companies. There are companies investing millions of dollars into B2B marketing technologies that have hardly moved the needle on marketing performance – tools created to treat the symptoms of poor performance rather than fix them.

This issue has persisted for years. Performance should be improving by now, unless we’re missing something.

Here’s an example: ask a salesperson to describe their ideal buyer in detail and this is what you will likely hear. They want more buyers who are ‘risk-takers’, ‘innovators’, ‘people who are looking to make a name for themselves’ or ‘big-picture thinkers’.

What you won’t hear is prospects who are ‘technical buyers’, ‘budget holders’ or the ‘CEO’. Do you see what we are missing? Sales reps are describing personality attributes that make prospects ideal buyers, not their role, title or budget authority. The martech stack doesn’t capture those descriptors.

Still not convinced? Ask a salesperson why they lost a deal when they should have won it. You’ll probably hear “they had an existing relationship” (trust) or “they have used the solution/service in the past” (security). These are emotional decision drivers also not capturing or seen in CRM tools.

Get at the cause to find the cure

There is a buyer’s journey that is hidden. Our sales and marketing tools are not built to capture, track or provide us with insights into what to do about these ‘soft’ factors that impact deals. And it may be more important than anything we are tracking or measuring today. It’s time, like the doctor I encountered all those years ago, to ask the question of why we aren’t fixing the problem.

In 2005, a couple of Australian researchers named Barry Marshall and Robin Warren were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work on linking the bacteria Helicobacter Pylori to the formation of gastric ulcers. They won this coveted prize after spending decades trying to convince the world of their discovery, even coming to a point where Marshall ingested H. Pylori to prove the causation to ulcers (it worked, he developed an ulcer three days later).

Marshall’s research was hugely disruptive and would eventually lead to the demise of a multi-billion-dollar therapeutic class of drugs. Their joint research in the late 80s was discredited for years, until the first drug of its type (the one I promoted) came off patent. Suddenly, gastric ulcers could be cured by prescribing a common antibiotic (which, ironically, was also manufactured by the same company).

Millions of dollars have been invested into martech tools, yet our sales and marketing performance have not improved. This industry is thriving by treating poor performance as a chronic disease – developing tools to keep the focus on extending reach and increasing scale, not on improving conversion rate or return on effort and investment.

Just as Marshall and Warren used postmortem research and forensic medicine to link the cause and effect of H. Pylori on the body, we are doing the same with breaking down deals closed, both won and lost. We are starting to get at the ‘cause’ – and to find a cure.

What we’re finding doesn’t necessarily match with the conventional wisdom of the day. Intent data may not actually show any real intent. Lead nurturing programs may be set up to nurture prospects that will never become leads. Campaigns may be targeting ‘buyers’ who are actually the exact opposite, a personality type that is more likely to kill a deal than help to close it.

It’s called personality-based marketing, and it has the promise to cure our ills… but please don’t make me ingest a lead to prove it.