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.

The Most Important Driver in B2B Sales… and No One is Measuring It.

The Most Important Driver in B2B Sales… and No One is Measuring It.

As previously published on 7/7/21 in The Drum

by Scott Gillum
Estimated read time: 5 Minutes

Selling something to someone is risky…for them, not you, especially if this is a first time purchase. You’re asking a buyer to take a risk making a decision with the organization’s money, on a vendor or solution they don’t know, with only the promise of a reward to come.

The first part of the buyer’s journey involves three things – collecting information (about vendors, solutions, etc.), defining/understanding the need/problem, and trying to mediate risk (see the first two).

The point; where there is risk, there is an emotional buyer. The rational driver of the decision making process takes a backseat to the emotional side of the brain. And now for the problem, the way we qualify and measure the quality of a lead or buyer is almost completely rationally driven.

Let’s take BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timing) as an example. Do they own or have access to a budget? Rational. Are they the decision maker? Rational. Do we understand their needs? Check, rational. Do we know the decision making timeframe or when the budget might be available? Check, and check.

Maybe it’s unfair to use BANT, so let’s try using Strategic Selling as a framework. Are they the economic buyer? Rational. Are they the technical buyer? Rational. Insert your own process or steps from marketing automation, ABM program, CRM platform, etc…, and you’ll come to the same conclusion.

The point is, our performance is poor and does not improve because we are not capturing half or more of the key elements of the purchasing process. We track an action or activity without understanding the reason behind it.

Downloading a white paper, attending a webinar, or requesting information may or may not indicate intent. Without understanding the reasons behind those actions, we can only use metrics based on similar actions from the past and that is why our performance is so poor. It’s also the reason why it is so difficult to improve performance.

Our metrics too often reflect rearview mirror actions, recording what happened in the past without insight into what will happen in the future. AI will begin to fill in that blank but it will be informed only by looking at what actions happened in the past as well.

We have no metrics for tracking the emotional involvement of the buyers involved in the purchase decision. And the most important of all of them is motivation.

Plenty of organizations and decision makers have needs. The question is, are they motivated to solve them. Most importantly, are they motivated to advocate for your brand or solution? The more you understand the differences in buyers’ personal preferences and motivations the more you’ll understand that the way we measure our sales and marketing activities, and performance, is incomplete.

For example, some buyers are motivated by bringing new ideas into the organization but will not advance the buying process. Others will champion ideas and drive them forward, but only if it benefits them. These behaviors ebb and flow within the corporate culture. A culture that also has its own motivations and behaviors, impacting how buyers behave within it.

And all of this is happening in real time, not in a well defined process, with rational steps neatly constructed within a linear timeline. Contributing to the challenge is the ever growing investment in the sales and marketing tech stack that chases optimization through machinery…e.g. volume. Because we can’t get better, we have to go broader.


What to Do

Sales is not just a “numbers game”, it’s also a head game, and it’s time for us to get our heads into that game. There are three steps that can help you track the “softer” side of the buying process.

  • Understand that corporate culture impacts decision making – start defining the dominant corporate culture. Is it sales, product, science, engineering, etc…? Track competing initiatives inside the org that may disrupt your sales success. This will help you understand the organizational motivation and how to align your efforts. Also, as a start, see Hank Barnes insightful work on corporate culture.
  • Understand that buyers have personalities which impact motivations – marketing has recognized that emotions exist in B2B and are being used to motivate audiences to take action, but this has not made its way into demand generation and sales.
  • Add the right tool to the martech stack – invest in personality profiling tools like xiQ or Crystal Knows to add the emotional elements that you are currently missing.

In order to improve, we need to add “why” metrics to the “what” currently tracked. As Kurt Vonnegut put it in his novel Player Piano, “If it weren’t for the people, the goddamn people always getting tangled up in the machinery…the world would be an engineer’s paradise.” For better or worse, our buyers are people, not a role or a title, and those people are rational and emotional.

The way we have constructed our measurement systems is based on an overly rationalized process driven by legacy manufacturing management practices that seek optimization through repetition. It’s not working. It’s time to rethink the machinery so we can help ourselves from getting tangled up in it.

The 2020 Work Day Study: What a Work Day Looks Like Now

The 2020 Work Day Study: What a Work Day Looks Like Now

What would your work day look like if you could pick how you spent your time?

When we founded Carbon Design three years ago we did it with the idea that work had changed…but companies hadn’t. People wanted to, and in some cases, had to, work differently. The M-F, 9 am to 5 pm workweek was an antiquated industrial revolution legacy. 

With the impact of Covid, the idea of a “work day” has changed even more dramatically. So that’s why we survey our talent to better understand what a real work day really looks like now. 

The cool part of this survey – Carbon is probably only one of few organizations that could actually figure out what a real work day looks like because of our business model. 

Our talent “own” their time, we don’t. Because they’re not a FTE, they have the autonomy to make their own hours, focus their energy on work or life when and how they choose. 

For the survey, we randomly choose a group of people to fill in how they spend their time. The diverse group included an almost even mix of women, men and age groups. 

Starting at 5:00 am the group used different colors to fill in 30 minute increments to define their focus at that time, extending to midnight. Three colors were used to create a “heat map.” Red showing time dedicated to work, yellow indicates a blending of life and work activities and green represents personal time. 

The results of the survey yielded insights into how to bring employees back into the office, how work days differ for parents based on children’s ages, and how to managing people in this challenging time.

Download the study now!

What would your work day look like if you could pick how you spent your time?