Bringing Branding Back

Bringing Branding Back

One of marketing’s eternal challenges is striking the balance between brand and performance; between creating demand and harvesting it. But for the past few years in B2B marketing, building a brand has looked like little more than an afterthought.

Digital media has always been a powerful driver towards performance; there was even a period in the early 2000s when otherwise sensible people argued that online simply wasn’t a medium for brand-building.

In parallel, pressure has grown on marketers to be more accountable. They have increasingly needed to demonstrate ROMI and show the tangible benefits they deliver to the business, rather than just dealing in vanity metrics such as clicks and likes.

The result of all of this was clear in the findings of the 2021 WARC report Rethinking brand for the rise of digital commerce. The report argued that: “The ease of access to short-term metrics like cost-per-acquisition is intoxicating when compared with the relative difficulty and expense of measuring the commercial return on investment in brand-building.” Half of marketers (51%) surveyed said they planned to increase their spend on performance marketing, up from a third (32%) the year before. In contrast, only a quarter (28%) planned to increase their investment in brand, down from 40% in 2020.

Optimising ourselves out of effectiveness

But now the pendulum is swinging back the other way. The WARC report also described: “A growing number of companies ‘optimising themselves out of effectiveness’ as they efficiently convert all available market demand with conversion tactics, then see their performance metrics decline as that demand is exhausted.”

There are other forces in play. Consumer concerns about privacy have intersected with the tech giants’ desire for more control over advertising revenues. As a result, marketers are just about to lose the ability to track, profile and target potential prospects. Engaged, opted-in customers are now the holy grail.

At the same time, the pace of change accelerated during the pandemic. For B2B marketers in high-value, low purchase-frequency sectors in particular, it’s increasingly likely that a customer’s needs, the make-up of their purchasing committee, or even the type of business they work for will change between the start of the buying process and its end. Couple this with Gartner’s finding that 83% of the buying decision is already made before a salesperson gets in the room with the client, and it’s clear we’re now living in the age of the invisible customer.

Removing the cloak of invisibility

The only way to make these customers visible is to persuade them to engage with you. To raise their hands and ask to start a conversation.

This is why brand-building is becoming so important in B2B marketing. As a marketer, you don’t know when a potential customer is starting their buying process. In fact, as Gartner revealed, the chances are you’ll only find out they’re in-market when that process is already four-fifths complete. So if each member of the purchasing committee brings four or five pieces of content into the decision-making process (as Gartner also discovered), you need a high proportion of them to be yours. As Alex Buckalew, senior product marketing manager at GraphCMS put it, the question marketers should ask themselves is what do they need to do to stick in potential customers’ minds. What’s that if not brand-building?

Every step you take

All this means rebalancing the relationship between branding and performance. B2B content marketing’s job is to tie the entire customer journey together. Your strategy has to encompass every touchpoint along your customers’ path to purchase, reinforcing your brand at each one, while also delivering the particular information each buyer needs at that point, so they can move on to the next stage of their journey.

So a content strategy is much more than just a spreadsheet of what you’re going to publish when. It’s a description of the role each piece of content has to play along the path to purchase, and for whom. And it’s based on two things. One, establishing a deep understanding of the wants and needs of every member of your prospective customer’s buying committee, and how your core proposition addresses them. Two, re-appraising and updating that understanding constantly, based on detailed analysis of what those buyers do, every step of the way.