by Paul Cash and James Trezona, co-authors of “Humanizing B2B: The New Truth in Marketing That Will Transform Your Brand and Your Sales“
Most business-to-business marketing follows a cyclical pattern of launching campaigns to generate as many leads as possible, and when that set of leads is exhausted, releasing another campaign. Although a tactical activation campaign can produce a high return on investment, it’s unlikely to be memorable. The effects are short-lived, and little long-term growth is encouraged by it.
For comparison sake, these tactics are like a crash diet someone embarks on in order to look great for a big event. While the weight may come off for the short-term, it very quickly comes back afterwards. Only those who make long-term adjustments to their lifestyle succeed at long-term weight loss. It may take longer to reach the ideal goal, but they can maintain it once they do.
Similarly, long-term brand building efforts create associations that continue to influence purchase decisions long after a campaign is over. If you can bring customers into your business because they want to be there, you can provide them with the product information they need once they cross the threshold. Despite requiring a much wider reach than tactical marketing, this is more effective because it lasts longer and accumulates over time. Branding also reduces price sensitivity and therefore increases margins, which is why it’s critical to achieving long-term growth and profitability.
The power of looking long term
The global instability and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic caused many to worry about how they’d meet their everyday needs. In response to the hardship, the auto brand Ford launched an advertising campaign promising a pause in credit payments. As a result of its campaign, 90 percent of those polled said they considered Ford “an important part of American culture.” This represented quite an accomplishment — a company embedded itself into the nation’s psyche during a national crisis. It will have a substantial effect on Ford’s long-term viability.
We can’t predict what happens in this world, but if we have a solid brand to rely on, we won’t have to resort to a constant stream of discounts and product offers. Companies that invest in their brands and convey a vital purpose will thrive no matter what transpires. Ford didn’t win people over by launching a car with a new feature; it did it by addressing its customer’s emotional state constructively and positively.
Brand building is the foundation for long-term success
Brand building is a crucial part of B2B marketing, but it takes intention and effort to execute it successfully. As you look to lay down this foundation, consider these strategies.
1. Harness the human connection.
People are drawn to brands for more profound reasons than their marketing campaigns. They want a brand to motivate them, which is their “why.” Those brands that mean something to people aren’t loved for how they do what they do, they’re loved for why they do it. Companies like these have a sense of mission — a driving motive beyond making money, selling stuff, or being the best. Profit isn’t the purpose, it’s the result.
Customers can relate to valuable purposes that marketers create and communicate. Purpose involves showing up in the world in a way that proves the company isn’t just interested in selling products for the sake of it, but in making a meaningful and positive impact on customers’ lives. For instance, what’s the purpose of a printer manufacturer? Is it to bring people together through visual communication? To make words and images real and tangible? To enable small business growth? These more profound questions are essential to customers.
2. Stand out in the crowd.
Effective branding allows a company to command a higher price and stand out from the competition. Different companies can offer the same product but at different prices. There may be minor feature differences in the pricier products, but not enough to justify the price hikes alone. For instance, Apple charges twice as much as leading PC brands, and Nike charges up to four times as much as other sneakers.
A brand’s success depends on how well it makes its customers feel about themselves. For B2B brands, it’s no different. This doesn’t mean abandoning tactical activation campaigns entirely, but rebalancing marketing. The current focus may lean heavily toward features and lead generation, yet these should be in equal balance with relating brand and emotion. The way someone feels about the company is just as important as what they think about it.
3. Emotions matter.
B2B brands generate more emotional connections than business-to-consumer (B2C) brands, according to a recent study. In B2C brands have emotional bonds with 10–40 percent of consumers, while B2B brands have them with over 50 percent of customers. Consumers make purchases with relatively low stakes, but when B2B clients invest in a product, they need to feel a significant level of trust for balancing the risk.
While it’s commonly believed that B2B purchase decisions are primarily driven by maximizing value for the business, the study also indicates that buyers don’t see many differences in the products they can choose among to meet their needs. Despite this, most B2B marketing focuses on product features. By emphasizing the feelings associated with their products, B2B marketers can build emotional connections by ramping up anticipation of the reward to be gained by purchasing their products.
Essentially, B2B buyers are 50 percent more likely to buy a product or service when they’re convinced of the personal value it brings to them — such as the possibility to advance their careers or boost their reputation. And, they’re eight times more likely to pay a premium price to purchase it.
Branding is a long-term game in which you must develop a long-term perspective to succeed. While you could achieve short-term results more quickly and justify the results at your next quarterly review, betting on the future, while more risky, pays off in increased profits and long-term viability for your company.
Paul Cash is Founder and CEO of the multi-award-winning marketing agency, Rooster Punk, the go-to name in B2B storytelling in the United Kingdom. James Trezona, Managing Director, came to Rooster Punk from Microsoft’s UK agency, Mason Zimbler. Cash and Trezona’s new book is “Humanizing B2B: The New Truth in Marketing That Will Transform Your Brand and Your Sales” (Practical Inspiration Publishing, April 27, 2021). Learn more at humanizingb2b.com.