Places, Services and Things: Invest in your brand, then execute.
By Scott Burkhead
Three out of six CEO’s of B2B organizations we recently met described a range of activities employed to keep their brand strong, but generally fell back on the same three examples. They argued that their brand grew, and continues to be built by strong management, good service, and reliable products (or services), not so much by keeping the brand story fresh.
We couldn’t agree more with the first part of the argument. But we couldn’t agree less with the second part. Brands are like diamonds. They come out of the mine with great intrinsic value, created by the hard working earth over a long period of time. But few see the true value at that point. Cut the diamond and polish it and only then can most people see the attraction. Branding is a way of cutting and polishing – making it easier for the prospect to see the value of the product or company.
When the factory (or the data center) burns
“Brand is something that remains when our factory is burned,” Said David Ogilvy nearly fifty years ago. Olgilvy was one of the few marketers in his era that understood what was needed to develop a brand and tie it to a process of ongoing execution. Today, every agency and marketing consultant on the planet agrees that branding is important, but only a few know how to make a brand an object of trust. One of the simple secrets of building trust in your brand is through smart execution.
Every marketing effort does not require an offer
We’ve been connecting brands to execution (the stories we tell) for years. Sometimes, as with a pharmaceutical client, the stories executed are not so much about products but the brands value to its audience and how its mission affects their lives. Our pharma company client spent millions on research every year but consumers perceived the company as unfeeling and selling overly expensive products. The stories we told were quick, simple, and powerful. They were about scientists working for years to find new drugs to aid people with heart problems, or lung disease, or aids and we demonstrated that the company was in the business of finding cures, not just making profits. It became easier for consumers to relate the brands value when they understood how the brand could be of help to their families – maybe the company would discover a new Alzheimer’s medicine to help someone’s mother. The consumer trust inspired by tying these stories to the core brand benefit formed a positive halo over all the company’s products.
Think about your brand on four levels
*Strong brands require smaller spend to create awareness, consideration and sales. “If consumers have knowledge of a brand, the company could spend less on brand extension while achieving higher sales.” Zhang, Y. (2015) Awareness alone is not enough to improve sales. Every product and service has a funnel, a sales progression indicator to guide tactical marketing and the sales process. Awareness is at the mouth of the funnel and then consideration, decision and purchase. (Some funnels have as many as a dozen steps) And, in nearly every example studied (See Zhang above. Loken, Ahluwalia in a later paragraph) the stronger the link between brand awareness and consideration the fewer tactical funds were required to create the sale.
*The brand serves as a focus for customer loyalties and helps ensure future demand and cash flows. An interesting sidebar – the primary value that edged awareness into consideration for new customers was willingness to trust. So one might assume if the customer is willing to trust then good service and reliable products that deliver on the brands promise can keep the customers loyalty and in some cases as brand ambassadors.
*Brand introduces stability into businesses, helps guard against competitive encroachment, and allows investment and planning to take place with increased confidence. While difficult to measure empirically, there is ample evidence that customers strengthen their commitment to brand names they trust during difficult times. And, strong brands with significant market share impose a higher barrier to entry for competitive products.
*Well-nourished brands make it easier for organizations to create awareness and consideration.” (Loken, Ahluwalia, Houston, 2010). An interesting sidebar – the primary value that edged awareness into consideration for new customers was willingness to trust. Ongoing support for the brands by reminding the customer of why they trust your brand actually keeps the cost of promotion low as a ratio of sales.
Connecting your brands strength to execution works in most categories of business
Economic development interests, including cities (NYC), states, hotels, and airports (Hollywood-Burbank) are learning strong brands are as important for B2B as they are for consumer goods. And regardless of the category, managers usually need to connect the expense of branding work to improvements in revenue. A reasonable question from shareholders is, “Will we be better off spending this money on additional product advertising or perhaps hiring more sales people?” To answer this, managers have to begin demonstrating the link between branding efforts and sales and profitability.
Move toward a stronger brand
Talk with people who work with brands for a living. Find an agency you’re comfortable with and commission a directional brand audit. The audit will provide insights into comprehension, trust, and consideration among customer groups and stakeholders. The audit then becomes the platform to build a plan for vision refreshment, mission, value review, repositioning, graphic retention improvement and messaging and execution. In our era of ‘best of breed’ agencies it is often difficult for organizations to find the unique combination of consumer and B2B experience needed for this specialized work. If you have questions contact us. We might be able to help.