For B2B, just like B2C, investing in both brand and short-term tactical activity is a more effective strategy than the too-familiar narrow investment in performance marketing. Yet it seems to be getting harder to secure budget for brand building that delivers long-term growth.
In this article, guest author Ian Bamford asks:
- Why is brand building such a challenge?
- Why is brand important?
- What is a brand?
- How do you build a distinct brand identity?
- What can a strong brand achieve?
Why is brand building such a challenge?
Brand building is often seen as a cost rather than an investment. So it’s easy to cut when budgets are under pressure, but it takes investment over time to deliver long-term goals.
Against the pressure to deliver short-term sales and meet lead generation targets, it’s hard to stand up and make a business case for brand building. One that convinces sales-led management they should reallocate resources towards brand building, and creating distinctive brand assets that make you more salient, memorable, and consistent.
Instead, marketing focuses more and more on short-term tactics and channel efficiency. The explosion of data, proliferation of martech, and obsession with ROI further magnify the focus on ‘performance marketing’ and dashboards.
This creates a situation where our understanding of how audiences perceive brands, and how their attitudes to brands change over time, becomes neglected.
Why is brand important?
Despite all this, successful brands create successful businesses. As the following stats show, successful brands positively impact the bottom line, generating more revenue, profit, and growth:
- Brand value represents 20% of a business's market capitalization, on average. (1)
- Strong brands deliver far greater shareholder growth than the average company. Kantar Millward Brown’s Brand Z portfolio increased 124.9% between 2006 & 2017 compared with the S&P 500 (at +82.1%), and the World Index (at +34.9%). (2)
- Strong brands build price elasticity. High-strength brands command a price premium 13% higher than low-strength brands, and 6% higher than average-strength brands. (3)
- To maximize effectiveness, brands should spend 60% of their budget on brand building and 40% on activation. Too little brand activity and the equity needed to drive future revenue won’t accumulate. (4)
- Of the total commercial impact marcomms make, 58% will be seen in the long-term (6+ months) and 42% in the short-term (up to 6 months). (5)
For a business to grow successfully, addressing the situation to achieve a better balance between performance, activation, and brand building has to move up the agenda.
What is a brand?
A brand is the intangible emotional relationship between an individual and a product or service, built from the sum of all expectations, experiences, and feelings at every touchpoint.
~ Ian Bamford
Firstly, every business has a brand, whether conscious of it or not. And as we’ve just seen, it directly affects how successful they are.
But a brand is far more than a logo. A brand is the intangible emotional relationship between an individual and a product or service, built from the sum of all expectations, experiences, and feelings at every touchpoint.
Successful brands exceed their audiences’ expectations by consistently delivering positive experiences to build trust and advocacy. As a result, successful brands make for more successful businesses. Their behavior builds price elasticity and delivers more revenue, profit, and growth.
Internally, too, a strong brand provides clarity. Everyone understands what the business is trying to achieve, where it sits in the market, how it behaves, and how it adds value. When everyone knows where the business is going, they’re motivated, pulling in the same direction to achieve the same goals. It becomes the framework that guides behavior and shapes decision-making, allowing a business to move forward.
When viewed in this context, brands are integral to long-term success, and the need for a brand platform with a clear value proposition, positioning, and identity becomes more compelling.
Build a distinctive brand identity
To be successful, you have to convince your audience that you answer their challenges and meet their needs better than your competitors.
To establish a strong brand, you need to know why you exist and how that’s invaluable for your audience. Ask yourself:
- What impact does your business deliver?
- Why should your audience care about you?
- What value do you offer them?
Answering these questions gives you your reason why. Once you know your why, you can define your value proposition and develop a brand identity that brings your proposition to life.
How you look – your fonts, color palette, visual style – and your tone of voice, the language you use, and your messaging should be developed with the singular purpose of creating a distinctive, differentiated brand that engages people.
Decision-makers are still emotional beings. They still form emotive responses to what they see and hear. A distinctive style incorporating design cues that carry through all your communications creates a visual shorthand for your audience that builds recognition and familiarity.
This is vital because there’s one thing marketers tend to forget: your audience isn’t always in the market when you spend your budget, so you may not see results from your brand-building activities right away. Once your audience is back on the market for a solution, you need them to remember you.
Likewise, your message should be compelling and motivating. It’s not about selling how great you are. Connecting with your audience and building relationships is about having a clear point of view. One that says who you are, conveys emotional intelligence and empathy, and builds a narrative that communicates solutions based on recognizable truths.
To build trust, generate loyalty and ultimately make your audience buy into you, it’s not only a distinct identity and your message that matter. Consistent delivery is vital. For people to connect with your brand, they have to experience the same emotional reaction every time they interact with you. Being consistent in how you present your brand and how you speak aids recognition, maintains the quality and integrity of your brand’s image, and increases its perceived value.
Without a strong, consistent identity, the result is a series of disjointed messages with no shared thread. This creates uncertainty in the minds of your audience. They become confused about what they’ll get out of any relationship with you, and you fail to connect.
As much as we’d like to think they do, people don’t consume marketing materials. They’re busy; they only consume what interests them. To stimulate their interest, brands have to deliver marketing that’s memorable, motivating, and truthful.
Before you develop a marketing plan, you need to define a powerful point of view. One you can communicate consistently in a distinct brand framework people recognize, identify with, and trust. Marketing that stands out from the competition by bringing a brand to life in a bold and confident way makes people stop in their tracks.
The key is to find those business truths your audience identifies with. Learn why your product or service is the one that’ll help people thrive, and deliver a strong, differentiated brand that everyone within the organization understands and everyone outside the organization recognizes.
What can a strong brand achieve?
Because a strong brand has the power to influence individuals, create preference, and spur behavioral change, brand building brings many benefits to an organization. Let's finish with a reminder of what a strong brand delivers.
- Short-term sales: Would you buy now from a brand you know or a brand you don’t?
- Long-term sales: Many more customers are ‘out of market’ than ‘in market’ at any one time. You need mental availability for when those ‘out of market’ become ‘in market’.
- Price elasticity: Strong brands command a price premium, and increasing price by 1% has a greater impact on profit than increasing sales by 1%
- Protection: Product features & benefits can be copied. Sales activation tactics can be copied. Your brand allows you to create a distinctive proposition that sets you apart.
- Greater talent: It’s easier to attract talent if you’re a well-known brand than if you aren’t.
- Category change: A strong brand allows you to move into new, relevant categories when old ones shrink.
Liked this article? Read more of Ian’s work here.
(1) Analysis of data from annual brand value league tables published by Brand Finance, Eurobrand, Interbrand and Millward Brown for the 6 years 2010 to 2015.
(2) Kantar Millward Brown, BrandZ, 2017.
(3) The Meaningfully Different Framework, Millward Brown, 2013.
(4) ‘The Long and the Short of it’, 2013, Binet & Field, The IPA.
(5) Thinkbox, Ebiquity, Gain Theory, ‘Profit Ability: The business case for advertising’
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