Why CEOs Should Be Obsessed With Their Brands


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What if instead of “where are all the leads?” the CEO said to their head of marketing, “make us the most famous brand in our category”.

In today’s business climate – the economic outlook far from optimistic and a recession still a very real threat – this change in tack is exactly what’s needed.

In the real world of B2B sales, only around 5% of our customers are in-market to buy at any given time. And, in times like these, companies almost instinctively become more risk averse.

Budgets are slashed, sign off on spending becomes more complex with more decision makers involved, and buyers become even more wary than usual about the disruption of changing suppliers. As a result, leads are quite the opposite of plentiful.

Yet pressure from higher ups and purse-string holders to see a fast return on marketing investment means that, in many companies, virtually all of marketing’s budget is still spent on delivering “leads” of questionable quality to feed to sales teams who often reject them.

But what if marketing focused on the 95% of out-of-market buyers instead of hedging their bets on the 5%?

There is a long term, and ultimately more successful, game to be played here. It’s one that relies on your brand being memorable to buyers.

How buyers buy

When companies are looking to invest in a new piece of software, or switch to a new accountancy firm, how do you imagine shortlisting takes place?

You might picture a process of careful research and logical deduction, with each vendor closely examined and weighed on its merits.

Yet numerous studies show that’s not what happens: it’s often simply a list of all the vendors that can be recalled from memory, along with perhaps a recommendation or two from peers.

The bad news is that the number of brands we can recall from memory in any single category is pretty low. Ask yourself how many toothpaste brands you can name unprompted? Three, maybe four? How about remote workplace software providers? One, perhaps two?

A shortlist of around five suppliers is fairly typical. This makes the stakes even higher. How can you hope to stand out from competitors, particularly if you’re a challenger firm up against long-established rivals?

The answer is to be memorable, and the way to do that is by building your brand. When your customer is, eventually, ready to buy, your brand needs to be in that top three or four companies they can recall. This is the prize.

To get attention, a brand needs to be distinctive. The good news is that what you offer doesn’t need to be what sets you apart. Instead, try focusing on how you do what you do, or why, instead of what you sell.

But don’t fall into the trap of making it all about you. Stay laser focused on your customer and the challenges they face (which you can help them overcome). Don’t be afraid to get a little emotional, either – as a CEB/Google study found, the B2B buying process involves the same combination of gut instinct, emotion, reason and post-rationalisation as other purchasing decisions.

Once you’ve clearly defined what you stand for and what you care about, hammer this message home, over and over again. Consistency is key. While you might get bored of your brand because you’re exposed to it day in, day out, it takes on average five to seven impressions for a customer to become aware that you even exist.

And the truth is, it could be years before a customer is ready to buy. A strong and powerful brand will steadily work its magic so that, when the time comes, you’re at the forefront of their mind.

At the same time, short term marketing activity, including lead generation, don’t need to stop. The ideal budget split is 60% on long-term brand marketing and 40% on short-term activation, according to experts.

As for monitoring success, certain indicators of brand awareness are measurable. Use social listening tools to track growth in organic mentions and engagement, and try periodical surveys or focus groups. Also look at leading and lagging indicators of real success. These include marketing-sourced revenue, customer lifetime value, time-to-close, and customer acquisition cost.

Investing in brand building will put your business in a prime position when the market picks up again, so stop fixating on leads and aim to be famous in your category.

Jason Ball
B2B marketing expert Jason Ball, founder of Considered Content, has worked with Google, Oracle, AT&T, EY, Sony, Hubspot and Microsoft. Jason and his team have created content and communications for 22 out of the world’s top 50 tech companies.


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