by Mark Eardley (@mdeardley) There’s been an upsurge of talk recently in the B2B marketing press about the importance of brands. The chatter has been prompted by respected research (Binet & Field, no less) that was first covered by The Drum in a top article by a smart marketer called Samuel Scott — well worth a read. What the research shows (and the chatter latches onto) is that B2B brands matter because they can have a positive impact on profitable growth.

Knock me down with a feather.

I’m astonished that anybody didn’t already understand the massive commercial importance of brands in B2B — that they didn’t twig that every marketing activity must be grounded in the attributes of the brand. Your brand is the unifying theme that runs throughout your marketing, constantly highlighting what the brand represents from a customer’s perspective.

Profitable growth is brand-driven — aka marketing-driven

In terms of triggering profitable growth — by conveying the right messages to the right people — a strong brand can secure more buyer-attention (more customer-engagement, if you like) than a sales team. Maybe 10 times more.

Just think about that for a minute. Think of all your sales team’s effort to win attention/engagement. Now multiply that effort by 10. That’s the engagement power of a strong brand. Now multiply by ten the overall cost of fielding your sales team. That’s the monetary value of a strong brand.

Judging by the latest wide-eyed brand-chatter, this sort of brand impact is a bombshell for a lot of B2Bers — but it’s supported by heavyweight research from CEB/Gartner.

And if you want that research endorsed, a new study by the mega sales consultancy, Miller Heiman Group, shows that during the buying-decision cycle, salespeople are less influential than all the following:

  1. Subject matter experts from industry or third parties
  2. Past experience with vendor
  3. Vendor websites
  4. Industry events/trade shows/conferences
  5. Peers/colleagues
  6. Industry/professional online communities/social networks
  7. Business or industry publications, trade media
  8. Web searches

With the possible exception of no. 2, these are marketing “targets”. Classed in the study as “Buyer Preferred Resources Used to Solve Business Problems”, they’re all areas that fall within marketing’s domain. As the preferred resources that inform buying decisions, they present an obvious opportunity to initiate deals by ensuring your brand has a highly visible, positive presence in each of them.

For marketers looking to drive sales, margins and loyalty, here’s an understatement of note: the Miller Heiman study is essential reading. Perhaps what needs to happen before we all start scrabbling to do some ‘brand-marketing’ (ugh!) is for us B2Bers to remind ourselves of a few brand basics.

B2B brands

  • What is a brand? It’s a promise that defines why customers should buy from you.
  • What does it do? Signals how your firm advances the success of everyone who influences a buying decision.
  • What is it not? Your firm’s name, logo or slogan — they’re just cosmetics.
  • What is your brand? Whatever the influencers think you are.

“No matter what the business and its corporate executives would like their brand to be, brand reality is always defined by the customer’s view.” — Philip Kotler & Waldemar Pfoertsch, B2B Brand Management.

Right, revision-time’s over.

What makes a strong, deal-winning brand?

Deals get done when decision influencers (the only people whose perceptions count) see your brand like this:

  1. Relevant: It’s obvious to me why I should buy from you.
  2. Evident: My risk is minimised by your proven ability to deliver results I need.
  3. Different: I can justify selecting you over and above your competitors.
  4. Prominent: Your reputation is understood and respected in my industry/line-of-business.

When all the influencers can put a tick against these four brand attributes, sales are made, margins protected and loyalty reinforced. Job done.

Marketing align with sales? Wrong. It’s the other way around

Marketing drives engagement and sales handles fulfilment. That’s what the research shows — and not just the research I’ve mentioned. Studies by the likes of McKinsey and LinkedIn show that a vendor’s brand can be a key informant in buying decisions, outstripping the significance of salespeople.

That’s particularly true during the opening phases of the buying-decision cycle as customers (1) identify needs, (2) set criteria to meet them and (3) begin researching potential solutions. All of that can, and increasingly does, happen without any input from your sales team and bars them from participating in the phases that trigger sales.

If salespeople are being excluded from those critical phases, then marketing must fill the void. My suggestion? Fill it with a strong, deal-winning brand.


Mark EardleyMark Eardley (@mdeardley) advises B2B companies on how to govern their marketing to attract and retain profitable customers; several of his clients have grown to become market leaders. He and Charlie Stewart have written Business-to-Business Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide (Penguin Random House), which offers practical, actionable advice on how to make marketing make money. His monthly “Back2Basics” column covers how B2B companies and their agencies should manage their marketing.

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