In an era of sophistication, specialisation and globally distributed teams, we have two camps in marketing now, brand marketers and performance marketers. And often, we see miscommunication between the two roles. Rodger Jones, brand strategy director of Bader Rutter and BBN’s Brand Asset Management task team leader, shares some of his thoughts to remind performance marketers about the relevance and importance of brand strategy.
In my role, I am responsible for managing and executing our brand asset management or BAM model. It’s our process for ensuring that our clients build effective and powerful brands. There are five pillars within BAM, and they typically go in sequence, but they may change a little depending on the need.
You’ve got to start with discovery. You’ve got to come in objectively and understand the marketplace, understand the customers, and in B2B, understand both the rational and emotional motivations of your customers. Many times, in B2B, that emotional connection is missing. It’s all about performance, and it’s all about data. Well, it’s not. It’s also about making emotional connections with people, and in this discovery step, a key pillar, it’s also about understanding how to differentiate your brand from the competition.
Future Identity and Position
The second pillar is future identity and position. You’ve got to have a good sense of how you want your brand to be known. You’ve got to take it apart and understand what you have to offer, the rational benefits, the emotional benefits, the very purpose of the brand, the essence of the brand, and then very importantly, the position, what space you want to own in the marketplace.
And then, the third pillar, often not thought of because of the way many companies are structured, is portfolio strategy. There are individual product managers who are responsible for their product, so they need something to manage that. You’ve got to have a holistic approach to how you present the portfolio offering. And this is beyond products. It can be services you offer as well, but you need to make sure that you have that organised in a way that will be a good experience for customers and prospects.
The fourth pillar we call audience needs; it’s the intersection between the brand strategy and the key target audiences. It is where you’re creating buyers’ journeys, brand stories, key messages. They’re vital for building that bridge into marketing.
Then the fifth and final pillar, which we believe very strongly in, is internal activation, especially in B2B where the sale must be closed with a human being, with a sales representative. These are not products often in B2B that you buy off the shelf. So, you’ve got to have internal buy-in.
Performance marketers’ misconceptions of brand strategy
When it comes to Performance Marketers, I always start with empathy and sensitivity towards their pressure to achieve sales. Their measurement is usually by quarter; they’ve got targets to deliver. So, they might not see the benefits that long term branding has on the short-term. So, of course, they will be focused on the short term, but there’s a vital connection between the short term and the long term. If you get long-term branding initiatives in play, you’re going to be able to help support the short term, and you’re also going to have more pricing and negotiating power. Brands are an excellent strategy for protecting against just keeping the focus on pricing that you can build the story on net value, take some of that pressure off, forcing the pricing down.
The other thing long term brand building allows is that a lot of the short-term activity targets current customers. Get more sales, get more share of customers. But then you’re missing that whole part of the world that is not a customer, yet they are still viable prospects. So, the longer-term branding provides options within the categories that you play in. If you’re not at the top of the funnel, as a consideration, you’re not going to come out at the bottom. So, it helps with keeping the rest of that population that are not current customers in the funnel as a prospect.
So, I think the pressure they’re under blinds them to some of the long-term benefits, and that’s what we try to share with them to get that balance right. Yes, of course, you need short-term marketing activity, but you need long-term brand building too.
How brand strategy helps to grow revenue pipeline
One of the things that we’re very keen on in brand management is having tangible outcomes and deliverables that you can apply; we call it brand asset management because it’s respectful of businesses. Businesses have many assets to manage, and a brand is an asset to manage. So, to be able to do that, you’re going to need to take a disciplined approach. We’re often talking to business leaders, and these are women and men in charge of people, technology, processes, and factories, and they go through much due diligence. You need to use and apply some of that same due diligence in crafting a brand strategy.
The five pillars are really at the heart of what it takes to craft a proper brand strategy. You’ve got to start objectively. You’ve got to get those marketplace insights. The generic pressure, competitive pricing pressure, and then get insights into your target audiences and understand what motivates them both from a business perspective and a personal perspective. And what’s critical at that stage is to find out where you’ve got parity and where you’ve got differentiation. Go in with eyes wide open to see where you have a competitive advantage and if you don’t, then find another angle in to attract the attention of your customers and prospects. You’ve got to have a strong sense and a definition of the brand. As we always say, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
So, make sure that there’s continuity in the approach and engage people throughout the organisation to build the strategy to believe in it. Another critical component is to ensure that you do it holistically. Make sure you’re doing it in connection with everything in your portfolio, or you could create unwanted conflicts. You can be competing against yourself inadvertently. And then, the significant part is to find synergies where you can cross-sell and market your products even stronger together. And we find that happens a lot because product managers usually have responsibility for their products, and they’re missing some cross-selling opportunities, which a portfolio strategy can deliver. And then messaging is so vital and a component that everybody can apply.
Then make sure that as they approach their brand strategy, they remember their people. Payroll is probably one of the most significant investments a company has, and every employee can become an ambassador for the brand.
The importance of brand activation
I described the pillars at the beginning, and the fifth pillar is internal activation. And what I’ve seen over the years is that it is often an afterthought that as we get the strategy built, you take it for granted that people will buy into the brand strategy. They may or they may not, or they may do so in different degrees. So, the first step is to plan for it, build it into your brand strategy development program. And there are plenty of studies out there that tell us that engagement does impact performance. It can impact profitability; it can impact productivity; it can affect the customer ratings, whatever metrics you’re using for customer satisfaction; we know from research and our experience that engaged employees can impact organisational performance.
So, when you can get them engaged in the brand strategy, you’re going to have empowered them to be advocates for you. So, when I say plan for it, what does that mean? We take an approach where we treat the internal public the same as we would prospects and customers. We want to understand their motivations. Yes, they must show up, work, have careers, and need their paycheque, but more than that. Particularly, if you’re trying to get them behind a brand, start with understanding their motivation and then look at how to move them along from where they are on the journey. Most people are familiar with a buyer’s journey. We create an employee’s journey. We look at what it means to be aware of your company’s brand and understand it, then to believe in it, and then the fourth step is to be a champion. To manage them, know that they’re not going to wake up and be a champion. Learn how to nurture them and move that through with the appropriate messaging and activities.
So, in defining their path through that journey, you’re also going to find out what your objectives need to be at each one, and then you can determine the strategies and even define the tactics. And what we find is that this isn’t a significant execution expense because all organisations already have channels in place. They’ve got newsletters, they’ve got blogs, they’ve got ways to disseminate information, but what we need to help them with is getting the correct brand information out to their internal publics to secure them as real ambassadors. So, it’s a potent step, and if you think of the persuasiveness of humans, if they believe in something, they can be massively persuasive. So that’s the approach that we take to ensure that you can harness the power of employees.
The other thing that brand building helps with is talent acquisition. People want to work for strong, powerful brands, and those long-term investments help reinforce talent acquisition.
Seven metrics to measure the impact of brand on the company’s business
A business requires the passion for having metrics to measure. In the absence of that data, it’s just conjecture and hearsay. Because each company’s slightly different, we find that having some baseline brand equity scores is essential. So, what’s brand equity? Well, it does take an investment. It would take an investment in market research to get these metrics. The critical aspects of brand equity are:
- A consistent measure of awareness.
- Familiarity, not just how familiar they are with the brand, but how familiar are they really with it?
- User satisfaction.
- One that relates to loyalty is future intent. What are your future purchase intentions? That’s where you can get a measure of, “Are they loyal to us, or are they just going to move to the next option within the category?”
- An excellent metric to have and says a lot about a person’s attitude towards a brand is the willingness to recommend. I may use it. I may be loyal to it, but will I recommend it to a peer? Will I recommend it to a friend? So that can be a robust measure.
- Ease of doing business with that brand.
- Benchmarking – repeat the study, if it’s every 12 months or 18 months or 24 months, whatever the dynamics of your market might be, to see how you’re doing. And if you can get that consistently, then you’ll be able to determine your brand health.
The healthier the brand is, the stronger connections it will make with customers, and that’s a long-term investment to make sure that you’re getting the short-term sales you need.
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About the author
For more than 30 years, Rodger Jones has contributed to building business for clients through brand management, strategic planning, creative thinking and concept development. Rodger also has worked for several U.S. agencies and in Manchester and London, UK. He is a co-developer of BBN’s proven and effective Brand Asset Management (BAM) model.