Fixing brand for the outside starts on the inside but with only with an outside-in view!

Fixing brand for the outside starts on the inside but with only with an outside-in view!

Had a quick coffee today with a small business owner who was struggling to change the focus of his company culture from one that was Sales driven to one that needed to offer more of an experience. He was struggling because they’d been successful and to stay successful he felt he needed to change. He wondered if a new brand would help but his view of what a brand is, suggested that it wouldn’t help. Yet. For brand change to work on the outside, they’d need to change the inside first…and fundamentally so.

A B2B service organisation is often driven by customer numbers – whether by driving new customers or focusing on client retention. Companies that have grown primarily by the former have a dominant sales culture that pervades the organisation and dictate the Silo hierarchies. Those that have grown by focusing on client retention have a dominant customer service culture that coordinates the organisation to be customer centric.

Both types of culture use marketing and brand practices to achieve their goals. In the former, Sales & Marketing are often under the same leadership and communications are judged on their tactical success in delivering numbers. Short term offers, usually price discounts, occasionally delivered “loudly”. For the latter, Marketing is focussed on understand customer insights, trialling solutions and offers with those customers and rolling out the offer to reward the customer’s experience of the service.

In the former, brand is used to carry the messages out to potential customers. You’ll hear terminology like direct, consistency, efficiency, offers, brand manuals. In the latter, brand influences the organisation’s culture, their service delivery, response times, their processes and capabilities as well as their external communications. Here, you’ll hear terms like dialogue, satisfaction, innovation, brand stories, effectiveness.

While each can be successful, what is really tough is to change from one to the other – especially if tried quickly. What can happen is that brand and marketing can be tasked to change the perception of the service before the internal offering is able to deliver it. Promising something, that is not then actually experienced, leads to rejection. These are empty promises. However well executed the promises are they will be empty. Price driven tactics cannot deliver a premium brand experience. Telling customers is not the same as listening to customers. Showing customers you are prepared to listen by a sms or email campaign isn’t enough. Changing your name or logo, to suggest you care or you are a premium offer, isn’t enough.

If success is not instant because the service offer is left unchanged, or the organisational silos remain disconnected and the company then blames Marketing for subsequent customer churn, then the understanding of brand and its influence remains old fashioned and so ineffective.

Brand will be effective once the organisation recognises the changes needed inside to affect those on the outside. By listening and talking to the customers – about what they value, what they want and what they will or might want – you’ll have a blueprint for change. These changes start on the inside – from the top of the company, to all their people on the customer journey that tough the experience of the service offer – by signalling change, recognising change, rewarding success, adding new companywide service KPIs vs. Sales KPIs will start to affect the internal culture. This can lead next to a change in where and how the service is experienced by the customers so that it is actually experienced by those customers and their reactions will create positive advocates and cause loyalty and importantly, recommendations much more powerful that a 50% short term discount. Indeed this is the premium service of the future.

Such change is hard. It is fundamental change. And brand can indeed help. 21st Century branding encourages the outside in blueprint for such change.

Is Brand 3.0 better suited to B2B marketers?

Is Brand 3.0 better suited to B2B marketers?

Business to Business (B2B) and Service Brands have long needed brand thinking that is different to the Mad Men inspired thinking that broadcast messages to consumers and relentlessly defended the positioning against competition. Customers and Users have moved on. Services and products cannot be based on a transactional basis alone because customers demand more understanding of their own “unique” needs.

Customers are complex and demanding of experiences that are rewarding – not just for themselves and their own company and customers, but for the communities they exist in. The bigger companies exist in communities that can be better named as society and the Multinational’s community impacts on the environment, mankind and future generations – think of Paul Polman’s Unilever Sustainable Living program or Bono’s Product (Red) or the Microsoft’s legacy work of the Gates Foundation. Sustainability is now a core tenet of 21st Century growth and companies on both sides of the B2B equation know this. Soon Procurement will look not simply for lowest cost tenders but how future offsetting on sustainability policies are incorporated. Carbon trading is becoming regulated by the governments and will soon be a mandatory prerequisite in many big tenders.

Great B2B marketers know the value of Partnerships and that by innovating new products and services via partnership can mean that Enterprises can shape and test new business models – but also that they will see new revenue streams to lift their old models.

Understanding the wider benefits for the customers’ communities and using new partners & business models to grow will add value to the company’s offer by adding an enhanced benefit to the customers (& their own customers & staff). Another tenet for the 21st Century is speed. Expectation for improvements, for new, for understanding or for better…all to be delivered at faster speed. For some more traditional companies this is harder to achieve than for some newer tech enabled successes. Companies that may suffer from “Silo Slowness” will need help in change & marketers can help bring this need for speed to fruition by bringing more business creativity initiatives into the organisation’s processes.

Marketing in a B2B environment has never really been a pure communications role – the organisation has traditionally been geared up for service – so an understanding of the customer journey (or their customer’s customer journeys) is already part of successful B2B companies. Marketing must be relentless in understanding customer’s needs – not what they were but what they are & importantly will be – not just insight but foresight.

As marketers, their roles are complex and can be a mix of investigator, integrator, innovator and instigator. B2B marketers have to help bring a company’s focus to customers future needs – and today that can mean being useful & optimistic.

In order to connect to their customers they must be useful – consumer marketing is many ways are still learning this. Engaging customers is not simply a good story well told. Mad Men thinking is fast being left behind. Indeed B2B never needed Brand to mean advertising campaigns or corporate logo – they needed brand to rally the staff and the service around a customer’s needs. Cisco and Oracle are fundamentally benefit driven. Brand as communication was termed tactics not strategic – strategic brand thinking centred on R&D for their customers. Today’s economic woes mean the inertia many companies are struggling with needs marketers to look positively into the near future and identify some quick opportunities and highlight possible actions that can lead to grab them.

Where B2B marketers can struggle is when the organisation is geared in delivering products or services that are complex – in the building of the product, in the testing, in describing or in their delivery/installation. Such companies can consider they’re a specialist and will be run by engineers or technical experts who have grown up with the company or the category. These leaders will understand the complexities of the offer/service and develop it incrementally year after year. Innovation may well be inherent inside the culture (as they are always seeking improvements) but this innovation will be familiar rather than surprising. Incremental sales and efficiency are valued and expected. In such companies, Sales and Marketing often work as a service to the engineers and developers. Country & category operations run the same way. Customer service will be ensuring products/services work as promised and lessons learned are shared back to organisations sporadically. These leaders believe marketing as a support function should deliver 20th Century branding.

Marketing can still be useful – but needs to be heard. This can mean being challenging and even disruptive – but from a need for change perspective, engaging cross discipline teams on new initiatives, on creating a few, small actions that are future facing, the results of marketing’s voice may rise.

Without an effective voice from marketers, B2B companies can over focus on their product features and then attack with pricing tactics vs. competition, and not the benefit experiences their products and services deliver to their customers. Benefit driven pricing can be higher if they are clearly valued. Cost optimisation comes to the fore, everything is shaved & discounting can become a primary sales strategy, and they have to price their products like a commodity.

B2B marketers can succeed & own the new brand thinking by

  • Great insights and foresight on the customer’s needs
  • Innovating partnerships for new business models (& new revenue)
  • Drive value via the benefits for customers vs. simply delivering best competitive pricing
  • Seeding the internal story around the brand so building the value to customers communities