Value Add -er

Value Add-er

Too many people interpret value in the context of price. Especially in the economic environment we are working in today. But if value is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak, is that beholder a consumer, a customer or a user?

There are value ranges in supermarkets which is the basic no frills own label products. There are take away food offers which offer ‘all this’ for £6.99 – with the emphasis on the price. These products are treated as a transaction. These supermarket goods and take away meals are consumed and it makes sense to treat them as a transaction led by price for those consumers.

Many companies have customers, not consumers, who use the service themselves or provide it for their own customers. The worry is that many businesses, when dealing with suppliers, are using heavy procurement processes and tough tenders that also focus on the cost as the most significant differentiator in a decision to award a contract. These processes focus on price as it’s an easily compared metric. But these businesses are not selling a product that is quickly consumed but a service that is used.

This service is experienced by their customers and their staff. This experience has many elements in the customer journey that sends signals of understanding the customer (& the staff) that add or take away value to the service. These small elements and traits are not always so easy to measure. Procurement can miss them. But customers and users don’t. These elements of satisfaction can have metrics. Preference and word of mouth are measureable.

Designing the service from the customer’s point of view and getting the staff on board to highlight those stories that illuminate the customer’s needs will differentiate that service over and above a price led transaction.  Those that use the service will prefer it over and above other similar services if it feels the most in tune with their needs; is most helpful; if it “gets them”. That is derived from regular dialogue with them and needs great listening and being able to interpret insights. It’s important to be sure to use all the company’s people, who touch the customer journey or can influence word of mouth, to be able to tell the same brand story and then subsequently share their own insights back to the company – so as to continually learn and further hone the service.

Value added service for customers and users allow businesses to not only grow ahead of their competition but also to do so at a higher price. Profitable growth.

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

Brand 3.0: Feed your users.

Brand 3.0: Feed your users.

Digital marketers and social media champions are taking brand thinking on at a pace that threatens to leave traditional brand thinkers behind. As brand thinking develop new tools and descriptors for the Brand 3.0 version, one shift that intrigues me is in how as brand “ownership” has shifted from inside an organisation to those outside.

In a few short years, how organisations think of their customers in brand terms has changed (& is still doing so). Since Mad Men’s glory days, they were treated as “viewers” where messages were delivered from the company via TV, radio, print media – and in broadcast thinking, brand was measured mostly in Awareness measures. Agencies were full service and could do everything in house to keep those messages flowing and tell the brand story.

Some of the biggest broadcast brands were consumer products and the thinking evolved into speaking to the “consumer” and the marketing communications industry added more means & more skills to deliver more messages to help consumption. Militaristic language of campaigns, positioning, defending vs. the competition were boosted by short term tactical efforts (such as shopper marketing, coupons) to balance the strategic efforts (long term advertising ideas and corporate identity driven guidelines) to keep a brand at number 1. Brand ideas were based on great consumer insights. Emotional brand stories were still important. Specialist agencies grew and media separated from creative houses. Budgets began to become fragmented. Sales began to be measured in a direct relationship to the activity undertaken and ROI measures hatched.

This product led brand thinking didn’t work that well for service companies and with an increasing focus on understanding the customer journey, the brand focus moved onto “customers” and how they experienced the brand throughout the journey and how & when they learn about the value/benefits of the service. The ROI measurements of different touch points became important indicators in balancing the marketing mix and an integrated approach to the customer was demanded.  Brand had to work inside the organisation with their people/staff (as well as with the customer) and involved more than simple internal communications to become brand behaviours. These complexities needed a holistic approach from both inside an organisation and outside with their agencies. Marketing teams grew along with the many discipline specialists. ROI thinking and detailed analytics helped measure impact of the brands efforts and most importantly, the customer became part of the process – not simply via insight and understanding, but bands began a rudimentary dialogue with the customer. Customer care efforts grew and were rewarded with customer loyalty when it was recognised consistently. This customer thinking seeped into consumer thinking as the Nineties became the Noughties.

The latest thinking today recognises the power of today’s digital landscape. People now don’t spend time waiting for advertising to inform them of new offers or new services. They learn about these things online in real time – actually on the products and services that have become the world’s biggest brands – Google, Apple, Microsoft. They are “users” of brands, products and services. People are individuals rather than audiences. They have peer groups and friends that are communities. These users have the ultimate power of “use” – to use more or less. To stop using. To recommend the usage to others in their communities. Use is about experiencing that usage. The brands that understand this best are the real brand winners – this user thinking is faster, focussed, looser, innovative, frequent, rewarding, value not price, individual, action orientated. It’s about utility not about ideas or campaigns. And brand utility as judged by the user. To deliver these actions, brands need small, creative teams, focussed on that project or action & who are happy to start small in a “do-learn-do” methodology in order to test and capture success before rolling it out or starting again. This way of collaborative team thinking exists in Silicon Valley, in Bangalore, in Shoreditch but it’s not always apparent in brand thinking.

Brand 3.0 thinkers need to ensure this jump is quickly made and feed their users.