The state of B2B brand building has changed drastically over the past few years. Traditionally, marketers have focused overwhelmingly on short-term lead generation objectives to organize their business pipeline and maximize return on investment (ROI). However, this strategy is no longer as effective as it once was.
Today, buyers care less about marketing and more about meaning. They are interested in a company’s intent to change the world for the better and how they are tackling important societal issues, whilst remaining highly authentic and empathetic to their personal needs.
To give marketers a clear perspective on how brand building is changing and what it means for their marketing strategies, Transmission, the largest independent global B2B marketing agency, is about to launch its new 2022 report, The State of B2B Brand Building, with The Drum at the Cannes Lion Festival of Creativity (read more about the session here).
The report will be released alongside a panel discussion, in which Vanessa Cheal, Head of Brand and Creative Planning at Transmission EMEA, will be joined by Andrew O’Sullivan, Creative Director at Transmission EMEA, as well as Dr Rebecca Swift, VP, Global Head of Creative Insights at Getty Images.
Brand building has become a particular strategic priority in the boardroom
“Brand is climbing up the boardroom agenda,” says Cheal. This is evident from Transmission’s research, which reveals that 60% of B2B marketing leaders say that brand building is now considered to be a strategic business priority for their CEO and board. While 32% believe it to be of “very high importance” in the boardroom, 54% rate it of “high importance”.
There are many reasons behind companies’ increased interest in brand building. “High performing demand generation campaigns can’t sustain the kind of growth acceleration business brands need to stay ahead today. They may drive interest in your solutions, but they don’t change behavior or affect relationships. In hyper-saturated markets, brands can provide a much-needed point of difference. The opportunity to retain some distinctiveness and stand out. To be famous for something people really care about and want to be a part of,” says Cheal.
This is backed up by the study, in which 54% of respondents state that brand building is now considered to be “equally as important” as demand generation to the achievement of their marketing goals. Meanwhile, 61% say brand building is “equally as important” as account-based marketing (ABM) to the achievement of their marketing goals.
Despite this, there is still a clear lack of creativity in B2B brand building. A fact that is preventing meaningful market differentiation. “It’s the job of creativity to not just deliver a brand narrative that is unique and disruptive, but they seldom become a reality without dilution.” says Andrew O’Sullivan, Creative Director for Transmission EMEA.
He adds, “There are a lot of hurdles to navigate to make great creative work a reality. It is the combined responsibility of both agency and client to ensure the best work sees the light of day. It’s uncomfortable and challenging, but one thing’s for sure – the most irresponsible thing a brand can do at this moment in time is continue doing the same thing on repeat.”
Join Transmission and The Drum for the exclusive launch of The State of B2B Brand Building report on Thursday 23rd June between 12-2pm CEST. Register your interest here.
Brands are thinking more ethically, but not necessarily for ethical reasons
From Cheal’s perspective, the Covid-19 pandemic has played a large role in brands’ changing priorities – especially when it comes to ethics. “Attitudes and feelings towards how a brand behaves, treats its employees, or actively stands up for ethical or social priorities matters so much more today. The pandemic has brought out the softer side of marketing,” she says. “Business buyers want to see more compassion, honesty and openness from the brands they engage with. Video blogs from the CEO conveying sustainability practices over solving a critical business challenge are getting more attention.”
Cheal also marks purpose-washing – in which brands purposely mislead people into thinking the brand represents a cause, while doing little work to make sure the business is sustainable – as a rising concern in B2B. The report reveals that 76% of B2B marketing leaders “feel a lot of pressure” and “some pressure” to take an active stance on societal issues in order to meet customer expectations, and that 66% champion societal causes for “both commercial and ethical reasons”. However, only 9% build cause-based brands purely “for ethical reasons”.
“Marketers recognize that getting on the brand consideration list is easier if you have a strong social purpose. The concern is around building a brand honestly and authentically,” she says.
Unfortunately, it turns out that B2B brands are not always as honest and authentic as we might expect them to be. 56% of B2B marketing leaders surveyed admit that they are “highly likely” and “somewhat likely” to be promoting misleading cause-based messages or claims to their customers.
Cheal comments, “Brand trust can make or break your business today. Marketers must take stronger responsibility for the messages they promote and ensure they are not misleading their audiences. With so many more regulators, activists and customers willing to scrutinize your communications and take action, the cost of miscommunication is too high.”
Brand budgets still aren’t lining up with brand priorities
Despite brand being placed firmly on the boardroom agenda and brand marketing cited as “critical” to revenue growth by over one third of respondents, the study reveals that only 5-20% of annual marketing budgets are being allocated to brand building programs. This goes against the seminal piece of research conducted by marketing experts Les Binet and Peter Field, which states that “there tends to be an optimum effectiveness” of 60% for brand building and 40% for demand activation in communications budgets.
When asked if fiscal marketing budgets allocated to brand programs was enough to fulfil brand objectives and/or targets, 66% of the B2B marketing leaders researched admit it wasn’t. Most state that brand building budgets need to be “between 20-40% higher.”
Cheal concludes, “Marketing still needs to prove the commercial value of their brand building programs, which is a lot harder to do in the short term versus demand generation activities that can often show immediate responses, clicks or online sales. This presents CMOs with a difficult decision – do you please the CFO with easy to measure data and metrics that demonstrate quarterly ROI, or stand firm and patiently wait for the long-term brand building results to come in? It’s not an easy choice to make.”
To find out more about the opportunities and risks that brand building presents for marketing, you can join Transmission and The Drum for the exclusive launch of The State of B2B Brand Building report on Thursday 23rd June between 12-2pm CEST. Register your interest here.