Brand commentary

BrandMatters' Director of Brand Strategy, Kylie McNamara, discusses the biggest challenges for B2Bs in measuring their performance.

 

While brand tracking is valuable for all organisations, business to business (B2B) organisations face unique challenges when it comes to measuring their performance. Selling to other businesses is very different than selling directly to consumers. In B2B transactions, the stakes are frequently higher, and getting the sale can be a more involved process. Traditional thinking is that B2B is more about relationships than brand, so in the past very little brand measurement has been performed. However, defining and tracking relevant metrics for a B2B organization should look at both the performance of relationships and the role of the brand. 

Increasingly brand is being understood to have an important part to play in guiding decisions. As humans our ability to process all the information available has a limit, and the majority of the time we use heuristics, often referred to as cognitive shortcuts, to help us make ‘safe’ decisions. Our professional lives are no different. Brands signify what type of employees you are likely to have within the organisation and therefore what type of relationships will occur (refer to our previous blog on employee branding). Therefore, as with any organisation, whether your clients are consumers or businesses, it is important to have well-defined brand strategies and strong, disciplined measurement through brand tracking. Brand tracking for any organisation ensures accountability and guidance moving forward.

What are the biggest challenges for B2B organisation tracking? 

Smaller, more niche target audiences

Firstly, the size of the client base is usually smaller. Instead of reaching hundreds or thousands of consumers some businesses could have handfuls of business clients and a very niche audience. So it is common for many B2B organisations to have business clients that are hard to reach and difficult to get feedback from. 

Multiple stakeholders involved in decision-making

When it comes to B2B organisations, you’re not just dealing with one person making a personal decision, you have to be able to take into account a range of stakeholders calling the shots and a lot of others influencing the purchase decisions. So, you need an approach that enables you to understand all of the diverse behaviours, needs and attitudes of your business customers. 

Brand is delivered by a broader range of vehicles, like relationships, websites, conferences and events

The way B2B organisations communicate to their clients can be more complex and often rely on a mixture of different methods targeting the same client but at different levels in the organisation. An organisation might choose to target frontline staff through training initiatives whereas c-suite decision makers could call for a more personal and direct sell. Brand tracking for B2B organisations needs to account for these different levels of activity in order to ensure efforts can be held accountable and ultimately enhanced where needed. 

What are common misconceptions about B2B tracking 

Emotional benefits and messages are only important in B2C

Some may argue that purchase decisions in businesses are commonly more rational than purchase decisions made personally. We would argue (with clear support from neurological studies on the role of emotional processing in decision making) that in either case, whether professional or personal, decisions are never devoid of some emotion and therefore brand tracking needs to look at capturing both elements as much as possible. 

Relationships are more important than brand in driving sales

While we agree that a good client relationship will usually help sales, we would argue that who your employees are and how they deal with their customers is a large part of the brand identity. For more on this topic please refer to our previous blog on employee branding.

How to approach the unique challenges of B2B brand tracking?

Challenge 1: Smaller, more niche target audiences

To reach smaller and at times very specific audiences it’s important to be flexible when it comes to research methodology. It might be more effective to try a hybrid approach to research. For instance, you could have in-depth one on one interviews with existing customers to understand your brand’s performance but also a category read of the general business population using a research panel to uncover perceptions of your brand at large. 

Use client lists. In other words, if you have an email database of existing and ex client contacts you can utilise this to collect feedback by sending out a survey. Research can be expensive if you’re trying to recruit very niche respondents so effectively using what is already at your disposal is vital. 

Accept smaller base sizes. While it may feel more comfortable to make a decision based off 5000 responses, B2B organisations need to do more with less, so accept the feedback you do receive and collect it as often as possible.

Challenge 2: Multiple stakeholders involved in decision-making

We know that there is a lot of complexity when it comes to collecting feedback from multiple stakeholders across each client. However, one of the ways we believe in to tackle this issue is about being research agnostic. By this we simply mean that we think research should look at incorporating different approaches for collecting feedback, both quantitative options (i.e. online surveys) and qualitative methodologies. It’s important to consider different ways in which your customers want to give feedback. For some a quick online survey is fine, for others who may be more senior and receive hundreds of emails a day a personal one-on-one phone call or meeting might be the better way to go. 

Challenge 3: Brand is delivered by a broader range of vehicles

It’s important to create the right questions to cover off the different ways the brand is being communicated to your clients. Whether it be delivered through a confidential survey or included in a discussion guide, knowing how to ask and what to ask shows the importance of having the right insight into the brand activities and the experience of crafting the right questions.

Given that B2B brands are also more likely to be heavily reliant on client relationships it’s also important to include questions that address these relationships, whether that be satisfaction ratings, or recommendations. Where possible it helps to link methodology to customer experience measurement. 

A final area to take into consideration is that many research companies have limited experience working with B2B brands and little understanding of how brands work in the B2B space, so insights may not be relevant or actionable. It’s important to work with an agency with deep knowledge of B2B. 

Please speak to our team at BrandMatters if you have any other questions about B2B brand tracking.

BrandMatters' Director of Brand Strategy, Kylie McNamara, discusses what simple steps businesses can take to gain understanding of their customers.

 

To say that it’s important for brands to understand their customers is stating the obvious. 

But for many brand owners the idea of “understanding customers” is daunting. It’s often associated with big, complex and expensive research projects which feel out of reach for many businesses, particularly in hard economic times when managing budgets is paramount.

So, should we file customer understanding in the too-hard basket? Perhaps put it off for another day, when conditions are less challenging and we have more time?

Or are there ways that businesses can gain valuable insights without huge budgets?

As much as I love to run large scale market research projects, I love uncovering useful insights about customers and markets even more. And I firmly believe that gathering rich, useful insights is in reach of any business with a little thought and planning.

There are two broad approaches to consider if you are looking to build your customer understanding, but the coffers are slim or even empty:

• Gathering insights about your customers without formal market research
• Looking for more cost-effective ways of conducting market research

Today I want to cover how you can gain insights without research. I’ll cover cost-effective market research in another blog.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to uncover insights about your customers without research is to make a subtle attitude shift. Take the time to slow down, absorb information and believe that insights are all around you, and you may be surprised at just how much you can find out. 

More specifically, here are some of my favourite ways of learning about customers:

1. Draw knowledge from your people

Your people can be an amazing source of knowledge. People who interact regularly with customers, those who have been in your company or industry for many years or even those who have recently come from an adjacent industry or competitor can bring valuable and diverse perspectives. 

The biggest challenge with this form of insight gathering is to remain objective and to draw out useful implications from simple observations. This is why it can be helpful to use an external person to help facilitate this process, to provide structure, objectivity and importantly to give the team confidence. 

Workshops with key members of your team can be a great way to spark off each other and share observations. A workshop facilitator will be able to design exercises and activities to make this process as easy and productive as possible.

2. Review previous research

Many companies have shelves and hard-drives full of research reports that haven’t been looked at since they were delivered. While these reports may not be able to specifically answer your current questions, they are highly likely to contain useful clues and information that can inform your thinking. So before lamenting a lack of budget to conduct new research, it is well worth looking at previous research, even if it is a few years old. You may be surprised what you can uncover!

3. Review other sources of data

Formal market research is unquestionably the best way to answer specific questions. However, like a good detective, clues about customer behaviours and attitudes can be found in a range of data sources. Some areas to think about include:

• Customer reviews, both formal and informal
• Customer satisfaction surveys
• Customer comments and communications

4. Search for publicly available information

In this data rich era, information is everywhere, and a simple google search can uncover reams of information to help you better understand your customers. Some of my favourite sources of information include Harvard Business Review, McKinsey and even LinkedIn. There is also plenty of useful syndicated research which can be purchased for considerably less than it would cost to undertake research yourself. Some great examples include IBISWorld Reports and WARC.

Of course, the trap with all this information is sifting through everything that is available and working out which information is credible and valuable. This is where working with a good consultant can help.

5. Talk to others in the industry

Experts in your field can provide informed, insightful perspectives that can be enormously helpful in understanding your customers. Consider industry leaders, journalists, academics, industry bodies, think tanks and more. A number of one-on-one interviews, facilitated by an experienced interviewer, with these types of opinion leaders can furnish you with a rich understanding of your category for a fraction of the cost of a larger study.

6. Be a good observer!

Get into the habit of keeping your eyes open whenever you are interacting with or exposed to customers. You never know when your observations will be helpful.

So, if you want to understand your customers but your budgets are limited, don’t despair! There are plenty of ways of uncovering useful information and insights without having to spend a fortune. If you’d like some advice on how to go about doing this, please contact us at BrandMatters. We’d love to help!

As the pandemic continues to transform markets and reshape the allocation of budgets, it appears that more accountable marketing is required to justify expenditure from C-Suite executives. These are audiences that are interested in heightened return on investment with decreased budgets, essentially expecting marketers to do more with less. 

But how can you drive return on investment with decreased budgets? Or generate cut through and differentiation in an overcrowded marketplace? 

This is by no means an easy task, having been made even more difficult by the competitive pressures of other organisations, who appear to be communicating more frequently, from a more defined position and with a more powerful brand to lean on.

Well, if they truly believe their organisation is adequately positioned to drive sales in the context of this turbulent market, we would put this to them:

How has your organisation sought to break through the surplus of similar companies, that employ similar people, with similar educational backgrounds, who have all recognised similar shifts in attitudes amongst their audiences, who have developed similar ideas to handle these situations, by producing similar products or services, that have similar prices and are of a similar quality?

If they could answer that succinctly and with purpose, we suspect that they would be in the minority.

In your organisation (aka the real world), although you are likely to have put in place new actions, responses and communications for both your internal and external stakeholders throughout this recent period, the influence of these factors has changed the composure of your future revenue generation, mostly by decreasing your capacity to generate interest and cut through. So how can you drive interest and sustainable differentiation in this unfolding marketplace? 

Expressing the purpose of your business through a grounded and truthful positioning statement

Defining your brand’s unique essence and positioning is the most effective way to drive differentiation and distinctiveness in your category. A brand’s positioning is the internal expression of its purpose. It is the business’ reason for being that goes beyond simply ‘making lots of money’. A positioning statement sits at the intersection of business and is used to inform sales and marketing strategy, product development, HR and hiring decisions and team culture. As a result of these components, it encompasses the experience your customer ultimately has with you.

A well-defined brand positioning represents the unique, relevant, credible and sustainable position that you own in the market. It ensures your clients and prospects can clearly tell your brand apart from your competitors. It specifies and expresses how your brand is unique and compelling, providing a reason to choose your brand over others. Brand positioning is also sometimes called brand essence, because it's the essential nature of your brand - its reason for being.

Powerful brand positioning binds the internal and external components together. It's the high-level idea that unites and guides all organisational activities, actions and behaviours, from organisational strategy, to the products you launch, the businesses you acquire, the way you communicate, how customers experience your brand and how your employees behave - it is the compass for the organisation.

But beyond this, what are some of the functional benefits of clearly articulating the essence of your organisation? How does it turn up as a advantage for the consumer, your organisation’s sales figures and your own marketing initiatives?

The tangibility of brand positioning in driving return on investment

We believe there are six key and comprehensive benefits for both the internal and external components of an organisation that can be achieved through unique, clear, relevant and sustainable brand positioning:

1. It ensures your brand stands out and generates cut-through in its category

2. It provides customers a reason to choose your brand over competitors, presenting them with a necessary validation of their choice

3. It enables your brand to charge and sustain a price premium, demonstrating both short- and long-term return on investment

4. It enables your brand to build trust with its key stakeholders – customers, employees, shareholders, distributors, partners, intermediaries – because you are consistently seeking to deliver on your promise

5. It helps your organisation attract and retain the best of employee talent – providing a single uniting force for all people to work towards, as well as an understanding of what is required of them to work for your organisation

6. Ultimately, strong and relevant brand positioning delivers clients who are disinterested in alternatives.

Positioning your brand for the future and driving ROI

Given the context of the pandemic, many organisations have experienced a decline in ROI due to heightened competitive pressures and a lack of differentiation in their positioning.

In an environment typified by reducing expenditure, marketing budgets are being tightened but are still expected to deliver the same (or better) return on investment. Driving this sales growth in this context is challenging, but the task is made even more daunting when organisations have not established a positioning to lean on.

If your organisation needs assistance defining the unique, clear, relevant and sustainable brand positioning that binds your strategy going forward, please feel free to get in contact with the BrandMatters team here.

Over the course of the past few months, the world has seen an enormous shift in the way consumers live, shop, interact and do business with each other. 

There are very few brands who have not been affected in some way, shape or form by the pandemic. Businesses have needed to be agile, often changing direction and indeed strategy to reflect the rapidly evolving context we find ourselves in.

And in our immediate context, just as we have begun to taste some degree of freedom and the gradual unwinding of the pressures of lockdowns and restrictions, it appears inevitable that our environment will again shift to feelings of isolation and the associated anxieties that that comes with. 

But what does this mean for your organisation? Well, you have likely already recognised the level of change required to navigate this context, as well as the immediacy to which these changes were made. You now need to consider whether your brand narrative is appropriately defined to reflect the changes you have made and determine whether you need to overhaul your brand positioning to stay relevant in the minds of your key audiences.

Ultimately, this period represents the perfect timing to reflect on your brand and refine the brand narrative for what will be the new normal. It is time for brands to walk a mile in the client’s shoes and focus on what they really need and want from you, at both this point and beyond.

Preparing your brand for a pivot

If it is the case that you have actively considered refining your brand narrative, you must first define the existing state of your brand, and then determine the future desired state of your offer. In order to prepare your brand for any percentage of strategic pivot, you should first consider:

1. Have you determined how your brand is currently positioning itself?

2. Can you identify, understand and compare the positioning of your direct competitors? 

3. Have you responded by developing a right-sized brand pivot that is considerate of these factors? 

Once you have an understanding of your dynamic market, you must put in place the contingencies to navigate the degree of change from what is existing. Your brand positioning must be aligned to the longer-term strategic thinking of your organisation. If your response to this period is not aligned with your brand, it will appear unauthentic and will not resonate with your audiences (at worst it may result in customer backlash).

Brand positioning is long term, so don’t rush, cut or run

Whilst it is important to establish a higher aspirational goal for your brand in light of the pandemic, the risks of repositioning your brand should also be considered. If you make a decision to shift your positioning, you need to be sure you aren’t completely abandoning the established position that had recognised you as a real force in the marketplace, especially for something you may not have earned credibility yet or is simply opportunistic. This can leave your brand in no-man’s land and in this overly competitive context, may cannibalise your existing and future sales.

As we always insist, a brand position needs to be credible. Part of that means aligning yourself in a place between what you're already communicating, against where you'd like the brand to be; what your audience currently believes, and what the audience would value. It's about balancing the experience of the brand, with the promise of the brand.

The most appropriate positioning for your organisation, in the context of the pandemic especially, should exist somewhere in the centre of these requirements. If your brand is positioned only by what existed before (what they already believe), it wont ever grow. If it is positioned too far towards where you hope it will go, especially towards rapidly expanding COVID markets, it won’t appear credible and sustainable. This process is one to be treaded carefully, you need to reinforce what you are in your customer’s minds, as well as stay relevant by nudging the brand to where you believe it needs to be.

Why revisiting your brand positioning so important in these turbulent times

Revisiting and refining your brand narrative can ensure your brand remains relevant during this period and beyond. Currently, consumers and employees are feeling vulnerable, uncertain and need reassurance. Brands need to lead with a distinct focus on their culture, their narrative needs to be reflective of both the internal and external. It is important that brands demonstrate their values, both to their customers and their employees.

Many agile brands have been able to easily adapt their messaging through the pandemic period and although we have gradually felt more comfortable and less apprehensive with the way we conduct business, the period to follow is the most crucial to get right. The next few months are likely to symbolise the ongoing nature of this pandemic and the new future we find ourselves in. Some brands have found obvious synergies in their past values, but many more need to dig a little deeper to find their right positioning to take to their evolving market.

It is time to take stock, weigh up the options and make your strategic moves. Unfortunately, during a crisis these strategic moves need to happen quickly. The key to getting this right is to dig deep into your brand values, and core purpose and ensure your marketing and messaging is aligned with our customer’s needs and addresses their new pain points. It is vital to rely on the experience and knowledge of your best people to lean in and make informed decisions. 

Where to begin your brand positioning journey

Repositioning your brand represents a complex, strategic brand conundrum. But the benefits of defining the unique, relevant, credible and sustainable position that you own in this dynamic market will help to ensure your clients and prospects can clearly differentiate you from your competitors.

If your organisation needs assistance in the evaluation of your existing and future brand positioning, get in touch with the BrandMatters team here.

One of the core purposes of a brand portfolio strategy is to help customers navigate the scope of a company’s offer in a way that best reflects the brand’s promise. Now, given the turbulence of markets, shifts in competitor service disciplines, your own tactical and strategic pivots, and the evolving sentiments of consumers post COVID-19, the importance of a strong and clearly defined brand architecture cannot be overstated. 

As we all emerge from the immediate and significant challenges of the pandemic and begin to settle into our new economic reality, it is increasingly clear that attention spans are shorter, discretionary budgets and spending diminished, and ultimately, brands are trying harder to secure their share of both market, mind and wallet.

In this state of flux, a brand architecture review can help an organisation streamline their brand portfolio so as to maximise return on investment and minimise confusion in the market.

There are a number of brand architecture models that may be appropriate for your unique organisational strategy. Considering the ever-changing environment we find ourselves in, which brand and product architecture strategy is the best fit for you?

BA blog 2 image insert

Our publication e-book – An Introduction to Brand Architecture outlines the core brand architecture structures that are available:

In this COVID-19 environment, if you are changing markets, channels or products your existing brand architecture is going to be implicated. There are certain questions we are being asked at BrandMatters in relation to this, notably, will your existing brands stretch to new markets, or could you serve the same or new markets with fewer brands? For businesses looking to pivot their core offer and brand away from displaced markets or towards more lucrative COVID markets, how do you inform such decisions? How do you mitigate risk and maximise the opportunity?

As marketers looking to find answers to these fundamental brand architecture conundrums, some of the most significant considerations you will need to assess when undergoing your brand architecture review include…

How many brands are appropriate for your organisation?

The more brands you have the more thinly spread your (dwindling) marketing budget will become. A good first step in a brand architecture review is to logically assess the number of brands you need verses how many you currently have, considering also the necessary market requirements and demand post-COVID. It’s essential your offer doesn’t appear to cannibalise itself. If your organisation has made acquisitions, mergers or diversified recently, asking whether there are there brands that are now competing due to overlaps in service offering or across similar channels is essential. It may also be the case that incremental additions over time have created complexity and confusion, which are likely to have been accentuated in the context of the pandemic.

Brand distinction, in terms of quality or features, is one way to ensure that customers aren’t interpreting your brands as too similar, whereby the price becomes the determining factor in decision-making. In my experience, when customers experience difficulties understanding the full scope and relationships between brands, they seem to be restricted from fully connecting with the brand and are also more likely to make price-based purchasing decisions or search elsewhere. In this turbulent and over-communicated context post-COVID, attention spans are undoubtedly lower, and your brand need to be aware of this when it comes to the organisation and presentation of your brand portfolio in the market.

Testing your proposed new brand architecture structure through brand research will help you ensure you succeed in implementing an optimal model. Without properly stress testing your new or revised go-to-market strategy, you risk investing heavily against an unproven brand architecture strategy that may not be custom fit or suited for growth post COVID-19.

Building in flexibility

A brand framework that has been designed for today’s crisis without adequate flexibility given to future challenges will inhibit growth and increase of market share. I have found this fundamental flexibility is not always considered in brand architecture strategies. So, building flexibility into a brand framework requires longer term strategic thinking, and an understanding that markets that previously existed to serve customers are now intrinsically altered from what they were before. 

Another useful way to demonstrate flexibility is to provide greater certainty around the levels of risk in the investment your organisation is making with any potential brand architecture. This is essential for the marketing function of any organisation to demonstrate flexibility to C-Suite executives, where your role in the overall position of your organisation can look to showcase higher-level strategic thinking that gratifies budget expenditure. 

Where to start the brand architecture journey

Before and throughout the pandemic, BrandMatters has been assisting organisations across multiple industries in re-evaluating their brand architecture to ensure they are match fit for the post-COVID context. 

We’re offering a comprehensive productised solution that enables organisations to map their suite of products and services, and inform decision making in the management of these portfolios, in a cost-effective, efficient and accountable way. 

If your organisation needs assistance in evaluation of your brand architecture, get in touch with the BrandMatters team here.

Optimal brand architecture ensures that the brands that exist in an organisation’s portfolio are consistently adding value to justify the costs required to sustain them. Given the changes thrust upon us by COVID-19, many organisations and marketers are struggling with the management of their go-to-market strategy and brand portfolio to best meet the evolving interests of their shifting audiences. 

Organisations need to ask themselves one critical question: Is our current brand architecture, the way in which our products and services go to market and the inter-relationship between them, still fit for purpose, or, does it also need to evolve.

Brand architecture is always most efficient when it is aligned to and reflects your business strategy, giving relevance to how your brands can meet your objectives. This is never truer than now as we move into the post-COVID world, where the needs of the market and targets segments are swiftly evolving. Or, in the words of Simon Sinek, “It doesn't matter how much we know. What matters is how clearly others can understand what we know.” 

Ultimately, an optimised brand architecture structure is the anchor by which all brand decisions can be made. But in a world in flux, where internal business perspectives and external customer perspectives have shifted, where is the best place to start this brand architecture process?

Understand your current portfolio structure

It’s essential as a starting point to map out your existing brand architecture as it currently stands. Our publication, An Introductory Guide to Brand Architecture can help you understand the various brand architecture models that organisations adopt. 

Taking stock of your current situation is an important early step in the brand architecture review process. Many organisations grow organically over time: brands are acquired, brands extensions introduced, innovation and NPD is a constant. 

Mapping your current brand portfolio will enable you to understand the interrelationships between each of your brands, establish whether any of your brands overlap or cannibalise each other, and determine the relevance of each of your brands within the marketplace.

Since the onset of the coronavirus, many organisations have shifted their processes and sought access to new markets. Some have acquired incremental additions that over time have created complexity and confusion, where certain brands may be competing due to overlaps in service or product offering. And in a period of declining marketing expenditure, there may be increasing duplication of effort across the business that is bringing unnecessary cost and inefficiencies. 

It is only by taking an inventory audit of the existing portfolio can these factors become apparent, which is why this is such an important step in the organisation of your brand architecture.

The critical role of brand research

Brand research is also an essential step in the brand architecture review process. It not only identifies current market perceptions of your brand, but it will also inform the perceived impact of potential architecture alternatives. Researching your market can uncover the differentiating factors that can influence future decision making and de-risk the evolution of your portfolio structure.

Given the turbulence of markets recently, your existing brand research is likely outdated and not representative of the state of play through which you are likely to base your tactical and strategic considerations on.

Even short term, cost effective brand research can help measure the immediate impacts of the apprehension in the market, which will provide insights and analytics to prompt more extensive brand research to help identify and then address your unique situation post-COVID. Just last month, BrandMatters completed a quantitative research dip of over 500 SMEs across Australia for Vero’s SME Insurance Index COVID-19 Pulse Check, providing insights that helped hundreds of brokers understand the changing nature of the current climate and the impact these pressures are having on their key clients.

Turning insights into an evolved architecture

The complexity level of your brand architecture will depend on your current business model, the number of brands housed within your organisation, and the capacity to pivot and flex as required. 

In an environment where the market is evolving by the fortnight, it is important too that your architecture is built with flexibility in mind. An architecture framework that has been designed for today should include the capacity to incorporate mergers, acquisitions, brand collaborations or extensions, pivots and new target markets. 

In this COVID-19 world, if you are changing markets, channels or products your existing brand architecture is going to be implicated. Asking whether your existing brands should stretch to new markets, or could you serve the same or new markets with less brands? For businesses looking to pivot their core offer and brand away from displaced markets or towards more lucrative COVID markets, how do you inform such decisions? How do you mitigate risk and maximise opportunity?

The question we’re being asked by clients is "If I move my brand into that more lucrative market, can I do it credibly, or am I hindering my own brand as it’s simply a bridge too far? 

Future proofing your brand architecture with an inherent flexibility is crucial. It is more than likely the short-term tactical decisions you have made during COVID-19 pandemic were made to stem declining sales, as opposed to strategically reposition your entire organisation. But all organisations face different pressures, the number of changes in go-to-market strategies and brand portfolio organisation reflect this.

Where to start the brand architecture journey

In response to these challenges, BrandMatters is assisting organisations across multiple industries in re-evaluating their brand architecture to ensure they are match fit for the post-COVID context. 

We’re offering a comprehensive productised solution that enables organisations to map their suite of products and services, and inform decision making in the management of these portfolios.

If your organisation needs assistance in evaluation of your brand architecture, get in touch with the BrandMatters team here.

Marketers have known for years it’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it. And the key to a successful rollout of marketing activity is clear-minded, researched and informed marketing planning, knowing your audiences and how to communicate with them. 

As traditional marketing roles continue to evolve in response to the pandemic, it has become even more important for marketers to enact their roles through different channels and communicate to shifting audiences that have been saturated with ongoing content and messaging during and after the lockdown period.

Despite these significant changes, the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the truth of marketing fundamentals, and that understanding an audience and their requirements is critical in order to deliver products and services that fulfil their needs and wants. The wants and needs of our audiences are shifting quickly, and all organisations need to review, evaluate and recalibrate their marketing in order to deliver the optimal offer to their targets. 

Informed marketing planning is critical to inform smart decision making in a continually changing landscape. But what does activating your marketing look like in a post-COVID world? How can it best benefit your business in a period of declining marketing expenditure?

The benefits of evaluating your marketing

Evaluating and recalibrating you marketing will provide a number of immediate benefits in current context: 

For your business, it demonstrates the marketing function not only understands the offer but will proactively flex its approach to generate further demand in a methodical and pragmatic way.
For your Board and senior leadership, it delivers assurance that the organisation and its offer is being promoted in the best and most effective way within a competitive, crowded and convoluted post-COVID marketplace.
For transparency of marketing spend, it delivers clarity around the best use across channels, so reduced investment is organised prudently for maximum return.
For market cut through, it shows flexibility and nimbleness in proactively embracing the new and uncertain economic environment, driving competitive advantage and consequent market share.

Principals of great marketing planning

In this ongoing state of flux, it is clear that returning to the fundamentals is essential. There are three key principals that can assist when initiating a marketing planning process:

1. Deliver genuine value: Attention spans are at a minimum, so deliver content that is worthy of their attention. Reigniting latent loyalty amongst existing, lapsed and potential customers is critical here. Define the sources of value within these three different audiences and understand their unique interests in relation to your existing and future content.
2. Solve a pain point: Immediacy gives currency to your marketing, so seek to solve or address a problem your clients are facing right now. These pain points are likely to be different from what they were pre-COVID, and they have likely shifted from the onset of the pandemic to now as life begins to transition again.
3. Deliver with consistency: Just when you are tired of saying it, your audience is just starting to hear it. Consistency built into all of your plans is essential, so your message achieves cut through.

Don’t forget your internal audiences

Planning for external marketing activity will certainly engage your external audiences, but what about internal audiences? All your people are brand ambassadors, and if they also believe in the messages your marketing seeks to deliver in the post-COVID world, they become living and breathing brand marketers for your organisation.

Marketing for the post-COVID-19 world

Post-COVID brings both market uncertainty, but also opportunity. 

BrandMatters is assisting organisations across multiple industries in re-evaluating their marketing activity and bringing back the fundamentals to ensure they are match fit for the post-COVID context. 

Our productised marketing activation solution enables organisations to evaluate their market, identify opportunities and strategies to achieve success, and deploy marketing plans and calendars that are accountable, actionable and manageable.

If your organisation needs assistance in evolving your marketing to meet the demands of the new market, get in touch with the BrandMatters team here.

Pivot.         Extension.          The new normal. 

As the everyday vernacular of our crisis evolves, so too does the variety of views on possible recovery…

The long road.          Snap back.          Tough times ahead.

The list is endless, yet organisations are facing two very immediate and pertinent questions: does our current marketing approach match the evolving reality of the post-COVID market, and if not, how does this need to change?

Regardless of the pivot, the realignment, or the refocus, our view at BrandMatters is that marketing cannot be successful without holding true to marketing fundamentals, fundamentals that have proved essential across industry, geography and time. Fundamentals act as the guide for decision making, and provide the structure to calmly evaluate market opportunities. 

These revised conditions require challenging thinking and a deep interrogation of your existing marketing plan. Many organisations will fail to effectively review their existing marketing plan and shift it appropriately for the post-COVID era. But what constitutes a future-proof marketing plan and how can it help assist organisations in flux?

The basic outline for a marketing plan provides the road map to qualify our new reality for businesses of any industry type:

Marketing planning

Market overview

Understanding your environment as of today is essential. In our current crisis, this becomes a continual monitoring process. A market overview needs to take into consideration:

• A " helicopter" view of the market and which brands service the market – Have brands that once serviced the market shifted their strategic and operational focus to capitalise upon new opportunities? Has there been a shift in specialisation focus for your immediate market?
• Environmental analysis including competitive, economic, political and legislative
• Analysis of an organisation’s product and/or service to evaluate fit to current market conditions.

Competitor analysis

In this climate, your competitors are already active and planning. In order to gain competitive advantage, it’s essential to understand:

• Your major competitor(s) in relation to key segments – how have they shifted their services? Are there new/different competitors in your market from those that came before?
• Their current and expected strategies – have they shifted their go-to-market strategies to reflect changes in market demand? What does this mean for you?
• The strengths or weakness of each competitor and understanding that these are not what they were before
• The levels of consolidation or expansion within the industry
• Their market positioning and unique selling points (USP) – is their positioning still realistic/feasible for current conditions? Can you look to capitalise on their decisions and changes to solidify your own market positioning?

SWOT analysis 

What do you have already to hand, and what do you know? List out all your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Your competition? Defining their relative strengths and weaknesses provides context of your relative strength and competitiveness. Without fail this analysis will be significantly different to the last time it completed.

Target Market & Segmentation

Our markets are now changing swiftly, as is their wants/needs, and so we need to (re)define our audience targets: 

• Demographic and psychographic
• Socio-economic
• Geographical
• Attitudinal and personality
• Lifestyle/Lifestage
Now, we can define their revised needs/wants and expectations.

Marketing objectives

Our objectives, both in terms of market share and revenue targets, need to reflect the realities of the changed world. Your marketing objectives will revolve around the following:

• Improve perceived market positioning
• Commensurate increase in market share
• Increase brand strength in the eyes of stakeholders and customers
• Increase the strength of and buy in of your brand by your staff
• Recreate your thought leadership strategy to reach new and different audiences 

Marketing Strategies

Brand is made up of the thousands of interactions your customers have with your brand. The classic services marketing mix, from which we can achieve our objectives, is captured in the 7 Ps:
• Product
• Price
• Place
• Promotion
• People
• Processes
• Physical

Traditionally, these tactical joysticks have be pushed and pulled for different purposes in our marketing strategies. But understanding that the most appropriate marketing mix strategy for this period is the key takeaway here, and whether your existing strategies reflect the appetite in the market. Answering this question will provide an insight into whether your overarching marketing strategy is correct for the post-COVID context.

Marketing calendar

This essentially comprises marketing activity eg What, when, how and who. It should contain a wide mix of elements such as events, web, sales tools, PR, advertising and so on.

The market’s appetite for marketing activity has shifted dramatically since the onset of the coronavirus. Determining whether your marketing calendar output still reflects these changes is essential in understanding the levels of engagement you will achieve with your marketing activity.

Evaluation

Tracking success is now critical to determine if your adjusted product/service provision meets the needs and wants of your targets. Through tracking, you are able to determine cut through and shifts in customer perceptions and attitudes.

Marketing for the post-COVID-19 world

BrandMatters is assisting organisations across multiple industries in re-evaluating their marketing activity and bringing back the fundamentals to ensure they are match fit for the post-COVID context. 

Our productised marketing activation solution enables organisations to evaluate their market, identify opportunities and strategies to achieve success, and deploy marketing plans and calendars that are accountable, actionable and manageable.

If your organisation needs assistance in evolving your marketing to meet the demands of the new market, get in touch with the BrandMatters team here.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020 10:19

We’ve come a very long way since the time Lord Leverhulme famously lamented: ““Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the trouble is, I don't know which half.” In this era, measuring performance is increasingly important and commercially savvy marketers are required to clearly demonstrate how their marketing investment is working to build sales and meet business objectives. Accountability and effectiveness are key for all brand and marketing activities.

While brand measurement (often referred to as brand tracking) is a valuable way for all organizations to demonstrate this accountability, business to business (B2B) organisations face unique challenges when it comes to measuring their performance. Selling to other businesses is very different than selling directly to consumers. In B2B transactions, the stakes are frequently higher, and getting the sale can be a more involved process. Traditional thinking is that B2B is driven by relationships rather than brand, so in the past very little brand measurement has been performed. However, defining and tracking relevant metrics for a B2B organization should look at both the performance of relationships and the role of the brand. 

Increasingly brand is being understood to have an important part to play in guiding decisions. As humans our ability to process all the information available has a limit, and much of the time we use heuristics, often referred to as cognitive shortcuts, to help us make ‘safe’ decisions. Our professional lives are no different. Brands signify what type of employees you are likely to have within the organisation and therefore what type of relationships will occur (refer to our previous blog on employee branding). Therefore, as with any organisation, whether your clients are consumers or businesses, it is important to have well-defined brand strategies and strong, disciplined brand measurement. Brand measurement for any organisation ensures accountability and guidance moving forward.

What are the biggest challenges for B2B organisation tracking? 

Smaller, more niche target audiences

Firstly, the size of the client base is usually smaller. Instead of reaching thousands of consumers some businesses could have handfuls of business clients and a very niche audience. So, it is common for many B2B organisations to have clients that are hard to reach and difficult to get feedback from. 

Multiple stakeholders involved in decision-making

In most B2B organisations, a range of stakeholders are involved in decision making, either as influencers, users or final decision-makers. So, you need an approach that enables you to understand all the diverse behaviours, needs and attitudes of your business customers. 

Brand is delivered by a broader range of vehicles, including relationships, websites, conferences and events

The way B2B organisations communicate to their clients can be more complex and often rely on a mixture of different methods targeting the same client but at different levels in the organisation. An organisation might choose to target frontline staff through training initiatives whereas c-suite decision makers could call for a more personal and direct sell. Brand measurement for B2B organisations needs to account for these different levels of activity in order to ensure efforts can be held accountable and ultimately enhanced where needed. 

What are common misconceptions about B2B tracking? 

Emotional benefits and messages are only important in B2C. 

Some may argue that purchase decisions in businesses are commonly more rational than purchase decisions made by consumers. We would argue (with clear support from neurological studies on the role of emotional processing in decision making) that in either case, whether professional or personal, decisions are never devoid of some emotion and therefore brand tracking needs to look at capturing both elements as much as possible. 

Relationships are more important than brand in driving sales

While we agree that a good client relationship will usually help sales, we would argue that your employees and the way they deal with their customers is a large part of the brand identity. For more on this topic please refer to our previous blog on employee branding.

How to approach the unique challenges of B2B brand tracking?

Challenge 1: Smaller, more niche target audiences

To reach smaller and at times very specific audiences it’s important to be flexible when it comes to research methodology. It might be more effective to try a hybrid approach to research. For instance, you could have in-depth one on one interviews with existing customers to understand your brand’s performance but also a category read of the general business population using a research panel to uncover perceptions of your brand at large. 

Use client lists. In other words, if you have an email database of existing and ex client contacts you can utilise this to collect feedback by sending out a survey. Research can be expensive if you’re trying to recruit very niche respondents so effectively using what is already at your disposal is vital. 

Accept smaller base sizes. While it may feel more comfortable to make decisions based on 5000 responses, B2B organisations need to do more with less, so accept the feedback you do receive and collect it as often as possible.

Challenge 2: Multiple stakeholders involved in decision-making

We know that there is a lot of complexity when it comes to collecting feedback from multiple stakeholders across each client. However, one of the ways we believe in to tackle this issue is about being methodology agnostic. By this we simply mean that we think research should look at incorporating different approaches for collecting feedback, both quantitative options (i.e. online surveys) and qualitative methodologies (i.e. in-depth interviews). It’s important to consider different ways in which your customers want to give feedback. For some a quick online survey is fine, for others who may be more senior and receive hundreds of emails a day a personal one-on-one phone call or meeting might be the better way to go. 

Challenge 3: Brand is delivered by a broader range of vehicles

It’s important to create the right questions to cover off the different ways the brand is being communicated to your clients. Whether it be delivered through a confidential survey or included in a discussion guide, knowing how to ask and what to ask shows the importance of having the right insight into the brand activities and the experience of crafting the right questions.

Given that B2B brands are also more likely to be heavily reliant on client relationships it’s also important to include questions that address these relationships, whether that be satisfaction ratings, or recommendations. Where possible it helps to link methodology to customer experience measurement. 

A final area to take into consideration is that many research companies have limited experience working with B2B brands and little understanding of how brands work in the B2B space, so insights may not be relevant or actionable. It’s important to work with an agency with deep knowledge of B2B. 

Please speak to our team at BrandMatters if you would like to find out more about B2B brand measurement.

Making business decisions in times of uncertainty is difficult and disconcerting. The economic stakes are extremely high right now and for many this time of uncertainty will lead to a legitimate fear of calculated business risks. It’s understandable that many businesses panic when they see drastic changes, but the key is to remain as level-headed as possible, to make sensible decisions on factors that you can control and objectively evaluate data that can support your future success. 

So, whilst proactive efficiency drives are a commonplace reaction for businesses in a tougher economy, avoiding mistakes through understanding the market has never been more important. To do this, we believe that consumer research is more important now than ever. Understanding changes in consumer mindsets and decision making is critical to avoid market missteps and to ensure your business takes advantage of shifts in the market. This isn’t ‘business as usual’, and cooler heads will prevail.

Here are the main reasons why consumer research is vital:

1. Find your optimal target market

As capex and opex budgets shrink across the board, and consumer spending declines across many sectors, understanding who the most optimal group to target is important. It’s no longer effective to appeal to the mass market for either products or services. Knowing who to connect with and how you can reach them effectively is necessary for success and survival. Without understanding who your optimal target market is, a business has no way to effectively direct its resources to those customers with the highest potential for sales growth and loyalty to the brand. 

The most effective way to identify your target market is by asking questions of those within the market itself. Whether by quantitative or qualitative research methods, it’s useful to uncover what drives their purchase decisions, which brands they consider or are loyal to and which brands they might reject. The goal of any research method always centres around uncovering the underlying needs, attitudes and motivations of consumers to discover which areas align with your brand’s offer. 

2. Understand lapsed users 

For many businesses the value of consumer research not only is about looking forward at which consumers to target but also looking back at those who used to choose your brand and no longer do so. There’s always wisdom in learning from your mistakes and a business that fails to learn is at risk of continuing to make the same errors and therefore not evolve to survive. 

Understanding what might have driven consumers away, whether a more attractive competitor offer or a larger shift in consumer needs, is necessary for a business to move forward. By understanding why you are losing consumers, your business can make key strategic changes to your offer to bring them back to your brand. Without this understanding a business will have to continue making key decisions without data explaining how, and also importantly why, consumers are no longer choosing a brand. 

3. Find who the brand’s new users are

Some might say this point is the same as understanding your target market, because what could be more important in a target market than those who choose your brand? However, while there should be overlap between your target market and your current consumer base, there’s much that can be gained from taking a closer look at those new to your brand. 

Knowing how these new users heard about your brand lets you know which channels are reaching those new markets and are therefore worthwhile to continue investing in. Research also allows a business to uncover what attributes new users associate with the brand. This association gives key insights into what elements are working well for your brand and should be maintained when considering any other strategic, tactical or operational changes the business may decide to make in this time of uncertainty. In the end, research into new users allows you to ensure that the business changes you make tomorrow don’t alienate your newest and therefore least consumers. 

4. Create clear brand distinction in a sea of competitors

In times of uncertainty it’s common for spending to be down and therefore competition in the market to be more aggressive. For a business this means that understanding what gives a brand a competitive edge in the eyes of the market is even more critical. 

Consumer research takes the guesswork out of understanding what makes a business distinct and appealing. It’s not just assumptions made in a board meeting about what makes consumers choose one brand over another. It’s handing the question over to consumers and asking them, using direct and indirect methods, what it is about each brand that drives their purchase decision. Great risk lies in making the wrong assumptions about your brand’s distinctiveness and therefore spending valuable resources communicating the wrong message or even worse making changes that remove the reason existing users choose your brand in the first place. 

5. Make sure your marketing spend is accountable

Last but not least, consumer research during times of uncertainty helps to evaluate whether marketing spend is benefiting the business and what adjustments are needed to optimise the communications strategy. There’s no point in spending money on marketing that isn’t returning anything to a business. While some may argue short-term sales are the only measure of success, brands that build a platform in the current uncertainty are the ones that will foster long term consumer trust and loyalty for the future. And while this may not mean an immediate impact on the bottom line during high consumer uncertainty, effective marketing will assist a business in recovering faster than competitors who have stayed silent. 

In times of economic stability, where the market is strong, the rise of consumer and business spending can compensate for less than optimal branding, positioning, pricing, or segmentation. However, today’s market is anything but certain and the risks of making uninformed assumptions about consumers is very high.

Your business decisions during this crisis are important and making sure you have a clear understanding of your consumers is critical in ensuring you are making the right decisions. So while much of the current crisis is out of our direct control, ensuring you have the right information to make the most optimal decisions for your business is a big part in being prepared for the new world to come.

Please speak to our team at BrandMatters if you have any other questions about consumer research in times of uncertainty.

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