Bringing more accountability to B2B brands

Bringing more accountability to B2B brands

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.