Why brand-building is non-negotiable

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The following is a write-up of a webinar that Tom hosted and that you can watch here

Standing out in your marketplace has never been harder, and getting your name to stick in your customers’ minds requires long-term investments in building your brand.

Brand-building has taken a back seat in the B2B space over the past couple of years, as boards were forced to tighten purse strings and pile the pressure on marketers to deliver more tangible and immediate ROI.

But as economic headwinds begin to recede and businesses start to enjoy some sense of stability, the importance of brand is now being recognised once again, with companies looking to make more investments into longer-term market positioning and brand awareness.

For smaller, newer brands in particular, awareness is essential if you have any chance of standing out in a crowded marketplace – it’s the thing that will push you “across the line”, according to David Keene, the chief marketing officer for Europe at IT services group Wipro.

“Brand-building moves you from awareness, or even just casually coming across a company, into consideration. And the better your brand-building is, the stronger that conversion […] to consideration will be – whether you’re Google, Wipro, or some tiny, small SaaS startup,” Keene says.

According to Sophie Wooller, UK chief operating officer at digital agency Croud, brand-building should be a “non-negotiable” for all companies. “When we think about B2B, we think about facts. But you’re still selling to people who have opinions. And even to get on the shortlist […] there needs to be a level of brand awareness. That might be through word of mouth or through much broader, bigger media campaigns. But you have to start somewhere.”

She continues: “As depressing as it is, it’s not just the product – there has to be some brand awareness as well.”

It’s easier said than done, of course. Building your brand in your customers’ minds needs to encapsulate a number of different approaches and methods. That’s according to Nick Whitfield, communications manager at Future Biogas, a UK-based provider of clean and renewable energy. B2B marketing is all about “giving your customers the tools and information they need, in a format that feels familiar to them, in a language and vocabulary they understand and also use”, Whitfield says.

But building that up takes time. And oftentimes marketing isn’t given the adequate time required to deliver results. Things, however, might be starting to change.

According to a recent joint study by the ​​Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and Brand Finance, the strength of a brand and its marketing were named as the most important things that investment analysts look for when appraising companies – more so than leadership, technological innovation or even profits. What’s more, 37% of analysts said they regarded advertising as an investment compared with just 24% who viewed it as a cost, showing that even the investment community is valuing a longer-term mentality when it comes to marketing.

What makes a good brand-building campaign?

So how do you do it right? When it comes to successful brand-building, whitepapers alone won’t cut it – especially at a time when decision-makers are so time-poor. Instead, it’s all about empathy, storytelling and differentiating yourself from your competitors. But above all else, the key is consistency.

“I think consistency is really important in any sort of brand campaign you’re putting out there. Don’t claim to be something that you don’t actually practise in reality, or can’t be demonstrated in the experience a customer then goes on to have with your business,” Whitfield says.

To deliver a great B2B brand campaign, you need to be super clear on the objective, according to Wooller, since having multiple targets for a singular campaign can work against you.

“Are you trying to get your brand in front of as many eyeballs as possible? Are you trying to drive brand awareness? Are you trying to use it […] to drive consideration and start to drive outcomes? It’s really hard to do all of those really well, because they will have nuanced different audiences, and therefore slightly different ways, volumes and channels in which you want to get in front of people,” Wooller says.

“So if you can be super, super clear on the objective with your brand campaign that will then help guide planning around who, how often, which channels and where – and all the component parts that make up your marketing mix.”

How AI is changing the marketing industry

These days, when it comes to staying at the top of your game, marketing heads might be feeling the pressure from their boards to lean heavily on AI tools, and generate content at speed in a bid to stand out. But, as tools like ChatGPT rapidly reshape how people both interact with and create online content, can marketers still grab attention and deliver the unexpected?

The well-used metaphor that generative AI is akin to having ‘infinite interns’ is a useful thing to remember, says Wooller. “If you’re doing some research, or you want to have a load of ideas or a first pass of translation, you’ve now got infinite interns who you can ask the question of, and they will return some probably pretty good stuff. But you’re not going to send your most important clients what your interns return, hopefully,” Wooller explains.

“You still need a layer between what they’ve ideated, what they’ve come up with, and what you’re sending,” she says.

Of course, marketers should deploy AI where their main savings are going to be, Whitfield says, like automating repeatable processes that will reduce time and money. For example, companies who currently pay a fortune for stock photography will be able to save money by using generative AI for very similar end-results, he says.

“But in its current state, I’m much more convinced by using AI as a suggestive tool, rather than a full-blown content generator,” Whitfield says.

Standing out through storytelling

Ironically, with the relative ease of creating content and the ever-expanding avenues or channels to deliver it to audiences, it’s never been harder to convert prospects into actual leads. So great storytelling is what will set businesses apart in building long-term engagement and generating demand.

“Think carefully about who you want to talk to. Who’s your target customer? How does the customer feel? And how do you tell a story that allows them to feel?” Keene says.

“Don’t tell a story that your product team wants to hear […] Your product team is not buying your product, nor your CEO. You’ve got to understand your customer, and really put yourself in their shoes as a marketing person. That’s your role to understand and empathise with the customer, and to tell a story that they bought.”

And to do this well, your brand needs to own its own “story”, Keene adds. “At the heart of your brand, you need a brand book that everything is built on; it’s the foundations of your house. You need that fundamental, clear and compelling message that gets repeated across all of your channels and your campaigns.

“Sure, you can do different things and be creative in different ways. But if it’s too diverse, you’ll break the simplicity of that core message.”

Watch the full webinar here, check out how we helped Klear boost their brand, or reach out to discuss how Raconteur can support your brand building efforts here.