Received wisdom in the B2B marketing industry, popularised by consultants, is that marketing functions should be structured by discipline. A content team, a digital team, a campaigns team and so on. The idea is to bolt specialist skills together and create an efficient, scalable factory churning out a steady stream of marketing qualified leads for sales to gobble up.
The problem is each team ends up focused on optimising for their own performance measures. Content for consumption, digital for conversation, campaigns for leads. No one is accountable for the important outcome – the sale.
Marketing departments also tend to be funnel-based – working on brand metrics at the top or lead generation at the bottom, and never the twain shall meet.
I’ve written on this topic several times from an agency perspective, extolling the benefits of an integrated mixture of skills working together towards an outcome along the full length of the funnel. Annie Headley, vice-president of global brand and communications at Alteryx, is as passionate as I am about the brand-to-demand continuum, but looking at the problem from a client-side viewpoint.
I caught up with her to find out what the challenges are within B2B companies when it comes to joining up brand and demand activities – and why it matters. Here’s what I asked:
What first got you thinking about the disconnect between brand and demand teams?
Annie Headley (AH): I was leading the corporate marketing function with a focus on amplifying brand awareness, developing flagship campaigns and managing the global brand media budget. Meanwhile, I had a counterpart who managed our demand marketing strategy, upsell and cross-sell plays, and competitive displacement.
I realised that the operations of these two separate departments – brand and demand marketing – were working to completely different KPIs, which made it difficult to achieve objectives like building brand reputation, increasing revenue and creating strong relationships. Had these teams unified earlier, in what I would term a ‘brand-gen’ approach, we would have had more opportunities to drive results and use our resources more efficiently. ‘Brand-gen’ to me is shorthand for ‘building awareness to create demand’.
Why do you think aligning brand and demand is so challenging for organisations?
AH: You have teams that are focused on the same audience, but trying to achieve different KPIs. For example, brand teams often have a remit to reach a broad audience of prospects and customers. Demand generation teams tend to have a narrower focus on particular prospects – they’re often only interested in active buyers. Brand marketing is usually viewed as a long-term play, and organisations often focus on trying to hit short-term targets through demand generation. But this isn’t the most effective solution for long-term growth.
It often comes down to a misunderstanding around ROI – there is an idea that brand marketing is a ‘nice-to-have’. A few years ago, I worked for a company where our demand generation campaigns were struggling and conversions were low. This led me to ask the questions: “Do our prospects even know who we are? Why would someone purchase our product, download an asset or attend one of our webinars if they don’t?”
Prospects want to get to know you as a company before making a commitment. Once they have a baseline understanding of your organisation, that’s when they’ll be willing to consider the next step. Brand marketing brings your company’s solutions to the prospect so that you can be considered as they look to make a decision. Identifying active buyers and keeping your brand top of mind as they go through their purchase decision is where demand generation efforts come in.
How can B2B organisations create a culture of alignment between brand and demand marketing teams?
AH: Having two separate budgets can be detrimental to your brand-gen efforts. Ideally, you should have one media budget for both brand and demand generation campaigns. Some of your media strategy and budget should focus on building awareness at the top of the funnel and some on, for instance, retargeting those unconverted prospects who have had some level of engagement with your marketing.
Studies have shown you have to get in front of someone six to seven times before they make a purchase. I see there being two options: either use all of those touches to encourage a prospect to interact with the same asset, or use a few of them to say: “Let me tell you who we are as a company, how we can help you, and when you’re ready we can connect the dots to the products that make sense based on your use cases.” Giving them the opportunity to understand you better drives more interest in the content they’re being served.
Another important consideration is structure. A lot of companies have global demand or integrated campaign teams to try to break down the silos. You just need to make sure that creating awareness is baked in as part of the journey when planning your campaigns.
Finally, how can we create new frameworks for marketing teams to focus on the same measurements for both brand and demand generation?
AH: My approach was to re-architect the measurement process to assess whether prospects who interacted with our brand campaigns had a higher propensity to engage with demand campaigns. We were able to show that in the demand generation portion of the media plan conversion rates were higher when prospects had been exposed to the brand awareness activity.
Taking a true brand-gen approach isn’t just about creating a campaign with both brand assets and demand assets. It’s about integrating the media plan to take a 360-degree view of the customer and how and when you speak to them. More than that, to make it work end-to-end takes a willingness to change the way you look at budgets, structure, KPIs and measurement. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but I believe those who put the effort in will be the winners in the long term.
David Hayes is vice-president of growth at The Marketing Practice.