More and more marketers are coming around to the idea that, contrary to popular belief, brand building is just as important in B2B as it is in B2C. But understanding this is only one small part of the challenge for B2B marketers.
The bigger challenge is in convincing their CEOs and CFOs that demand generation and performance marketing isn’t enough to deliver long-term, sustainable growth, and securing the investment necessary to begin building the brand out.
One B2B business that has invested hard behind its brand marketing this year is financial software firm Sage. Since May, Sage has launched its first purpose statement, refreshed its brand, launched a string of new customer propositions and an above-the-line advertising campaign across TV, outdoor and digital.
Now the business’s marketing team is looking for further large investments, its executive vice-president of global brand and integrated marketing, Craig Inglis, said during a panel at Marketing Week’s Festival of Marketing this week.Why Sage is swapping B2B for ‘human to human’ with the launch of its first brand purpose
“We’re definitely in that place where we’re trying to build the case [for further investment],” said the former John Lewis marketing boss, who joined Sage in June this year to work alongside CMO Cath Keers.
“We’ve told the story of why brand marketing is important and how we think that sits with the performance marketing history we’ve got, and how one compares to another. But the rubber hits the road when you start to invest.”
To help build their case, Inglis and Sage’s marketing team are currently running “lots” of brand tests in different countries. This test and learn approach, alongside an accountable measurement regime, will be critical, he said.
“We’re setting out the case for some pretty big investments… We are stepping in with a clear view of what we think it will drive, and with solid business cases, but on that basis of test and learn,” Inglis explained.
“I think we’ve created belief that there is a better version of what we’ve been doing, and there’s a lot of faith being thrown into it. The measurement regime we put around that and how we hold ourselves to it is going to be incredibly important.”
Perhaps most importantly, marketers need to be “clear and transparent” with the rest of the business about those things which don’t end up working as planned, to help build “trust” in their relationship with finance, he added.
When you work in a company with 800 owners, can you imagine the amount of influencing stakeholders we have to do? It’s quite phenomenal.
Rebecca Hirst, EY
According to Inglis, this dynamic was actually “exactly the same” when he worked in consumer marketing at John Lewis.
“I often get this sort of sense from people that there was some sort of utopian, marketing driven organisation at John Lewis. That was not the case,” he said.
“Every year I’d get challenged on Christmas… And rather than getting uppity or evangelistic, I would come back to the data. This is what we’re trying to drive and here’s what we have driven.”
In a final word of advice to B2B marketers looking to make the case for further brand investment, Inglis said it is important to focus on “baby steps”.
“Marketers tend to be really ambitious and impatient – I’m definitely in that place of just wanting to get to the end result. But it just doesn’t work if you want to take people with you,” he warned.
“Momentum creates momentum, and every time you take a step forward it gives you the mandate to push further. So I really urge you to do that.”
Bring the right charts
Anouschka Elliot joined Goldman Sachs’ as managing director and global head of marketing for asset management in April this year, after more than two years in the same role at rival investment services firm UBS.
When she joined UBS in 2020, she took on a B2B marketing team which had one primary purpose: to support the sales team. After a year and half, she was able to internally reposition marketing as a key driver of business growth, and secure the senior buy-in necessary to invest in the brand at the asset management level for the first time.
The single most important factor in bringing UBS’s C-suite onboard was showing them the 2013 chart from effectiveness experts Les Binet and Peter Field (below), which demonstrates how brand marketing drives growth over the long term compared to activation marketing.
“That was the point at which my former boss was like, ‘Oh, I get what you’re doing now. We proved the case with test and learn for performance marketing, now we need to move our budget to double down on this value proposition that you just created to actually build the brand’,” she said.
There remains the need to provide the board with the right evidence and data to support her brand investment decisions at Goldman Sachs, Elliot added.
“I took something from the Broadridge Fund Brand 50, where all asset management brands are ranked and valued, and I had an analyst do a correlation analysis between the strength of the brand and the actual fund flows. And we discovered there’s a 70% correlation between the two,” she explained.
“If you’ve got the data behind you, like the Binet and Field chart, it’s just gold.”One B2B brand on shifting marketing from ‘sales service to business driver’
Navigating a partnership
For the CMO of professional services firm EY, Rebecca Hirst, the challenge is a little more complex. She joined EY in January 2021, after building her career in consumer marketing at brands such as Coca-Cola and Samsung.
“What I twigged quite early is the way we make clients and potential clients feel about our brand is as important as it is at Coke,” she said.
But EY is a very complex organisation, jointly owned by over 800 partners. When trying to make marketing decisions and secure investment for brand building, that complexity brings its own additional challenges.
“I was really naïve when I joined the business. I thought as chief marketing officer you can make decisions on marketing. Oh no. Everybody has a point of view… So I thought, I’m never going to get anything done in this place,” Hirst said.
“When you work in a company with 800 owners, can you imagine the amount of influencing stakeholders we have to do? It’s quite phenomenal.”
To make this process easier, Hirst has built a “core group” of 30 senior partners, who she uses as her “best friends”.
Sage CMO: B2B businesses ‘underestimate’ the power of brand“I can’t go and have a conversation with 800 partners when I want to move something forward. So the first thing I did was work out who those 30 people were, and now I can pick up the phone or go for coffee if I need to run anything by them or see if there are any red flags. That’s almost been like my unofficial board at EY,” she explained.
Within that group of 30, Hirst also has a “subset” of three or four who she goes to when she wants to secure a bigger investment, to explain why she wants to make that decision and establish whether they will support it.
“That’s the way I’ve found to navigate what was a really complicated organisation. It’s definitely changed the dynamics for me in terms of decision making,” she said.