Having an instantly recognizable brand is the aim of many Chief Marketing Officers and marketing leaders. It is one of the most elusive trophies to grab in the world of B2B. Once achieved, there are tremendous advantages. Gaining such an advantage has become harder to achieve as companies struggle to be heard above the loud din of digital media.
The art of building brand equity may have been lost in the digital shuffle taking place in the B2B space the past few years. It is an art companies can ill-afford to lose. With more options available to buyers today, loyalty to a brand cannot be counted on in the same way as just a decade ago. One of the key aims for CMO’s and marketing leaders heading into 2014 is rediscovering the art of brand equity.
Talking Past Buyers
Recently, I examined in an article a survey-based study conducted by McKinsey. It surfaced the lack of impact messaging and content marketing is having on brand loyalty and purchase decisions. In essence, the survey serves as a statement on how B2B companies are talking past their customers and buyers. Showing disconnect between messaging and the themes most important to buyers.
There is strong correlation in the ability to build brand equity when it comes to messaging. However, it is only one of several factors. It is one thing to attempt to communicate brand value, but the most import factor is the ability of the brand to make a promise – and to fulfill the promise. Fulfilling the promise usually comes from the ability of the product or service to do so and the interactions between a company and its’ customers. And, doing so better than your competitors.
As a result of conversations helping marketing leaders, I did some thinking. The conclusion I reached is this: the inability of B2B companies to build brand equity can be due to over reliance on two sources:
- Enamored with product or service technology. As companies evolve their product or service offerings with new technologies, much investments goes into extolling the virtues of new technologies. Building the brand becomes an afterthought to the mission to promote new technologies.
- Tunnel vision on content marketing. As companies attempt to respond to shifts in buyer behaviors, content marketing has become the new shiny object. Over-abundant efforts have gone into messaging, thought leadership, blogging, and more to stake out a position in the marketplace with buyers.
As the McKinsey report, as well as others suggest, companies are talking past their buyers on both points. Amounting to ineffectiveness in their messaging and content marketing initiatives. The over reliance on these two sources, where brand equity is more of an assumed byproduct, can unintentionally cause the erosion of a company’s foundation of brand equity built over the years.
The Right Source
As CMO’s and marketing leaders look out to the horizons of 2014, they will seek understanding on how to build brand equity from a source other than the two mentioned. The right source for building brand value is directly from customers and buyers. Brand equity lives in the mind of buyers.
The ability to understand how buyers perceive the value of brands lies in buyer mental models. Mental models are the collection and interpretation of thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, images, and experiences into meaningful guiding forces of influence. This tends to be a neglected source for building brand value and equity. B2B organizations, which endeavored to uncover buyer mental models, have had surprising discoveries – some leading to significant competitive advantages.
2014 The Year To Rediscover Brand Equity
The value of brand equity will become more important in 2014. Presenting a challenge to CMO’s and marketing leaders. As buyers tire of information and content overload, they will resort to trusted brands or new brand promises, which speak clearly to their goals.
To rediscover the value of brand equity, marketing leaders will need to take steps to uncover how to build brand equity with buyers. The following 3 steps are suggested:
- Brand-based buyer insights research. Essential to uncovering the true opinions and mental models of customers and buyers is the use of qualitative research techniques. These techniques are helpful in determining buyer perceptions, which directly affect brand perceptions and purchase decisions. A common mistake to avoid is to resort to win-loss interviews as a substitute for the necessary qualitative research needed.
- Use personas to help communicate and distinguish brand perceptions. Buyer personas serve as a communications platform to help interpret insights. They should be goal-based and inform how buyers think about their relations to specific brand promises. For example, one B2B organization I worked closely with uncovered two very different brand perceptions among two distinct groups of buyer personas. One positive and one negative. A plan was put into place to leverage the positive perceptions while a strategy was developed to help address the negative perception.
- Develop buyer mental models. Buyer mental models can help inform the design of brand strategies. For example, a B2B company I worked closely with uncovered, through qualitative research, a specific brand promise language, which resonated with buyers. They were able to craft specific brand strategies in the language of their buyers.
- Create Buyer Stories. Use stories relevant to buyers, which reinforce the value of your brand. Branding, based on insights, lends itself to stories and story mapping in ways helping to communicate the value of the brand.
To be heard and to stand above the crowded pack of sellers as well as the tsunami of content, companies will need to rediscover the value of brand equity. CMO’s and marketing leaders who practice insight-based branding will succeed. Avoiding the temptation to over-rely on their technologies or content marketing and rely on what resides inside the minds of buyers.