B2B Ignite: The business of brand webinar

Creative Director Benedict Buckland explores the role brand can play in helping businesses meet their strategic objectives and discusses the tools you need to better align marketing with your wider business in this webinar from B2B Ignite 2021.

B2B Marketing - Maria Hello, hello, welcome back, everybody. And we're in the branded content stream, and I am delighted to welcome the team from alan. today to probe into a really tricky topic that many of us face, which is how do you build out the business case when you're looking at repositioning, a rebranding? Now, I'm going to be handing straight over to Benedict Buckland, who will be introducing the panel and the content for today. But as ever, please post your questions in the chat box. I'll use the Q&A and hopefully find some time at the end. Benedict, I'm going to hand over to you and welcome very much. Looking forward to this one. 

Benedict Buckland Thank you very much, Maria. Yes. And welcome, everybody to the business of Brand. And today we are going to have a live panel discussion where we'll be posing the question, should brand be elevated from a subset of marketing to an essential business discipline? Now, as Maria just said, I'm Benedict Buckland, creative director, at alan. the raconteur group's B2B marketing agency. And today, I'm very, very pleased to say that I'm joined by three marketing luminaries and all of them have very, very pertinent stories to tell of how they're using Brand as a strategic lever to successfully reposition their organisations. So without further ado, in alphabetical order, I am delighted to welcome Gonzalo Garcia Villanueva, Global CMO at global market intelligence company GfK. Lovely to have you here, Gonzalo. We also have Tara Robertson, CMO at work and product management software platform Teamwork. Tara, absolute delight. 

Tara Robertson Thank you so much for having me. 

Benedict Buckland And last but by no means least, we are joined by Thomas Harber, a former agency director and now interim CMO at software engineering and digital services firm Ciklum. So a warm welcome to you as well, Tom. 

Thomas Harber Hi Bene, it's great to be here. 

Benedict Buckland Fantastic. So as I think Maria teed up to us very, very nicely. The focus of our discussion will be centred on that business case for Brand. But I'd like to start by exploring Brand in the context of the past 18 months. From Black Lives Matter to the pandemic, it really does seem that the rules of the game have changed. We're witnessing a shift in consumer behaviour and business models transforming market structure, we're seeing absolutely sort of rapid digitalisation, accelerating disruption of traditional delivery models and indeed channels of communication. And from my observations, in many instances, the actual social contract the brands have with their communities is being fundamentally reshaped. To start off with, what I want to pose and wonder is, has this change that we've seen rendered many brands out of date? So Gonzalo I'd like to start with you. And I think especially given your background with GfK and some of the intelligence that you have to bring to bear on this, what would be your observations about the relevance that brands have been able to retain over this period? 

Gonzalo Garcia Villanueva Thank you. And really good to be here. Thanks for having me again. It's very exciting for me to talk brand, given the transformation that we have been doing at GfK in the last couple of years from being a leading force in market research into becoming what we are now - a tech company with a software that provides those insights always on and stuff. So as you can guess, there's a lot of work involved in re-crafting the right brand, new messages for clients and so on, so forth. But I think in the context of the transformation that happened due to covid at the moment, I think it differs between different industries, some industries were more or less offline/ online than others.  In general, we've been seeing a transformation into digital in the last 10 years, [it’s] been pretty aggressive and covid has just made it dramatically faster and more and deeper, basically. So I guess the first thing you can see for companies is that the ones that had already invested in their brand presence online earlier on suffered less or were more resilient during during the crisis. And that has been consistent in previous crises. And you can see it with the data we've seen in GfK in the current crisis. But the biggest learning from me from previous recessions is that the brands that invested not only online, just in general, in their own brands, they bounce back much more aggressively. They recover much faster than other brands. So I think those are two different aspects. I think one is becoming more online and more omnichannel. And then just in general, as you invest in omni channel, you have to think about how your brand comes across in each channel. So that means investing in technology in new channels, but then consistency, how your brand can come across more consistently throughout. So I think, you know, in this crisis, we are seeing examples of clients doing really well and can already see, this year they're taking market share of those. 

Benedict Buckland Fantastic. Thank you. And Tara, just onto you, just to pick up on this idea that digitalisation really creates a mandate for brands to change how they are interacting, changing the touch points that they have with their communities.  From your perspective, what are the key things that brands need to take into account and how have brands had to adapt to this rapid digitisation that we've seen over these [past] 18 months? 

Tara Robertson Yeah, absolutely. I think Gonzalo hit it really head on in just saying, you know, brands that were ahead of the pack and started to focus more on digital, their digital experience, I think recovered a lot faster. But the biggest thing that you saw brands do these last 18 months, the ones that stuck out from the pack, are the ones that focussed on a more human led approach. They became more community driven. There is a huge wave of community led growth that started to show up this year when it was less about who I am, what my product is, and more about who I'm interacting with. What are they going through? What are the struggles that people are dealing with? I think this last 18 months in general have been difficult, not just for brands, but for people. And the brands that you saw that really, really interacted and created a standout experience were the ones that completely shifted their strategy. They started to think more about not creating content based on what they used to have, but content based on what was timely, looking at social listening, thinking about ways that people were interacting and really starting to drive a much more empathetic approach to the way that they started to go to market and the way that they connected with their entire ecosystem. And you would see things from tactical shifts in strategy, whether it was moving from in-person face to face events to then creating a more digital event experience and starting to create more of those ways that you can build your overall brand resonance. But then also, even just going back to the way we were connecting the voice that we had, the way that we showed who we were as a business and the way that we can create joint values in what other people were going through and how we then connected together. So I really think I would add in to everything Gonzalo said and then build into it that human to human marketing that was so critical these last 18 months. 

Gonzalo Garcia Villanueva If I may just add on that, because I think, you know, Tara is spot on just to support that with numbers. When we look at research done with top hundred companies, it's interesting.  Meeting the needs, so the B2B solutions meet the needs, has always been regularly high, pricing is important, attachment to brand - values and purpose have jumped all the way up as the priority for clients as they're purchasing from us. So absolutely, 

Benedict Buckland Yeah. I think that it's really interesting to think that at a very sort of intuitive level, the importance of conveying values and purposes is very, very understandable. But what I think is actually quite interesting I would like to explore a little bit more, is how the brands get to that point. Now, Tara, you spoke about the importance of things like social listening. I think there's almost a bit of a mindset shift that also needs to happen internally and that needs to be coupled with tools, technologies and processes to get closer to the customer. So and Thomas, I wonder just in terms of from your perspective, what was really key that brands do if they did get to a position where they can talk with sincerity around their values and purpose in a way that engages and resonates with the audience? 

Thomas Harber Yeah, I think it's a really good question. And I think building on Gonzalo's points and also, sort of, Tara's points around, I think that values-led and that human-led approach, I think has been really important. I think we've seen this kind of acceleration in the market through the pandemic, around digital transformation and overarchingly, I think, business transformation. I think everyone I speak to in the industry is certainly going through a transformation of some kind. But I feel like it's also been an acceleration of, I guess, a sort of a social transformation within organisations. I think there's been a real sort of a laser focus on how businesses are addressing this sort of, I guess, ESG policies and how that sort of intrinsically connects to the brand and, importantly, the business vision. And I think, moreover, what we're actually seeing is that businesses and senior marketers are actually being held to account for how we behave in that space, whether we're on the buying side or whether we're actually on the vendor side. I think we're seeing a great example would be, B Corp, for instance, we're seeing four thousand organisations in the B Corp community now who have aligned their values through a certification. Now you'll see more often than not, that organisations will choose a fellow B Corp from their community. So I think this last year, 18 months - and maybe it's been a long time coming - your organisation's purpose, your social signals that you send out and your values both internally and if you choose to communicate those externally, becoming a huge contributor to the buying process and the decision making process. 

Benedict Buckland And just to sort of close out this particular conversation about purpose and values is to the floor. Do we feel that this is going to be a transient sort of thing, or do we feel that this is now something which is a permanent part of both brand and also the way that a business positions itself to its marketplace? 

Thomas Harber I was going to say, from my point of view, I think it's here to stay. I think the B Corp example is just one example of many that we'll see in the future around how social responsibilities within organisations are governed. So I think it's going to become a sort of a business mandate. I think it will be fluid and I don't necessarily think it will be transient, but I think it will evolve. I think organisations will need to evolve. But I think importantly for organisations to have a point of view is a top priority now. So whether it's a point of view on the environment or whether it's a sort of a political point of view, I think that's absolutely key. 

Gonzalo Garcia Villanueva Kind of similar, I was going to say that for me is definitely here to stay, but it's the value itself that will change and will stay liquid. So similar to what Tom was saying, I think especially in the markets that are most competitive and, you know, you can expect a level of maturity of the solutions and pricing model etc is similar. There's a level of trust on the top four or five competitors then your brand and what it stands for in terms of values and purpose will make a massive difference. It will make the difference on whether you are the selected choice in an RFP, for example. Now currently, for example, sustainability, diversity and inclusion and many other topics are crucial. You see your clients demanding almost for the basics just to be part of a potential competition, to be part of it. That is what I think hopefully will stay in there. But new values will come in 2030 and 2040 that we don't even know about now. And that's where the brands need to stay resilient. So that's what I think will change. But I think value will stay on the top of the buying areas of focus for quite a bit.

Tara Robertson I love that you said that so much. I am a huge proponent of marketing should be all about generating value, not just demand. And that starts from the brand. And I think, Benedict, you had mentioned this earlier, but your KPIs and your data and everything that you have to back up the impact that your brand is bringing, is such a huge part to start to make that case for what it is. And so as we talk about where the world will go from here, I think it would be a mistake for any of us to think that the world hasn't changed. The world has changed in the last eighteen months and our brands need to change with it. Whether that's through the values that we bring to the table, the way that we connect with people through our brand, the sentiments that we're looking at, how people are essentially interacting with us, interacting with our competition and really understanding the way that people are talking about brands so that you can continue to stay ahead of the curve. I mean, even if you look at – I'm a parent of two children – my children have gone through a huge change this last year. And my eight year old, who probably never worked on a computer, is sending me emails now. And so when we think about the next evolution of people that are up and running, that everybody has moved just so much more digital and we don't want to be marketed to, in people talking about their products, their services, we want to connect with value. And so when you think about what you want as a human, that's what your customers want. And it's really about finding that connexion and making sure that's what you have that stands out from the brand perspective versus what you see your competitors are doing. 

Gonzalo Garcia Villanueva And if I may add, there's one reason why I also believe that it will stay here with us for a bit. Sustainability or diversity and inclusion are things we as humanity need to fix. These are problems that need focus, right?  And what we realise is that governments need the private sector also to support and chip in. And I think that's kind of accepted by the private sector, that companies actually need to take an active role. So that's why it's going to stay, in my opinion. It's just that there's a lot of things to be fixed and we should be prioritising and focussing and supporting those from the top, from the brand as Tara said. 

Benedict Buckland Absolutely. I think this is a nice opportunity potentially to change gear a little bit within this conversation. What we've been talking about, I think Thomas you talked about business transformation, in many respects, these ideas and developing a purpose, sorting out your corporate social responsibility, making sure that diversity and inclusion is actually compatible with your communities. And this is quite expensive. So I'm interested from you guys’ perspective, do you feel that leading that change and defining what the company should be, should be led by brand?  And by brand, I mean, in terms of the brand discipline within marketing, is this in itself a sort of an opportunity for that elevation that I spoke about at the beginning? 

Thomas Harber I think that's a really, really interesting question for us to address, and the reason for that is I think in the past my observations were that marketing sat quite siloed within organisations. It was the department, so to say, to actually take your brand to market. Whereas now I feel like marketing as a discipline and as a practice is actually being elevated to that space of almost business vision and business transformation. I feel that it is not necessarily the marketing team's responsibility to lead this. Moreso, I would say it's the marketing team’s responsibility to coordinate it around the brand and make sure that it actually ladders up to your overarching brand message and your positioning within the market and make sure that, one, you can sort of capitalise off of that and two, you can actually communicate that in a salient way in the market. 

Tara Robertson I was I was going to build on that, because I love how you brought in the communication piece. The way we look at it is partnership as well. There are a lot of partnerships that we have throughout the organisation that are critical to how we build and then elevate our brand. Everybody has multiple brands, but it's really one brand together. And when I say multiple, you have your external brand, the brands that you're bringing to market, the brand that you're showcasing and aligning it to your results within a marketing funnel and everything that you're focussed on when it comes to impact. But that has to go hand in hand with your employer brand and the work that you're doing internally with your team and the way that you're communicating your positioning, your values, your visions and starting to partner with your people team, and how you continue to build a lot of those go to market strategies, both internally and externally. And that's where I'd say very similar to what Tom said, it has to be interconnected. It's not just marketing's responsibility to do that. We have to partner with our people team. We partner with our leadership team. We bring that all together so that as we look at elevating our external brand, we're doing it at the same time as our internal brand because they go hand in hand. And so our external brand is nothing without our employee experience and making sure that they understand our position, they understand our values, that it's all interconnected, otherwise it doesn't feel authentic. And people know that and they feel that. And so your authenticity is so critical in the way that you think about that brand and even get that purpose within your internal organisation on our why. This is why we care. This is the impact that we can bring. And those things all are really critically important. 

Benedict Buckland Absolutely. I love this. I mean, in terms of what you and Thomas have said.  It’s almost conjuring this idea of the marketer as the conductor within the business and coordinating the various different parts of it. It's lovely visually to play with. Gonzalo from your perspective, do you feel that marketers have been empowered to play that role or do you feel there's still a way to go and there are many misconceptions that exist within companies around brand?

Gonzalo Garcia Villanueva Let's put it this way. I think the companies are doing well or are being very successful on this front. Brand marketing directors are empowered, let's put it that way. I don't think that that's across the whole of the B2B industry. [It] is a bit more mature on the B2C side of things. But you still have, you know, we get our feedback from clients where they still say, ‘hey, I need some of your data to get a seat on the table’. So my brand strategy is not a fluffy thing, right. For the rest of the board and stuff. So I think this is a journey, it is getting there, but is not yet there. I think, you know, I don't want to repeat what Tara and Tom said because it's spot on. It is something that goes beyond marketing. When we do research, CMOs do say that they have this opportunity to engage with other departments, but it should be orchestrated from one single point. And I think brand marketers are equipped to do that. They just need to be trained to do even more. The brand, as Tara said, is your employees, it is the customer service team.  If you have a hardware product, it is the quality of the product, whether it breaks. The brand, is done any of these events or, when they see an advertisement and so on. So part of it is marketing. Part of it is the sales team, the customer service team and so on, so forth. So I think that's the key thing. My second thought would be beyond being empowered is, I see a lot of companies that have a temptation to just jump and fix a brand or just jump in and improve a brand without testing the assumptions. In the B2C world, again probably a little more mature in terms of having a sense of what the brand looks like or what is the perception of the brand. In many B2B companies, they are taking a lot of the feedback directly from the sales team, which is the right thing to do to hear from the sales team what they perceive is positive or negative from the client. Which of the personas within your client are in favour or against our brand and so on. But you need to assess that with proper data and research, and that's where obviously technology solutions come in. I think that's crucial. And again, you need to mix all that, your feedback from market research from the marketing team, the feedback from the sales team and so on. So your starting point is the right place. Then you empower your brand team to collaborate and go to market with a new brand to improve brand or rebrand, depending on where you are in the company. 

Benedict Buckland I'm going to hold that thought around the importance of using data to inform your decisions, but also, I think to demonstrate value, which I think is a really important thing in terms of building this business case for Brand. Just before we do that. I just wanted to pick up on one thing you said there Gonzalo, which I think is potentially a bit of a misconception that still might exist in the market and [I’m] very interested to hear your thoughts about this. Is that brand is only about the sort of the advertising. It's the creative execution, it's the marketing campaigns. Where actually what really brands should be about is the brand needs to be imbued across every touchpoint that somebody has with the company and the brand, because that's your opportunity of reinforcing and communicating what you stand for, reinforcing your value proposition. So the first first part of that is do you feel that companies do understand that well enough in terms of the importance of brand being across every touchpoint? And I think the second one, which I'm going to build on that and maybe one of the other panellists can offer opinion on this, is the role of creating an emotional connection within B2B? I think that that is also a fundamental misconception that might still exist in the marketplace. But just to start on the touch points, one, Gonzalo, and how well understood do you feel the importance of having Brand across every touchpoint to create that sort of consistent experience is? 

Gonzalo Garcia Villanueva Honestly, I don't think we are, if it's a zero to 10. We are a bit of a six or five. I think companies are getting there. Again, the best performing companies are a little bit ahead of the others. I think people tend to just think about Brand, as you said, exactly like you said, like what is the campaign that has been exposed to them and the advertisement and maybe a little bit of events and so on. I don't think they think about, you know, the voice that picks up or the music while they are waiting for a phone call with customer service, you know? How friendly the login to a system is and so on, so forth. The welcome and the behaviour of your sales force being consistent, whether you are addressing a meeting in Asia or whether it's in Europe, I think those nuances are not something that is very mature in the B2B space. But I can see that there's a wake-up call and people are getting it. I think it is a little bit like the adoption before from other companies of, I don't know, CRM systems. Now, 91 percent of the companies with more than 10 employees have a proper CRM solution. I think this is coming and there will be an active adoption and it is getting there. 

Tara Robertson I would totally, totally agree with that, too. And I think there Gonzalo, you said something a couple of questions ago that resonated really well. And that I do think that there is a strong misconception sometimes that brand can be fluffy or that it is really just about doing designs, or coming in and doing a rebrand and not really having any visual plan when it comes to how brand can impact your business. Everyone has a brand and it's really about looking at your brand and understanding how is that resonating and then how can you impact the bottom line across the board? And you can substantially, when you do create that emotional connection that you mentioned and really starting to understand that a B2B company does not need to be a dry, boring go to market strategy, you don't have to be B2C in order to create really fun, creative and personalised emotional connections with your customers. Because we're all still humans, we're all still buying products, whether it is a dress or whether it's a piece of software. I love that connection to CRMs and look at Salesforce and what they did when they first built their entire go to market strategy with the no software and everything that they started to create virality around [it]. There's so much fun that you can have in B2B as you scale and elevate your brand. And that really starts and ends with knowing your customers and knowing your buyers and then creating these campaigns and these opportunities to really connect with them on that human level and speak to the value that you know that your product or service can bring. 

Benedict Buckland I love the word you use there, which is around fun. Fun is a really important part of everything we do. And B2B marketing is absolutely no different. And that's the way you are going to get that level of engagement. So Tom, I know that you're very, very passionate around emotional connection within B2B, you and I have had the good fortune of discussing this on numerous other occasions, so I want to give you a quick opportunity to build on Tara, and then I'm going to come back to Gonzalo to sort of close this out. That's really interesting to hear about what data you can use to support you. But first Tom, just if you have any reflections on what Tara said?

Thomas Harber Look, I mean, from my point of view, I'm quite bold in this space, in that I feel it's quite sort of mind-blowing to think that emotion cannot and should not feature in the B2B space. Whether you are in the aisles of Tesco or whether you're in the office, you are a human being and you have the same emotions and the same emotional triggers. And I think what's really interesting is that we're actually seeing now a lot of evidence emerging, not that the evidence should necessarily need to be there, but evidence emerging, that sort of emotional messaging and evocative language and storytelling certainly has a real place in B2B. I mean, we're seeing through Binet & Fields, the long and short of it. The research that came out in 2020 specifically for B2B showing that actually that the brand work that you do from an emotional perspective has a fourfold impact, if you can actually connect with your buyers emotionally. So I feel as though emotion, and particularly I would say creativity should feature much more heavily in the B2B space, finding creative ways to emotionally connect with your customers. 

Benedict Buckland I mean, obviously, I have an inherent bias in terms of advocating what you've just said, but absolutely emotion and creativity [are] very, very important in B2B. That would be my final thought. But Gonzalo, I'm going to give you a really unenviable task here, so within I think probably about 60 seconds, as I think Maria is frantically trying to conclude. What would be, just if you were to give one or two pieces of advice for how brands, departments within marketing can win that sort of argument within the business to demonstrate the value of brand? Where do they feel that there needs to be a focus from a sort of a data and sort of proofpoint perspective? 

Gonzalo Garcia Villanueva In 60 seconds, I kind of mentioned it before, but you need to test assumptions and that's what you do with data, with research and so on. Even, you know, we're saying we're all in agreement that we are human. So marketing shouldn't be boring. And that's the role of marketing. Absolutely to convince people. But that's how you do it. You can actually test and show that actually those human levers, more human communications actually will work better. So you need to test those assumptions. I think you need to understand what your brand is bringing in and what your consumer's perception or your bias perception of your brand is before you then address defining a beautiful brand pyramid that then you can take to customer service sales and your marketing campaign. So your company is completely consistent. And then in terms of having a seat at the table, the data will clearly help of course. You're going to have to build a number of cases, like areas where your brand has already been deployed and is consistent throughout different departments and are performing and delivering more revenue. Or you need to show those case studies to the CFO, to the CEO and so on, so forth. I think the bit in the middle is where we do very well is like looking at these companies transforming from being A to B. What I'm doing in GfK, let's change the messaging, let's think about each persona, let's be very human, very fun. I think we do that well, but I think you need to test or challenge the assumptions, know where you stand for it, then you build that strategy and then you deploy it throughout the whole company. I think those are my quick updates and you can do some of that with basic models, like if you don't have the technology, you can grab data from your website and other services. 

Benedict Buckland I think that that's perfect and I know I threw a hospital pass there, so apologies. But I think in terms of what you're saying, test, document and create those case studies, actually tell the story to the CFO, I think going back to what Tom said.  Maria, I know that I've just run out of time, so please accept my apologies. And thank you, Tara, Gonzalo and Thomas. That's fantastic. I think we might have some questions from the audience. So over to you Maria... 

B2B Marketing - Maria So, Benedict, we would usually have some questions, but I'm afraid we probably just have time for one, just to finish up. And if I can ask you to just keep it as short as possible, it's really just looking forward. What is the one piece of advice you'd give to marketers? They're thinking about their plans for next year. We're moving sort of into the next phase. What's the one piece of advice? 

Gonzalo Garcia Villanueva It's all about the people, the quality of the marketing team that you have is going to be driving all these things we are talking about is very specific to the methodology of brand. But I think you need to cherish your people, take good care of them, clarity of purpose after the crisis and so on, so forth. A talented, motivated team will help organisations thrive and marketing is now being given that seat, you can see in B2B is becoming more and more important. So I think having the right people in the right roles.

B2B Marketing - Maria That's a perfect sum up for the session. Thank you so much. Thomas, I can see you nodding vigorously to that along with Gonzalo. And just to say I want to thank you all very much for an absolutely fantastic and engaging session. You covered so much ground and, you know, you've really just drawn out that kind of inflexion point we're all sort of at at the moment. So thank you to all the speakers and thank you very much for chairing. And I look forward to seeing the rest of you, our participants in our next session. But thanks again, guys. 

Benedict Buckland Thanks very much. Thanks so much. 

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