The B2B brand exam

By Jon Cohen | March 30, 2016

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Jon Cohen

EVP, Client Services

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Jon Cohen

EVP, Client Services

Jon is our chief strategist and resident metaphorist. Give him a complex marketing challenge and he’ll sketch out the solution, illustrated with comparisons to three-legged racing, hotdogs, and obscure TV shows — yet it all makes perfect sense. Happiest with a whiteboard and a problem to solve, Jon inspires the agency to break boundaries, create incredible work, and take every opportunity to have a good laugh.

Puzzle genre(s) mastered:client business

Preferred board length:long

# of silent H’s in name:0 (first), 1 (last)

Favorite state ending in –mont:Vermont

Most comfortable around:creatives, family (not in that order)

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you have a brand problem” feels like a brave thing to say to a prospective client.

They came asking for a lead gen campaign and already mentioned “ROI” eight times in fifteen minutes. These people want results, fast. And while we could develop a lead gen campaign complete with goals and KPIs, whatever success we generated would be short-lived.

It’s tough news to break, but we’d rather be in it for the long haul.

Companies usually come to us for help with a specific marketing challenge. They’re reaching out to a B2B agency with a simple need for more qualified leads, killer content, a digital presence, or a new product launch. They know the tactics they want to pursue and are looking for a partner to help them execute their vision.

So we listen. We ask a lot of questions. And we find the holes.

More often that not, those holes are in the brand. Because for every lead generated, piece of content created, campaign launched, or website built, it all comes back to brand. If your brand isn’t watertight — if it isn’t consistent with what your marketing is saying or doesn’t connect to your audience — then the aforementioned tactics may produce numbers, but they won’t land. They may even harm your relationship with customers in the long run.

A brand solution

B2B marketing has become a complicated machine, and it’s easy to believe that small iterations on your tactical approach will earn you new leads, greater share of wallet, and advance your brand all at the same time. But to find sustained success, a brand needs to know exactly who it is. It needs to be strong, consistent, and cohesive across all touch points.

So before you get into any costly tactics, first examine your brand. Here’s how:

  1. Inquisition your position
    What does your brand promise and is that promise being met? What exactly are your customers gaining from their relationship with you? Are you selling products or offering helpful solutions? Take a step back and analyze where your brand is right now. Does it all make sense?
  1. Take a long hard look at yourself
    Consistency is key. Look across all marketing platforms and sales materials. Is the messaging strong and cohesive? Is the visual brand solid? Do you see any disconnect? What are you actually communicating?
  1. Check for structural damage
    How is your brand architecture holding up at mother brand, product and sub-brand level? Is it clear? Is it intuitive? Over time, architecture can loosen, weaken, or fall completely out of alignment.
  1. Eye up the competition
    Analyze positioning, messaging, creative, content, social, and advertising activity. How does your brand compare? Where are the opportunities to differentiate? It’s not good enough to say, “we’re different.” You need to strategically define your ownable space.
  1. Go inside
    Talk to people within your organization. These are the people in direct contact with customers; your brand advocates. How do they perceive your value proposition? Do they have a clear idea of what your company stands for, and are they representing it?
  1. Go outside
    How do your partners and customers feel about your brand? Reach out to customers, sales reps, suppliers, distribution channels, and any industry insiders. Their perspectives are crucial, and they probably won’t sugarcoat them.

These are just some of the methods you can use to dig into your brand. And as you begin these important assessments, you’ll probably find the same kind of holes we usually uncover.

Your team won’t agree on the results. Your customers, partners or investors won’t completely align. You may begin to question everything you thought you knew about your brand. Paranoia is completely normal.

But if you face your fears, do the hard work, and begin building an authentic brand from the bottom up, you’ll lay the foundation for marketing tactics that yield both immediate and long-term success.