It’s time to call a truce on the brand and demand wars

Ian Bruce, principal analyst at Forrester, explains how brand and demand teams can harmonise and boost a business collectively.

Brand and Demand teams don’t seem to get along. Like bickering siblings, they often fight for attention and don’t play well together.

That’s the conclusion I came to a few months ago, after fielding a survey that attempted to better understand how B2B organisations are breaking down the barriers that separate brand and demand marketing. We asked CMOs and marketing leaders to describe their current approach to brand building and demand marketing, and how the two work together. The results were dispiriting:

  • Only 22% of B2B companies have fully integrated brand and demand marketing
    Even though they operate in the same overall marketing organisation, brand and demand teams are often effectively disconnected. The vast majority (78% of respondents to the survey) operate either completely independently or only connect on specific programs and projects.
  • There’s little consensus on the root cause of the problem
    We asked a range of questions designed to discover the likely causes for all the bickering, but the siblings couldn’t agree on much. For example, when we asked respondents if they felt brand and demand teams were equal partners, 47% agreed, but almost an equal number, 44%, disagreed. Only 9% were neutral on the question.
  • The problem is compounded by the measurement divide
    One of the core problems that encourages the division and rancour is measurement. Brand and demand teams are largely operating on distinct and different sets of metrics, with little that connects the two worlds. And while demand teams have developed a meticulous science for measuring the impact they have on business and revenue engine performance, brand teams often have to work with fuzzily defined goals and data that is much harder to relate to business impact.

This problem has an urgency because brand and demand are effectively different sides of the same coin: they are both supposed to work together to build reputation and to drive customer engagement and ultimately sales opportunities. When brand and demand aren’t playing well together, then business performance falters.

So, what’s the answer? To begin, we need to acknowledge that there are material differences between brand and demand marketing. Let’s look at two examples that need to be acknowledged: differences in audience and differences in time-to-impact.

First, from an audience perspective, brand marketing is interested in connecting with and influencing all audiences that can have a material impact on the business: prospects and customers certainly, but also employees, industry influencers, regulators, industry associations and so on. By contrast, demand marketing is usually narrowly interested in prospects. This seems obvious, but it is often overlooked by some organizations who have developed a culture that often tacitly assumes that only ‘active buyers’ matter.

Second, let’s look at time-to-influence. Brand building is about enhancing the reputation of the organisation by building awareness, perception and preference. This can take considerable time to do; we humans are generally slow to construct lasting opinions and connections with brands. It can take years to build a reputation in a market. In contrast, demand marketing often operates within the time confines of a typical sales cycle or a quarterly reporting cycle, which is measured in months. These difference of time-to-influence are hard for B2B companies to accommodate, especially when you also face the measurement challenges I mentioned earlier.

Overcoming sibling rivalry

Our research shows that there are a few simple steps organisations can take today that can help brand and demand teams operate harmoniously. The first of these steps is to develop a shared framework that provides a way to formalise relationships, applies rigorous process and governance, and creates a clear set of shared objectives.

What’s needed is a campaign framework that articulates how to develop a family of related marketing programs that all work. The campaign should support a common theme aimed at a defined audience with a specific product or solution offering. Having a formal approach to campaigns is a powerful catalyst for breaking down silos and getting teams to coordinate effectively. In our recent research, about 55% of companies we surveyed claimed to use campaigns as a mechanism for drawing together brand and demand teams. Many companies say they have campaigns – and what they really have is a small set of demand tactics designed to work over a very short period of time. An effective campaign framework is different because it encompasses all of the jobs marketing must do and each campaign is designed to last for a long time (12 months or more).

The second step toward alignment is to create a shared understanding of goals and objectives and translate that into shared and measurable metrics. The campaign framework helps in that process by forcing teams to work on programs that together cover the full spectrum of marketing impact, from building awareness to activating demand through to accelerating identified opportunities.

The final step in the journey is harder, and that involves changing the culture of the company so there’s a level of shared understanding and respect across brand and demand marketing. Rigorous processes and measurement will help because together they can help reveal the deep dependencies that connect brand and demand marketing. This change in culture will also involve a willingness to experiment and a transparency in operations. It means overcoming a bias toward measuring the ‘last mile’ of a process and the buyer journey, while ignoring the harder-to-measure ways that audiences assemble opinions about brands over time. I also recommend creating a combined team that works on diagnosing campaign performance in a way that explores how brand influences demand performance (and the reverse). We have worked on client data that shows how brand programs designed to raise awareness can have a direct and profound impact on top-of-waterfall performance. Similarly, we’ve seen issues with demand velocity having a root cause related to overall brand sentiment.

Squabbling siblings is never fun but finding ways to overcome these disagreements is definitely worth the effort.

Ian Bruce is a Principal Analyst at Forrester Research where he covers brand and communications strategies for B2B companies. He has over 25 years of professional experience managing marketing programs and holds a PhD in Marketing and Communications.

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