Most B2B brands are flying blind

Ian Bruce, principal analyst at Forrester Research, believes brand leaders that desire more strategic relevance and resources, must build a case with data-driven insights.

a plane flying into clouds

For the last decade or so B2B companies have successfully invested in building highly tuned demand generation processes that have significantly elevated business results.

Marketing automation combined with hyper-targeted digital promotions have revolutionised how we build marketing campaigns and created a data-rich environment for assessing how demand marketing is fuelling the revenue engine of the business.

In sharp contrast, brand and communications teams at B2B companies often live in a data desert. Their arid world is devoid of the information and insights that are necessary to nurture successful brand building, or to show how brand marketing also contributes to business success. Consider the following:

B2B Brands Fail to Invest in Understanding What Buyers Think

Only 38% of B2B brands have conducted a brand health survey in the last year, according to recent research we conducted with marketing leaders. Over 40% haven’t conducted a brand survey in the last five years. Most B2B brand have no idea what the market really thinks of them, or how their reputation compares to competitors.

Brand and Communications Teams Struggle to Justify Resources and Investment

In another survey we asked brand and communications leaders to rank what they saw as their top challenges: for the second year on a row, measuring the business impact of their work was the top result, with lack of headcount and lack of budget both in the Top Five. Brand leaders are caught in a negative spiral, with their inability to draw a line between their work and business outcomes creating an environment where they can’t justify increased investments and resources. And so the desert grows.

Building a strong brand begins by carefully listening to the market and by using brand insights as a key input for guiding business strategy. And the best and most direct route to gaining an apprehension of what buyers and others think of your organisation is to directly ask them in some kind of formal research. Market research used to be reserved for global brands that could afford the steep price of a boutique agency that could do the work, but those days are gone. The agency world is much more competitive, and the tools for fielding surveys – qualitative and quantitative – have become accessible to everyone.

Plus, marketing teams have become much more data literate over the last few years, so are more comfortable doing some of the work in-house. Indeed, many companies are doing the entire work themselves, using off-the-shelf tools like SurveyMonkey or Qualtrics to build the survey and then finding a panel of respondents themselves. Others are using new techniques to get a more real-time understanding of brand performance. For example, many companies are using digital tools like FeedBackNow to better understand brand and customer experience as it happens, or are using simple web-based micro-surveys to track things like NPS scores.

But even that may not be enough. To help B2B companies link brand to revenue, we work with organisations to derive tracking index scores for the underlying levels of awareness, perception and preference for their brand. They create these index scores using existing data sources from within their organisation, taken from the web and digital teams, their social media monitoring tools, and elsewhere. This approach is especially powerful because organisations can then correlate changing brand performance – say, changes in the index score for awareness – to downstream activities in the demand generation world that we mentioned earlier. This is a powerful way to show the direct connections between brand building activities and revenue generation. All companies can do this.

Solving this brand measurement problem has never been more urgent. We know that buyers are more independent, more empowered, and more elusive than ever before. By the time a prospect gets the attention of the demand generation team, they have already formed opinions about your brand – good or bad. You need to find ways to build the right impression early, and that’s the job of the brand team. And what is true for prospects is also true for your existing customers: It’s very hard to sustain a strong customer experience if you don’t have insights into what customers know and think about you.

There’s another reasons to consider this urgently, and that is the increasing salience of brand in the buyer’s journey and as a key criterion for making a purchase. There’s a mountain of evidence supporting the importance of brand for buyers: As an example, for all C-level executives, brand is considered highly relevant for purchase decisions by 89% of respondents to our survey.

This realisation is encouraging B2B organisations to ask brand and communications leaders to step up and do more, often in areas that directly drive engagement with audiences before they show a near-term propensity to buy. Two areas to highlight are content marketing/thought leadership, and social media operations. Both offer an opportunity to drive awareness and build lasting connections with audiences.

Living in a data desert is no fun. If you’re a brand leader that thirsts for more strategic relevance and resources, then the answer could in building a case with data-driven insights.

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