Short-sighted branding – a classic killer

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A B2B sale is complex and often takes a long time, but paradoxically, B2B marketing is more often focused on short-sighted activities. Consequently, B2B companies neglect their brands in favour of quick sales activities that, at worst, will erode the brand and eventually lead to poor sales.

In all its simplicity, branding exists to give one company a greater position in the minds of their customers, relative to their competitors. Successful branding ensures that the target audience prefers one specific service or product to the alternatives available – even if they are in fact better value.

Reaching the point where your brand essentially carries the buying decision, is obviously a much-desired position for any company – but especially in B2B where long, complex buyer journeys and large sums of money make the final decision that much more complex.

It’s a paradox then, that so many B2B companies still invest most of their efforts in short-term marketing activities that boost sales here and now, but don’t do anything to make the product easier to sell next year.

Look at branding as a marathon. A discipline of endurance. It takes time build the emotional mechanics that will make your target audience prefer your company.
Mette Hejl CEO & Partner

This form of short-sightedness is not just bad for business, it’s bad for the brand. And, without an actual guideline for the work and a common indicator for all activities, short-sighted activities will, at worst, erode the brand.

Branding is a marathon

This widespread, short-sighted approach did not occur by itself. Marketing departments are bombarded with demands to create an impact here and now. And the disadvantage then becomes lack of time to work strategically and long-term with the brand.

Sales, especially, have a tendency to get stuck on ‘quarters’ and they refuse to count to more than four – because that’s how the fiscal year looks and it sums up their collected efforts. That’s not sustainable though, because as short-term activities lose their effect, competitors with stronger brands will overtake your company. And then the pressure from Sales to produce quick fixes becomes even greater – and the circle continues and the issue intensifies.

Look at branding as a marathon. A discipline of endurance. It takes time build the emotional mechanics that will make your target audience prefer your company.

But then, so does a B2B sale, mind you.

Know how to use the short sprints

Does this mean you should refrain from sales-boosting activities and other promotions with a shorter time frame? Not at all. But you do need to understand the balance between long-term and short-term.

The difference between a sales activity and a brand activity is the KPI. The sales activity is part of the annual cycle of work and it’s goal-orientated. The brand activity is, if not without KPIs, more long-sighted and requires more faith. Luckily, many executives – and even KPI-driven sales people – are not actually scared of branding. Surprisingly often, they will supply you with strong new and positive stories to tell to customers or industry media. And that provides you with the opportunity to experiment with the brand and make it grow.

There is a fundamental difference between sales activities and brand activation. However, both should steer the company towards the same goal: a strong market position and improved sales. While they do so at different rates, both are equally important. At the same time, it’s worth noting that a sales activity is never disconnected from the brand. All your sales promotions will either add or deduct points from your ‘brand account’ – how your customers generally perceive your company. That’s why strong sales activities are tied to the company’s overall brand, however subtle it may be.

Branding at the bottom line

A McKinsey survey from 2014 showed that strong brands outperformed the market by 73% in 2013. And recently the annual Prophet Brand Relevance Index showed that the strongest of 803 examined brands have achieved 28% higher revenue over the past 10 years compared to S&P 500 companies. S&P 500 is considered a trend-setting stock index in the US and consequently, it’s a significant pointer for the fact that branding is linked to the bottom line

There are clear financial benefits to be gained from looking past the fiscal year – or even the coming quarter – and having the guts to invest in a long-term branding strategy. But everyday life in the land of marketing is often controlled by measurements and attempts to prove that the activities actually work. Rightfully so, because marketing spend should definitely be expected to create results. However, the question is, can you even achieve success with sales activities without a brand to connect them to? In my opinion, no. Without a brand as a point of orientation, your only talking point will undeniably end up being price, price, price – and if price is your only competitive resource, your margin will automatically grow smaller and smaller.

And consequently, your business will likely become weaker and weaker.

Very briefly, it’s common sense to focus on strategic branding. It will be reflected on your bottom line. And sure, it takes patience and a considerable amount of energy, but it’s 100% worth your efforts.