B-to-b marketers: Do your business customers love your brand? It sounds more like a question you would ask of consumer brands. But b-to-b brands that are the most strongly positioned and communicated are "loved" because they most likely go through the same rigorous analysis that beloved consumer brands go through.
This shared rigor takes its lead from high-level brand consulting, applying strategic learning that provides the blueprint for compelling communications that move customers and consumers into the gravitational pull of the brand.
Looking ahead to the end game, successful marketers pursue brand movement -- seeing where the brand is today and planning where it needs to be moved relative to the competition, to a position that takes the target rationally and emotionally closer to the brand, and of course moves the needle on business.
The homework first comprises a deep dive into the marketer's brand and business to understand what will drive brand movement successfully.
Phase 1: Discovery
This phase is organized around a process we call the "5Cs" -- a study of assets and liabilities leading to a more profound understanding of how brand and customers interact and create brand love in this interaction. This is the basis for navigating the brand to the right position, and involves submerging the marketing team in facts, figures, lore, history, messaging strengths and weaknesses, etc. These must be derived from analyzing the perspectives and viewpoints of all stakeholders in a classic audit tailored to b-to-b. Marketers need to answer the following questions around the 5Cs:
What are the business goals of the company? What are the brand's intentions? What are the external and internal views of the brand? What are its values and purpose? How is the brand currently positioned in the market? What are its strengths and weaknesses? What is its history and lore?
In what ways do your customers think and act relative to your brand? How do you define and prioritize your customers? What is their path to a purchase decision? What attributes do they expect -- and what higher-order benefits? What is your relationship with distributors? What makes them loyal to a brand -- or not?
How do consumers think and act relative to your brand? Even the straight b-to-b marketer sells to a customer who eventually goes home to his family. It's a small planet and every message is seeable and shareable by everyone. What impression should he have as a consumer of your brand? At the end of the day, your customer wants to see his brand presented in an engaging way.
What is your position relative to the competition? How do competitors impact you? What position do you want to occupy in the competitive space? How can you deposition competitors?
What are the dominant characteristics of the culture in which the brand operates? (For instance, the ethics and perspectives of millennials). There is tremendous opportunity in tying your brand to cultural movements and the spirit of the times. Cultural context cannot be ignored.
Phase 2: Platforming
Having analyzed the brand and business, the next step is to integrate this learning to identify key insights into the brand and its final destination -- the place to which it must be moved. This is articulated as a brand platform -- a construct of differentiation and relevance that drives to a higher-order benefit made up of:
The vision – what the brand believes and how it articulates its purpose.
The mission – what the brand actually does; product and commitments in service to the customer or consumer.
The position – the territory that the brand will unequivocally own -- the immovable stake in the ground or "North Star." The higher-order benefit must be stated or strongly implied here.
It's important to remember that while we are submitting our brand to rigorous analysis, the outcome can't be an arcane platform -- we want a brand that people will love.
Phase 3: Brand Expression and Consistency
The brand platform is the Bible. It is the filter for every single action of the brand, across all channel communications, events and promotions -- perhaps all the way to R&D. It is an indispensable tool for making great decisions, ruling whether any aspect of brand activity is on or off strategy. Most important is the rigor of the platform in maintaining consistency -- consistency of content, voice, look and feel at every touch point, wherever and whenever audiences come into contact with the brand. This includes the internal audience. All employees are ambassadors -- or at least they should be.
It is critical today that guardrails be established so that people representing a brand represent it properly. There have to be rules if a brand is to be built with uniformity, consistency and impact.
It is therefore important to provide the right tools companywide. These can include everything from brand books and style guides to manifestos and microsites giving internal stakeholders the tools they need to speak for the brand. Socialization is fundamental. Communicating an unwavering brand philosophy and the brand's look, feel and voice in ways that all work together will reinforce the brand, make employees proud of where they work and the brand they stand for -- a brand that they will also come to love.