B2B Branding Strategy has two philosophies.
Some argue that corporate or product branding and positioning contribute most to increased sales and share of market. Others believe that innovation and product improvements are the key to success.
While periodic tracking of such factors can shed light on this debate, many companies do not employ this technique at all.
A corollary of branding is brand awareness. It is not definitive to what extent a brand name impacts purchase decisions in the B2B world. When products and services need to be procured, there is generally a list of criteria that must be met, and these are often incorporated into proposals that are then sent to multiple vendors for bids. If most or all basic requirements are met, price can trump brand name as the decisive factor, especially if the item is perceived as a “commodity”.
There is some evidence to suggest that repeated exposure to a brand name can (subconsciously?) influence its selection over a lesser known or unknown competitor’s. Since there is less reported research in the B2B marketplace, it is not clear whether branding is as effective as it is in the B2C environment.
B2B Market Positioning
A brand should be positioned in the marketplace in such a way that it is clearly differentiated from its competition on one or more attributes, e.g. What does it do? How does it make one feel? Where does it fall on the price vs. quality continuum?
Marketing efforts should thus focus on making the market aware of your company’s or product’s unique position and benefits. Here are a few examples:
An integrated, multichannel approach, combining traditional with new media and interactive, social networking sites can be an effective means of reaching prospects and customers alike.
Different uses of email, digital and social media, SEO, SEM, websites and blogs can each reach specific targets with their own distinct messages.
B2B Brand Tracking
When setting up a brand tracking research study, consider these important criteria –
- what to measure (e.g. % aware of brand, attitude toward brand, # of leads, cost per lead, close rate, dollar sales)
- how to measure
- how frequently to measure (i.e. annually, every quarter, every other year)
The metrics chosen should be key indicators of brand strength and position, and consideration by potential buyers or influencers. Without tracking the right metrics, it is harder for B2B marketers to demonstrate any ROI nor prove their worth to upper management.
So develop a survey instrument with the questions that will inform you of how well your brand is known, perceived, liked, etc., as well as how it compares to your primary competitors. A tracking study is different from many other kinds of research since it is intended to be performed more than one time, with a minimal number of changes. So give extra consideration to this when composing questions.
How to conduct a Brand Tracking Research study
Brand tracking research should include a representative sample of your prospects. This way, you will learn how your brand is perceived among potential customers as well as existing ones.
Try to obtain a sufficiently large sample size so that differences tracked over time are truly meaningful. This may present a challenge if the total market is relatively small or hard to reach. In such cases, the resources and experience of a professional third party research firm can be extremely helpful.
In addition to mail, online or phone surveys, another kind of tracking (such as of trade show leads) may be performed with marketing automation software that can follow actions taken by prospects throughout a sales cycle. This allows you to see what events or messages yield better quality leads and conversions.
How frequently to track
It is important to remember that changing brand perceptions takes time. Tracking studies allow you to measure and fully appreciate branding efforts.
- If your products are in a dynamic market (e.g. technology, telecommunications), you may find yourself making changes to your products and marketing messages more often, and thus want to track more frequently.
- If your sales cycle is quite long, branding and positioning efforts probably need more time to show their impact.
In general, B2B and industrial market sales cycles tend to be long — often 6 months or more. For example, tracking the number of sales made immediately after a trade show, event, or download from your website isn’t a true indication of the value of that marketing activity. So while someone may become a lead at a trade show, they may only convert into a customer at a much later date.
Many B2B marketers do not track ROI at all. They may be flying blind, relying more on instinct and luck to succeed.
If you are willing to examine what works, and what needs improvement in your branding and positioning strategies, it is well worthwhile implementing a brand tracking mechanism. It need not be a drain on resources, and can be a vital tool to measure how you are performing and help to demonstrate your value to the C-suite.