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B2B marketing is all about leads. So why bother with branding?

OK, I’ll admit it.  I am a demand gen marketer.  My entire B2B career has been about leads—lead quality and quantity.  Measurable marketing communications.  Cost per lead.  Conversion rates.  ROI on marketing investments.

And for good reason.  On my side, I was trained as a data-driven, direct-response marketer.  On the market side, I have never seen a study that didn’t place leads at the top of the B2B priority list.  So, I always viewed branding as airy fairy, hard to measure.  A cop out.

But over time, I’ve begun to see the light.  I’m the new Saul of Tarsus.  What I have come to understand is:  Brand awareness and attitude have an equally powerful role to play in the B2B marketing function.  In fact, I’d argue that building a strong and respected brand accelerates all stages of the revenue-generation process.

Let me count the ways.

1. Brand awareness opens doors.

Let’s recall the ad sales pitch made by the trade publisher McGraw-Hill that brand awareness opens doors.   In 1958, McGraw-Hill ran a campaign in Business Week that has been called “the most famous B2B ad of all time.”  Its headline: Sales starts before your salesman calls, with business publication advertising.  Ask any salesperson:  It’s much easier it is to get an appointment when representing a well-known company.

2. Emotion plays a real part in business buying.

We like to think that B2B decision-making is all rational, based on facts, data, testing, and analysis.  But remember this old saw, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM”?  Buyers are still human.  They inevitably form attitudes, and preferences. This is why a good salesperson will try to identify and nurture a champion in the buying committee, to help make a persuasive case to the group.

3. B2B relationships are based on trust.

Business buyers seek a long-term relationship with their vendors.  Trusted, reliable partnerships are essential to a company’s ability to delivering value to its own customers.  What are you going to do if your parts don’t arrive on time, or the material quality is poor?   I rest my case.

But let’s remind ourselves that brands aren’t built by marketing communications alone.  In fact, a trusted brand is established in the mind of the customer from experience—thousands of interactions, recommendations, stories, conversations—touchpoints built up over time.  Where, tragically, one bad experience can destroy the trust.

The good news, though, is that this means brand building is the job of everyone in the firm.  Orchestrated by marketing, which thus plays a larger, more important role in the firm’s success than mere lead generation and advertising.  Let us B2B marketers take up the challenge of ensuring a positive customer experience across the entire breadth of the customer relationship.  That’s our mission, should we decide to accept it.

Ruth Stevens

Ruth Stevens advises clients on customer acquisition and retention. Ruth serves on the boards of directors of the HIMMS Media Group, and the Business Information Industry Association. She is a trustee of Princeton-In-Asia, past chair of the Business-to-Business Council of the DMA, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain’s BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She serves as a mentor to fledgling companies at the business accelerator in New York City. Ruth is an author and contributor to many notable business publications. Her books include B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results and Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, Trade Show and Event Marketing, and co-author of the white paper series “B-to-B Database Marketing.” Ruth is a sought-after speaker and trainer, and has presented to audiences and business schools in Asia, Australia, and Latin America. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff Davis, and IBM.

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