Back in 2015, when we first started using the concept of Brand Gen, we were operating in a different world.
This may be hard to imagine, but Lead Gen was a new concept. The company Demandbase had just started talking about ABM… but nobody could really remember what the acronym stood for. People were throwing around “outbound” and “inbound,” but who could really quite differentiate between the two? If you reach out and it causes a reaction, is that outbound? What in the world is inbound? How are people supposed to find you if you don’t tell anyone you exist? I guess I still struggle with if there’s even such a thing as inbound.
Anyway, back then, I would spend hours selling brand awareness campaigns to our clients. These are the glossy, sexy things advertisers’ dreams are made of. In the B2B world, we might not get a ton of TV, but we could get high production video. Ads in places where your mother might actually see them… ads that don’t just talk about speeds and feeds, but aim to make people feel something. Ads that have an impact and make a difference.
“Yes,” I would say… “It will cost a lot of money. But in the long run, this is how you’ll achieve growth…”
“Okay, Ms. Sköna, you’re telling me to go to the board and ask for $1,000,000 for a brand campaign that’s going to take two years to show ROI? I’m sorry, but I have six months to show results or I’m pretty much out of a job. Nice idea, but I’d rather ensure I have a job come August rather than build a pipeline two years out.”
“Fair enough,” we thought. But what if we could do both?!
What if we could look at the concept of generating pipelines and make it just a little sexier? What if we could ground it in the most important marketing concept of all time – brand building?!
On an intuitive level, we all get that a known brand – a brand that is understood – will automatically drive better conversions. But it’s easy enough to argue when you’re selling shampoo. The biggest risk from a consumer perspective is making a bad decision. Tough luck. Next time they’ll forgo your brand and buy something different. No major fail, no major consequence.
Translate that to the B2B world. Johnny in Finance picks and pushes through a shitty ERP. It doesn’t perform as promised. It doesn’t sync with their inventory system. And it generates invoices that are plain wrong. Well, the CFO and the CEO need a scapegoat. It’s not going to be one of them… so who? You guessed right, it’s Johnny! Now Johnny is without a job and his future prospects are also up in the air. His wife just had a baby and they bought a new house three months ago. That’s a whole lot to gamble on a finance system.
So here’s the thing: Johnny isn’t going to make that gamble. In fact, the last thing he’s going to do is recommend anything. He needs to pay his mortgage, and make sure his daughter gets to preschool so his wife can go out and get another job. It’s not like his company doesn’t have a perfectly functional solution… they could just do with a better one. But you know what? It can wait until someone with less on the line is willing to go out on a limb and make that recommendation! Until then, Johnny is going to collect his salary and keep his boss happy.
So if that’s the situation, how do we persuade people to make a move?
First, we’ve got to let people know we exist. And make them remember us when the time is right. The thing is, in B2B, only 5% of the people are currently in the market for what you’re selling. In other words, we’ve gotta get in there and make a memory for when the time is right.
So back to Johnny. It’s December 2022 and Johnny is just scrolling LinkedIn, building his personal brand. After commenting on posts from a few of the thought-leaders in the finance world, he comes across an ad for a new ERP system from someone called Sunny Corporation. And there’s just something about it: The video looks professional, and he even giggles at the joke at the end. He’s not looking for anything like that right now, so he quickly moves on. But over the next few months, he keeps seeing static ads for that same ERP system, and he even starts to recognize the logo. He learns that it’s a Danish company… and suddenly, we’ve made a marketing memory inside his brain! Yes, it probably took seven reminders, but now he knows who that new ERP system is.
Fast forward to March 2023. Johnny is at a departmental planning meeting. Everyone is assigned goals and incentives for the year. And as much as he tries to avoid it, he gets asked to research and recommend a new ERP system. Back in his office in April 2023, he finally finds some time to start the research. He googles and looks at the first few results. Wait, that top one… he remembers them from that video from a while ago. Yes, it was funny, but more than anything… It seemed professional and well put-together. A company that can afford to produce that kind of marketing must have a good enough product to support it. That’s all he needs: he puts Sunny Corporation as the number one vendor and moves on.
This is why we do brand advertising in the first place. When the time is right, we want to be number one on that list… even if it’s a few years out. We want all people who can potentially be in our target audience to remember who we are when the time is right.
That doesn’t mean we keep hounding them in between. If you were Johnny and we called you weekly from when you first watched our video in December to when the time was right in April, Johnny would have probably gotten so sick of us he would have despised us… and never put us on that list at all. So don’t be that guy! Don’t keep asking for things people aren’t willing to give you.
But, back to April. Brand has now done its work. It’s time to activate the second word in our theme. At this point, Johnny has a list of 3-5 vendors of pretty good, and perhaps pretty equal, ERP systems. If we only had brand awareness to rely on, at this point, we have to do a lot of wishing and hoping and squeezing of rabbit feet.
But lucky for us – we believe in the combination of brand awareness and demand generation in a way that gives us Brand Gen, the best of both worlds. And this is exactly the point at which Brand Gen gets handed over to Demand Gen. At this point, Johnny, as a lead, is at the top of the funnel. He’s done more than put his hand up by watching a video. He’s ready to know more!
Without a thorough Brand Gen approach, Johnny starts getting sent random white papers and case studies. Or perhaps the inside sales team starts hounding him. Either way, Johnny starts to feel insecure. He’s not quite ready to take a call. He’s not stupid – he realizes that a guided demo will result in non-stop sales calls from at least three hungry sales guys. In today’s world, we know that before Johnny is committing to actually talking to a sales rep, he’s already about 85% of the way through his research to a decision. Sales are there to solidify his inkling!
So if we think this through… it’s not only about the journey he’s on and the communication he’ll need to become more and more interested. What if we deliver it all in a way that’s consistent with that initial video he saw? What if there’s an ebook with all the data in the world, but laid out featuring the characters from our original video? Even better, what if we can then help provide Johnny with an interactive experience that guides him through the requirements of what he’s looking for?
What’s the end point? Well, that has to be customized for Johnny. If we’re talking about an ERP system with hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not more) in ARR for the seller, it’s going to take more than a demo. But that’s where sales gets to step in. If it’s a lower cost SaaS product, a freemium model might be what closes the deal at this point.
To us, Brand Gen isn’t just a philosophy that creates consistency across your marketing journey – it’s something that needs to be applied across your organization. It’s even more important if your product has a high price point. So make sure the sales team is on board, that you get their feedback, and that they’re bought into the messaging and the creative. And make sure they have a talk track and the handover from marketing to sales is over-communicated. Because if there’s no communication between marketing and sales, it will be equivalent to you looking for dollar bills every day, only to spend your evenings lighting them on fire. With Brand Gen, and a bought-in organization, pipeline generation and brand building are one and the same… thus becoming the tickets to sustainable, scalable growth.