This recession has had a major impact on marketing budgets, and brand investment, but the C-Suite is very slow to react to what in fact has the most value to them…Effectively building a strong brand and a strong brand connection with your core audience does more for enhancing the “Blue Sky Value” of your firm and its overall book value than any other investment you can make. By cutting budgets in these area’s your only relying on loyal customers to stay with you and keep your business alive, and you are not investing in impacting new customers nor testing and identifying how your customers are changing so your message can be more affective than it was yesterday. TPG Brand Strategy feels that when times are tough is the right opportunity to enhance marketing and brand spend as it puts you at an advantage over your competitors in attracting new customers and building loyal customers for your brand. Joe and Steve give some other insights into this problem and why investing during these critical days is important for success or failure.
The CMO Riddle: Why Did The B2B Brand Go Bland?
CMO EXCLUSIVES | February 17, 2014
Brands have languished since the recession took hold–and CMOs and CEOs know it. Some have suggested that branding in the B2B services environment has simply become more difficult. Others suggest that investments have been cut, or increased by only an unhelpful smidgeon.
This is not a new challenge to CMOs. But based on our survey of CMOs and CEOs at B2B companies around the world, it appears that the pathway out of the boring brand treadmill is within reach. It begins with understanding that investments don’t currently match priorities–-a surprising disconnect that can be easily rectified by slowly shifting gears during the course of 2014.
To wit, our survey asked CMOs and firm executives how important brands are to the success of firms and how well the brand is understood by key audiences. The results? Weird. Ninety-five percent of CMOs and 92 percent of CEOs/managing partners believe their brands are moderately or extremely important to success–-but only 26 percent find their brands “very helpful,” and only 21 percent believe their brands are well- or perfectly understood by prospects.
Most startling was that despite the fact leaders give great emphasis to their brands, they are content with mid to low ratings on quality and are funneling investments into low-priority areas.
Their self-assessments of the quality of their various brand communication tools (Web site, logo, public relations, social media, etc.) sank as low as 2.5 and rose no higher than 3.6 on a scale of 1 to 5. In a global environment that peppers prospects with near-nonstop brand visibility, standing out has not been a goal–-on the contrary, middle-of-the-road seems to be an acceptable place for the brand to live.
This all leads to a tremendous disconnect in priorities, quality, and budgeting. The following infographic tells a compelling story along those lines, as CMOs considered how their budgets lined up with their brand channels.
Which communication channels are most important and where do the greatest investments go? Web sites scored well in consistency, as most leaders believe these should be a priority, and they do invest heavily in them. But other areas show a striking imbalance:
- Sixty-seven percent rate proposals and pitch material as the second most important channel, but only 30 percent say it is an area of greatest investment.
- Fifty-nine percent say speaking and thought leadership (and other content marketing) is very important, but only 32 percent indicate investments here are highest.
The takeaway? Tuning the channels for the clearest return is a challenge. Web site investment matches its perceived importance (shocker), but other communications are either overfunded or underfunded. Major events, for example, are viewed as much less important, but they still command a disproportionate financial commitment (boondoggle, anyone?). Conversely, pitch materials and blue-sky thought leadership are not getting the love CMOs and CEOs feel they deserve.
To advance the branding cause, consider these tips:
• Balance investments across initiatives that truly support the brand: This seems obvious, but the survey results do not lie: Precious budget is routinely channeled into areas that are perceived as low-impact. It is important to note that increasing investments does not always demand higher dollar levels. As many of us have come to know, sometimes the answer lies in “doing fewer things better.” Identify the areas of impact that are most likely to support prospecting and brand awareness, and focus investments on those items.
• Increase investments in both marketing and business development simultaneously: These arenas work in tandem. A strong Web site is a fundamental need, but so are the materials that give development teams additional touch points with prospects and influencers. As you even out your spending allocations, ask how each initiative “advances the ball.”
• Have the courage to do memorable, engaging, and high-quality brand communications: David Ogilvy, the great ad man, once said, “You can’t bore people into buying your product or service.” Firms need to take greater creative risks to achieve awareness and differentiation. For those who see branding as lipstick or worse, take the words of another “counsel.” Andy Warhol commented, “I may be superficial, but I’m deeply superficial.”
There are myriad reasons behind the post-recession branding slump, and the results are clear: Most recent branding efforts resemble a bland, empty room developed through reduced activity and “sameness.” Conventional wisdom does suggest that in times of recession, it’s better to tighten the belt and cut marketing and branding expenditures to focus on sales; however, when firms stop investing in brand and marketing for the long term, they have fewer opportunities to sell.
Options for CMOs are incredibly diverse and evolve at a near-ridiculous pace. That opens up a world of possibilities to create differentiation among professional services brands. CMOs who better align budgets and priorities will be poised to rise above the sameness, capturing eyeballs, mindshare, and advancing new business.
About Joe Walsh & Steve White
Joe Walsh is Principal and Creative Director at Greenfield/Belser. Steve White is Principal at Greenfield/Belser.