Aligning brand and demand: the future of B2B marketing

22nd November 2021

brand and demand

The most impactful tools you can harness to balance short-term action and long-term investment.

This article was originally published on The Drum.


Everyone in business-to-business (B2B) marketing agrees brand is important. Without adequate investment in brand we fail to create future demand, we reduce loyalty, we have to lower prices and we make our demand gen dollars less effective.

Yet it remains underinvested in. Our research shows that in 2020 only 9% of marketers devote more than 60% of their budget to long-term programs. This is down from 21% the year before.

Why is this?

Partly, marketers are under huge pressure to deliver short-term targets. This is inevitable and, for commercial targets like improving pipeline velocity or closing key deals, a good thing. But growth is a whole-system problem, and we need to find the right balance between short-term action and long-term investment.

Currently, there is a false dichotomy being peddled about brand and demand, that they are two separate things, to be kept apart. This is not the case. Research from Tom Roach (BBH) and Grace Kite (Magic Numbers) studying a variety of scale-up businesses shows that initially demand drives growth, but over time this plateaus and the returns from demand gen alone get harder to realize. To increase the power of sales activation, you add brand building, which has the dual impact of driving an uplift in current sales as well as increasing the efficacy of future sales activation.

This pattern is even more pronounced for B2B brands, because the decision-making process is very different to B2C.

In business-to-consumer (B2C), it’s short. Brand builds salience and positive associations so that when you're thirsty on a hot day, or hungover, or want something cold to wash down your pizza, you think of Coca-Cola and a picture of a shiny red can with white swirls comes to mind.

But the B2B decision-making process is not distilled into a moment in the same way. It takes place over 3, 6, 12 months. It involves many people; typically over 20. It is not a single moment but a gradual procession of interactions, each perhaps comparable to a B2C decision, each contributing to the eventual outcome in some small or significant way.

This changes things.

At every step, each communication is either reinforcing or undermining the brand. It’s also serving its own objective – to sow seeds of doubt about their current strategy, to reinforce a case for change, to encourage the prospect to attend an event or take a meeting.

B2B is not brand followed by demand in the way B2C can be. In B2B, brand and sales activation are intermingled. To succeed, we need to use the tools of brand building – distinctive assets, consistency, emotional triggers – alongside the tricks of ‘sales activation’ – reciprocity, social proof, authority. Often in the same communication, certainly in the same campaign plan.

So what does this look like in practice? Well here are five things to consider:

1. One idea, many outcomes

Why: a single brand idea will help tie all activity together, so brand and demand complement each other and create cumulative benefits.

How: one creative idea platform that’s versatile enough to be executed in many interesting ways. The idea needs to articulate the vital role you play in customers’ future success.

2. Brands are experiences

Why: every touchpoint matters during brand building, even buying experiences.

How: use CX maps to remove friction from every touchpoint, as bad interactive experiences can harm your brand. Where appropriate, create moments of delight.

3. One integrated plan

Why: having two separate media plans can be detrimental to your brand-gen efforts. Ideally, you should have one media plan across both your brand and demand generation campaigns.

How: some of your media strategy and budget should focus on building awareness at the top of the funnel and some on, for instance, retargeting those unconverted prospects who have had some level of engagement with your marketing.

4. Show the correlation between awareness and performance of demand

Why: budgets and success metrics are quarterly driven, making it a challenge to prove success.

How: re-architect the measurement process to assess whether prospects who interacted with our brand campaigns had a higher propensity to engage with demand campaigns.

5. With sales, not to sales

Why: creating demand is a team game, your sales team needs to be bought into the idea and approach.

How: involve sales early in the planning process, share common objectives (shared KPIs), build campaigns around account plans.

It's time to leave behind the old dualistic views of brand versus demand.

At The Marketing Practice, an industry expert in lead generation, eye-catching brand and digital experience expertise are enhanced by data, technology and media excellence. So we can help marketers meet the short-term need to drive lead gen for sales, and build brand equity for the longer term.

We look forward to B2B's bright future of brand and demand.

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