by Adam Greener
Associate Director at Digital Radish
Once again, the recession is a major talking point. In B2B marketing this has stirred up the debate on that age-old (it seems!) topic: brand versus demand.
Often mentioned in unison, but rarely addressed collectively, should there really be a disconnect between these two elements?
Brand, often linked to softer, more emotive sentiments of awareness, perception, trust, even desire, is seen as the long game. A strategic focus in support of future position, growth and value. Marketers aim to create memorable links between the brand and relevant buying scenarios in support of longer-term growth, thought leadership being a typical example.
Demand, often associated with functional, more rational needs and solutions, is viewed as the short game. A tactical focus on near-term effects with measurable paybacks in improved sales and ROI. Marketers aim to create urgency around specific offerings to drive short-term growth. Benefit-led product or service offer display ads are a good example.
Businesses traditionally use brand or demand marketing at different times in their growth strategies. And the debate about brand and demand is often in the context of two completely separate elements.
But (there’s always a but!) these two essential elements are interdependent and share a mutual, symbiotic relationship.
The debate shouldn’t be brand versus demand, or even brand or demand. It should be, “Why the separation?” when everything a brand does and says contributes to short- and long-term impact, strategically and tactically.
So why the disconnect between brand and demand? Well, apart from the usual soundbites circulating (see quote above!) that fuel the fire, there are some fundamental reasons for this segregation. They can be structural, cultural, skills, or KPI based, or sometimes a combination of all four. Here are some examples we’ve come across:
Ruled over by a central, separate team that has little interest in collaborating with the ‘customer or product marketers’ on the front line, and no discernible metrics for measuring brand ‘success’ in place.
Guerilla functions operating outside of brand on an industrial scale, measured and rewarded almost entirely on lead volume, rarely on lead quality and almost certainly not on relationship building.
Where brand is seen as something “we don’t need or do” and demand is “just a service” — a bolt-on, automated “lead feed” completely dissociated from brand.
Businesses that simply don’t take into consideration that customers are people and that people think in certain ways:
While we’re on the subject of system thinking, give your brain a whirl and try this short test!
Critically these two ‘systems of thinking’ come together, a balance of head and heart, to influence the short-term behavioural responses we all make, such as “I prefer this vendor because…”
While these examples may seem extreme, they are real-world scenarios we’ve come across in our years of working closely with B2B organisations to help elevate the impact of their marketing and attribute these initiatives to revenue growth.
They are rarely the result of cold, calculating decisions made to fragment the impact of marketing. More often they are a result of outmoded thinking or failure to evolve operating models at times of rapid change or growth. And they are certainly not irreversible.
There are many advocates for creating a balance between brand (building) and demand (activation). Splitting budgets 50/50 between the elements is one recommended way to achieve this balance. But it doesn’t solve the issue of separation. Things will still happen in silos. The whole may not be greater than the sum of the parts. Any improved effectiveness and efficiencies that could be gained are lost.
Synergy — the combined power of parts working together that is greater than the total power of them working separately — is surely the objective?
Not convinced? Here’s a principle we like to set that is simply good, rational marketing — and also the basis for unison and the synergy that emanates from this.
If we believe this is pretty much the case, and we believe that everything they see, read and hear about you informs how they feel about you and the buying decisions they make, then it’s illogical to decouple brand (building) from demand (activation).
How do we bring everything together? We’re not about to advocate changing the entire go-to-market operating model; that’s not a feasible solution, at least not in the short term.
So here’s one train of thought.
How about using ABM (Account Based Marketing) to bring together fragmented or siloed initiatives, different agendas, thinking or metrics — the type of things in an organisation that drive a gap between brand and demand and dilute our ability to influence customers holistically.
Good ABM is always about brand and demand. It’s about using emotional priming and rational messaging to drive engagement. It’s about creating the moments and associations that influence perception and purchase decisions long-term. It’s also about offering the solutions, benefits and supporting proof points that impact short-term behavioural responses and decision-making.
ABM is brand and demand by stealth. A reason to engage and collaborate more closely with brand teams, sales divisions, different marketing functions and regions. It’s an opportunity to incubate an approach that thinks customer first, talks relationships not just leads, and realises the synergies brought about by the unison of brand building and demand activation.
There’s no doubt that this is a fascinating, even polarising topic. And we’ve not even covered topics such as using brand to create competitive barriers or the difference in marketing between pace and growth and how to maximise both at the same time.
How you view this topic might well depend on your own marketing journey and where you operate in the B2B world.
But, we think one thing is for sure — both matter. Greatly. And so it’s not one or the other, it’s actually about how both are used in tandem, at what stage, and for what purpose.
If you want to hear more about how we bring brand and demand together with great outcomes, just drop us a line at email@example.com and we’ll set aside some time at a date that suits you.