The Formula for B2B Sustainable Growth

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How do you sustain B2B growth? What proportion of the budget should you spend on brand and activation? What’s the real role of emotion and reason in B2B buying? New research is answering these questions in unexpected ways.

How do brand and activation work in B2B marketing? What are the creative and media strategies that businesses should adopt? Researchers trying to answer these questions have early data which shows that the long-running assumption that B2B marketing appeals to its audience only on a rational level is wrong. The data also indicates that B2B marketers are consistently under-investing in brand building.

Sustainable growth in B2B

Building your brand is essential to your success. Establishing who you are is only the first step. You need to activate your brand. Brand awareness requires a strategy, and when executed well, your brand becomes the name synonymous with the industry and the first thing that comes to mind when a customer has a question.

This is true for B2B brands too. Your brand should spring to mind as the obvious answer to customer questions because you provide answers and value. This will help to maximise your efficiency in:

  • Marketing
  • pricing
  • Profitability

Sustainable growth for B2B businesses depends on branding. In B2C, being the most famous brand in a category increases marketing efficiency by a factor of four. There’s reason to believe something similar happens in B2B.

Building your brand depends on boldness, creativity and good management. It is generally believed that marketers overestimate the importance of their brands in their audiences’ lives. However, many B2B brands fail because they are:

  • not distinctive and recognisable
  • inconsistent with codification
  • avoiding risks

B2B brands often have established working relationships with their customers which creates room for building positive mental availability; the space where people link your brand as an answer to their needs. Leveraging the intimate relationship between B2B providers and customers to generate brand awareness is a bold and risky step that needs to be taken.

Sustainability is a balancing act

Creating ‘long’ brand effects take time. Building your brand should be a well-researched and strategic operation. Basing your brand on your values, goals and product is a complex process that should take time and the effort of creative minds. The brand should be a multidimensional product that communicates clearly the value of your business to your clients.

Brand activation is fast. Great brand activation is based on a framework for social media engagement and content production for the year. The outline provides for flexibility and response to social and customer demand as it arises, acting in conjunction with great PR output.

So where is it all falling apart for B2B marketers? The balance between building and activation has been missed. The pressure to produce content and connect on social media before a brand has been established means that messages are hollow, untargeted and inconsistent.

Spending the budget on brand building is of long-term benefit. Social media blasts and blog updates can wait. Your funding should focus on knowing who you are, what you value and from which position you want to communicate with your audience. Brand awareness will be easy when the building has been done well.

Two types of targeting

B2B marketers need to balance brand activity, which has a longer time frame, and activation, which has a shorter time frame. This means that there are two types of targeting to focus on.

  • 50% of the budgets to mass reach brand advertising
  • 50% to narrowly targeted, segmented campaigns focused on immediate sales

The balance between the two is difficult to establish. While you need advertising that generates immediate quality leads, you also need advertising that appeals to people long term. Some customers might be interested in your product or service, but for various reasons, they might not be ready to commit to your business. That does not exclude you from developing relationships and investing in the long term opportunities, it just means that managing your marketing budget and sales budget takes a little more finesse.

Growth or decline

In B2B operations, the more customers you reach, and the more customers who are talking about you, the greater your opportunity to maintain or grow your market share. If you prioritise efficiency over effectiveness, you risk exhausting your opportunities.

Recent research suggests that B2B marketing is focused too much on rationality and less on emotion. Appealing to the emotions of B2B clients can drive long-term profitability and growth. Using the relationships that B2B customers desire as leverage in advertising an effective way of appealing to new business prospects.

Appealing to the rational side of B2B buyers can work for immediate activity driving sales and leads. It makes sense for short-term activation. However, it’s hard to build a brand that will give you a long-term competitive advantage if you can’t generate creative ideas that resonate with audiences on an emotional level.

The level of emotion in B2B advertising should be dialled back from that in B2C advertising, but still, play on or appeal to people’s egos using:

  • Hope
  • Aspiration
  • Confidence
  • Fear of failure

Of course, this use of emotion depends on what your B2B is selling. Banks want to inspire trust. B2B banking services online want to inspire people to change. Researching the market and underpinning the values of your B2B brand will inform the emotion that you project through your advertising.


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