How to give your marketing full-funnel power
Lead generation has eclipsed the importance of brand building in B2B. It’s time to reassemble all our marketing superpowers to deliver on revenue-based metrics.
November 26, 2018
Anybody who’s studied or worked in marketing knows that the choice to buy something is influenced by many different factors – and many different kinds of marketing activity. Brand equity and product awareness combine with more immediate, motivating marketing messages. A buyer’s conscious consideration of options is intertwined with instinctive responses shaped by emotions that are sometimes obvious, but sometimes very subtle. It’s complicated enough to unpick the roles of different factors when somebody picks up an FMCG product in a supermarket – but it’s far more complicated still when B2B decision-makers choose a solution or supplier.
In B2B marketing, long buying cycles and complex buying committees bring together different perspectives, priorities and levels of product understanding. And they mean marketers must flex a range of different skills or powers, in order to influence choices in the way they want.
We’re used to thinking of these powers as being deployed at different points in the marketing funnel: brand awareness prepares the ground for demand generation from increasingly informed prospects, which then gives way to the crucial business of generating leads and working with sales to close deals and increase customer value.
The challenge B2B marketers have always faced is aligning and balancing these different forms of activity without one eclipsing, overshadowing, and potentially even undermining the rest. It doesn’t help that, as different forms of activity become more specialist, they fall into the remit of different teams with different skillsets, and different metrics. Specialist marketing teams end up owning different parts of the funnel. Like a disbanded team of superheroes, they’re each capable of great things — but they’re capable of so much more when assembled and aligned in the right way.
How digital metrics penalized B2B brand marketing
The dangers of splitting up different forms of marketing are most apparent when you consider brand awareness and lead generation: two activities that are traditionally anchored to different ends of the marketing funnel. They are planned, executed and measured according to very different agendas. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that treating these two marketing superpowers in isolation is compromising both of them.
The most obviously compromised superpower of the two is the ability to build brands: differentiating and positioning them in a meaningful way, and building relevant awareness at scale. Brand is the area of B2B that has fallen foul of digital marketing’s take on the Wanamaker principle: the idea, which is usually attributed to the department store pioneer John Wanamaker, that “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”
The engagement metrics that digital marketing generates in the form of clicks, shares and likes have provided a misleading answer to Wanamaker’s dilemma. It’s easy to assume that the marketing which generates less of a digital footprint in this way is the bit that isn’t pulling its weight. However, awareness levels and perceptions of a brand don’t translate as neatly into clicks as marketing activity with stronger calls to action, further down the funnel. As businesses have demanded evidence of ROI, it’s been easy to assume that the less easily measured areas of marketing are those adding less value. As a result, attention has shifted away from brand building – and starved it of investment.
Instead, businesses have focused on lead generation. After all, lead gen is all about measurable results – and in theory those results should be directly linked to customer acquisition and revenue. That’s why Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) tend to be the metric that B2B marketing teams spend most of their time thinking about. We’ve naturally gravitated towards the areas of marketing that seem most likely to deliver evidence of ROI.
However, there’s a problem with focusing on lead generation at the same time as de-prioritizing brand — and it’s a problem that’s become apparent as businesses focus on sales and marketing alignment and revenue-based metrics for marketing effectiveness. Closer collaboration between sales and marketing shifts attention from lead quantity to lead quality. And that’s put a different perspective on the real value of different types of marketing.
Why lead generation marketing needs help
A study by Viant earlier this year found that one in three Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) and Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) are concerned that their businesses aren’t reporting on or optimizing around metrics of real substance. LinkedIn’s own research shows that only 18% of marketers believe that they are accurately and successfully demonstrating ROI – and that’s in large part because 80% are still using clicks as the main measure of their marketing strategy’s effectiveness. MQLs may still be the most important B2G marketing metric according to Demand Gen Report’s Measurement and Attribution survey. However, Closed/Won deals is catching up fast.
The upshot of all this is that lead generation marketing needs to find ways to up its game: focusing more on quality and moving beyond clicks and form-fills as measures of success. As B2B marketers, we need to balance our calculation of cost per lead (CPL) with a robust calculation of value per lead. After all, a cheaper CPL might actually inhibit business growth if the leads are of a lower quality and convert at a lower rate. Not only is your cost per acquisition higher, but you’re likely to be impairing your sales team’s productivity as well.
The return of B2B brand marketing
Revenue-based metrics such as cost per acquisition and average lead value put the emphasis back on brand and other top-of-the-funnel activities when it comes to planning B2B marketing strategies. That’s because brand awareness and positioning have a direct impact on lead quality by ensuring that prospects understand the business they are engaging with, before they click on a call to action or fill in a form. Lead generation can’t do the job of ensuring lead quality alone. It needs help.
In a highly competitive digital media environment, brand equity has a measurable impact on the cost of leads as well. The bestselling author and marketing consultant Mark Schaefer invented the term ‘Content Shock’ to describe the oversupply of content on social media and how this forces brands to pay more to convince audiences to engage with them. However, Mark Schaefer also believes that healthy levels of brand awareness can play a key role in mitigating Content Shock and keeping content marketing strategies efficient. Human beings are primed to pay more attention to brands that they recognize, and which they acknowledge as relevant to them. Being that brand puts your demand generation and lead capturing content in pole position to drive engagement among the prospects that have most value for your business. Algorithms can reinforce this effect. On LinkedIn, for example, Relevance Score rewards campaigns that generate higher engagement and gives them more opportunity to engage.
All of this leaves B2B marketers with a dilemma. Their C-suites demand more meaningful, revenue-based measures of marketing’s value, which requires investing more in brand equity at the top of the funnel. However, those same C-suites aren’t necessarily offering extra budget to support this. Marketers have to find a way to restore their full-funnel power while balancing the ledger. How can they do it?
Marketing superpowers assemble!
The critical starting point is ensuring business-wide buy-in on the importance of revenue-based metrics. This shouldn’t be a difficult sell, especially once the wider business understands the rationale. However, it’s important to ensure that sales and marketing are both fully aligned with the change in focus and understand its implications. Less quantity and more quality will relieve pressure on sales and enable reps to use their time more efficiently — but accepting fewer leads only works if the sales team has genuine confidence that the quality of leads is increasing. Similarly, your marketing team needs confidence that the time and resource they invest in increasing lead quality is going to be acknowledged by sales and followed through on, to secure a contribution to the bottom line.
Developments already taking place within many B2B businesses could help to secure this wider buy-in. Account-Based Marketing (ABM) strategies mean marketing and sales teams are increasingly accustomed to reviewing objectives and metrics together — and tracking activity all the way from initial engagement through to acquisition and ongoing customer value.
Once the business is aligned on the revenue-based metrics that you’re working towards, you can then start to measure the value of activity at different stages of the funnel in terms of the contribution that it makes to these metrics. This is when marketers can benefit from what Mark Schaefer calls a “double dashboard”: one set of revenue-based metrics that you will report to the business, and another set of shorter-term metrics that you know are important to achieving those end objectives. You can then tailor your measures and your buying strategy to the contribution that each type of activity is making. This avoids judging a brand campaign by the standards of lead generation marketing and dismissing its value mistakenly.
When it comes to building brand awareness, the important metrics involve reach and frequency among a clearly defined target audience. Budgets may be tight but time is usually on your side. On a platform like LinkedIn, where you buy impressions through a second-price auction, this means that you can adopt an always-on strategy, bidding lower and building awareness among your target audience over time. We’re currently rolling out the beta release of a new Campaign Manager interface that makes it easier for marketers to plan and buy their LinkedIn campaigns in this objective-specific way.
Engagement can provide a rough guide to how brand activity is landing – but it has to be seen in context. Brand activity can drive awareness and shape perceptions whether its audience clicks on a call to action Further down the funnel, the relevance of engagement increases. KPIs once derided as vanity metrics can play a role in assessing the effectiveness of demand generation — provided the targeting and tracking is up to scratch. If you’re a B2B marketer generating shares and likes on relevant content amongst a target audience that you know are likely to be in the market, then that’s not a vain statistic. It’s a useful indicator that you’re building the type of engagement that will eventually translate into a quality lead.
Fixing B2B marketing’s blind spots
B2B marketers have had to contend with plenty of blind spots when it comes to their view of the customer journey: we can generate reach and engagement stats higher up the funnel, and count MQLs lower down, but research shows that plenty of B2B businesses struggle to track the rate at which MQLs convert to customers, and the value those customers bring in. What’s more, few businesses are able to keep track of the prospects who’ve engaged with content and have some awareness of their brand and products — and measure how this engagement goes on to contribute to higher quality leads and increased customer value.
Fixing these blind spots is the key to developing full-funnel marketing strategies that can then be linked through to revenue-based metrics. The good news is that there are far more tools now available to help. On LinkedIn, Conversion Tracking shows marketers how engagement with brand content leads to website visits and views on product pages. Matched Audiences enable marketers to build bespoke segments based on previous engagement with the brand that can then be targeted to drive higher quality leads. Linking different types of activity in this way helps to deploy demand generation strategies at the most relevant moments, and prove the value of marketing activity throughout the funnel. It recognizes the value in all of our marketing superpowers – and aligns them like never before.