Balancing brand and product in B2B marketing

Why it’s more important than ever to get the mix right.

July 15, 2015

I’ve sat in the audience for a lot of panels on B2B marketing over the years – and it’s always the unexpected answers that stick in the mind most. That was certainly the case when I attended LinkedIn’s session at the B2B Marketing Summit in London recently and heard my colleague Emma Hewage ask Georgios Kolovos of GE whether B2B marketers were now more comfortable building brands. “Actually,” he said. “I think we’re talking too much about brand and forgetting some of the other basics. Product marketing has become a bad word. What you really need to do is find a balance between these different elements.”

Could there really be too much focus on branding in B2B? It’s not an answer you’d have expected if you’d been watching our area in recent years – when all the attention has been fixed on the bottom of the funnel and it’s been difficult, at times, to distinguish where marketing ends and sales begins. On the face of it, brand-building doesn’t seem to have been taking its fair share of budget and attention. Especially when, as Simon Morris of Adobe pointed out in the same session, it tends to deliver a substantial return on investment when measured properly. And there’s no doubt that GE knows the value of a good B2B brand.LinkedIn's

Building purposeful brands

However, the fact that strong B2B brands are powerful assets doesn’t automatically mean that all B2B brand activity is equally worthwhile. It’s one thing to seek to make your brand a familiar voice in the conversation for your category (something that’s possible for more marketers than previously thanks to content and social media); but it’s another to link what you say back to your products, solutions and USPs in meaningful ways. The challenge isn’t just to build a brand; it’s to build a brand on the basis of what you can do for your customers. That’s what Georgios was calling for – and it’s a call worth answering. Because as more and more brands bid to be a part of the conversation in your category, it’s this type of purposeful, authentic brand building that can provide a real point of difference.

Product focus as creative inspiration

When you look at some of the most creative, inspiring and effective B2B work being produced at the moment, you’ll often find the product front and centre: Volvo Trucks’ steering was the star of its Grand Prix-winning Live Tests campaign; 3M created virtual Post-it notes to remind professionals of the benefits of the real thing; Adobe celebrated Photoshop’s 25th anniversary with Gold Lion-winning film, Dream On, which was effectively a spectacular product demonstration.

Brands as sources of relevant content

As EMAP’s Chief Marketing Officer, Rebecca Clayton, pointed out on our panel, once audiences know what a brand can do for them, that brand can become the lightning rod around which they share ideas and generate relevant content. She spoke about how EMAP had reached out to frontline managers in the NHS through its specialist content brands, asking for their recommendations to improve both efficiencies and patient safety – and had received over 14,000 responses. It was a powerful reminder of how a brand with a clear purpose in its audiences’ professional lives can keep finding new ways to generate relevant value.

A better set of scales for balancing brand and product

When it comes to content marketing, there are more opportunities than ever to ensure that the conversations your brand has are rooted in what you can do for specific audiences. The precision targeting now available through channels like the LinkedIn Feed means that you no longer need to apply the same, general brand messages to all. And the ability to tailor nurture streams based on the actions people take mean that you can introduce specific products and features into the conversation when relevant, without turning audiences off. We’ve never had a more precise set of scales when it comes to balancing brand and product in the conversations that we have with our audiences – and as Georgios pointed out, it’s increasingly important to make full use of them.