Competing for Buyer Attention in the Age of Agility

Why creating value for customers begins with a strong investment in your brand

February 18, 2021

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When it comes to winning and retaining B2B buyers, there is greater nuance and complexity in the customer journey than ever before. And as the world reimagines what is possible through the use of technology, the technology landscape is ever-more crowded with new products and capabilities designed to help power productivity and success across the enterprise. 

In our last blog diving into LinkedIn’s latest research on B2B technology buying, we discussed how expanding marketing’s efforts to a broader committee audience is the key to winning over today’s new generation of technology buyers. And, we argued, that the traditional B2B marketing paradigm of the 2010s is due for an overhaul — a topic this post will expand on. 

Looking at the data, we are continuing to see technology decision-makers investing more and more time in the early stages of the technology purchasing process. Key decision-makers are involved and plugged into initial scoping conversations such as problem identification and solution researching in more than 50% of B2B technology buying scenarios. 

Source: The Age of Agility: LinkedIn’s 2021 B2B Technology Buying Report

Furthermore, we live in a world of information asymmetry. As buyers and stakeholders leverage every available resource, more than one in three buyers have already conducted independent research on possible technology solutions for their business needs before ever reaching out to a vendor.  

Source: The Age of Agility: LinkedIn’s 2021 B2B Technology Buying Report

This empowered and evolved approach exhibited by B2B technology buyers signals one of the strongest trendlines we’ve seen in the last decade for technology marketers: Now is the time to ensure your brand stands out. Without building a memorable brand and investing in awareness and engagement throughout every step of the customer journey, technology companies make themselves vulnerable to competition as decision-makers form influential perspectives based on existing knowledge of the vendor ecosystem. 

Tech Brands Must ‘Bet Long’ and ‘Aim for Fame’ in the 2020s

The rise of ‘Performance Marketing’ teams across the tech sector is no accident. For over a decade, technology companies have blitzscaled and achieved hyper-growth by focusing predominantly on driving leads and accelerating pipeline. However, data analyzed by today’s  most tenured experts in marketing science and featured in LinkedIn’s B2B Institute’s 2030 B2B Trends Report underlines the opportunity cost of not investing in B2B brands. Simply put, if growth and increasing market share is one of your objectives, leaning into long-term brand building as a catalyst for demand generation is paramount. 

At LinkedIn, we consult thousands of B2B technology companies on their marketing strategies and find that the most effective brands have embraced and successfully execute against two key principles for growth:

1. Bet Long. Ninety-six percent of B2B marketers do not measure marketing’s impact beyond six months, which is a far shorter timespan than the average customer journey and far less than the multi-year duration in which brand building pays off. Our B2B technology buying survey showed that 60% of B2B technology buying journeys extend beyond one year, with many extending beyond two — exemplifying that marketing’s role and potential to influence a technology purchase is far greater than most leaders realize.

Source: The Age of Agility: LinkedIn’s 2021 B2B Technology Buying Report

And with this in mind, one of the strongest arguments for brand advertising comes from LinkedIn’s B2B Institute, which cites that B2B companies that invest 50% of their budget in long-term brand-building deliver the best financial returns across market share growth, profitability and revenue. 

2. Aim for Fame. The tech sector is home to some of the largest and most diverse categories in B2B. However, many advertisers channel their positioning and brand efforts into promotional messages for the category itself (i.e., ‘Cloud’ or ‘Artificial Intelligence’). These keywords are known as ‘category entry points’ (CEPs), terminology first coined by Jenni Romaniuck and Byron Sharp in "How Brands Grow." CEPs have to do with mental availability — the idea that a particular brand is thought of first in a buying situation for software X or solution Y. And many brands fall short in their ability to pair their brand with its respective CEP, which can only be achieved by making your brand famous and distinctive.

To aim for fame, tech brands must increase the probability that their solution or company is ‘top of mind’ for decision-makers who are whittling the shortlist prior to engaging directly with vendors. They must work deliberately and consistently to build associations between the brand and the reason why company X is looking for solution Y. And the association must be strongly reinforced by — you guessed it — awareness and top of funnel marketing. For more details on this topic, refer to several recent studies from the B2B Institute which have tremendous frameworks and resources for B2B marketers. 

How Rackspace Technology Harnesses the Power of ‘Brand to Demand’

In early 2020, Rackspace Technology underwent a rebrand to further position the company as a cool, end-to-end multicloud expert. Focusing on four growth multipliers — Brand, Demand, Advocacy, and Employees (Rackers) — Rackspace Technology has found synergies optimizing marketing’s efforts across the entire customer lifecycle. And they are not shy about the importance of brand, and brand’s contribution to Rackspace’s business, top line, bottom line, partner ecosystem, and employee engagement, shares CMO Zarina Stanford

“The myth of demand as a siloed discipline is one that needs to be dispelled, particularly in the B2B arena. The exponential growth impact on demand from brand, advocacy and employee pride (Rackers) combined, and vice versa, is the best growth multiplier of all. Here at Rackspace Technology, I call these our Four Growth Multipliers and we report and manage them holistically as part of our end-to-end management system.    

It all goes back to one of the key tenets for marketing – Growth. It’s a mind set, a destination, and the journey. In fact, we created a Growth Marketing discipline within my team to operationalize our multiplier engine, touching on all four growth levers at all times.  Make no mistake, content is the thread that pulls them together to become the fabric accenting our fanatical brand promise.”

Last year, Rackspace took to LinkedIn to further prove out the impact of brand on their performance efforts. Coupling brand and awareness advertising with mid and lower-funnel campaigns targeted to a broad range of ITDM, IT Influencer, and C-suite audiences — Rackspace Technology saw 2.3x higher conversion rates vs. audiences who were not first exposed to brand advertising. In time, this brand exposure coupled with a strong content strategy boosted Rackspace’s Content Marketing Score on LinkedIn to second in their peer set — an impressive feat!

Offering wisdom to other B2B marketers, Zarina believes it is: 

“Sound advice to 'bet long, aim for fame!' While growth may not happen overnight, sustaining growth is a long game. Delivering on your brand’s promise, anchoring on your culture, earning the trust of your advocates – customers, partners, influencers - will do magic for your demand and your brand. Architecting an integrated and seamless campaign approach building from brand to demand is a must for the modern day B2B. If you are as blessed as we are with the superpower of an irresistible culture built by and for our very own employees, Rackers, add it to your growth multipliers.”  

A Final Note on Renewals

From research to renewal, the average B2B technology customer journey is longer than most marketers realize. And while marketing is crucial to capturing new customers, marketing can also play a key role in growing share of wallet from existing customers. In our research, we find that the renewal phase itself can span more than 6 months, during which many stakeholders are deciding whether to continue working with a technology vendor — or whether to increase usage of a particular solution. It is during these times that fame and awareness are just as powerful in shaping the perception of customer value. Across the technology sector, metrics like upsell, cross-sell and net dollar retention are becoming more vital than ever when assessing the health of a technology company’s financials. With the buyer journey pulling together more stakeholder input than ever before, remember that strong marketing efforts can help unify and shape perception during critical times in the buying cycle. 

We hope you continue following along as we dive deeper into trends for technology marketers in the weeks ahead. In our next installment, we’ll discuss purchasing drivers for B2B technology buying and how they translate into strong messaging, positioning and content strategies for technology brands. 

For more insights for technology marketers, subscribe to the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions blog. To learn about how technology marketers can succeed in the Age of Agility, view our latest report here.

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