This is the first in a series of monthly columns focused on the challenges, opportunities and insights of senior marketers in B2B (business-to-business) companies. Each month, we will explore a different topic addressing the special challenges of marketing to business customers. We’ll be reaching out to CMOs and other senior business leaders for comment and insights, and bringing you the relevant research. So read, enjoy, learn – and please leave your comments below.

It’s that time of year in many parts of the business world: planning and budget season. Unfortunately, B2B CMOs and senior marketers often feel at a disadvantage in getting the funding and support (not to mention respect) they need as they vie with a multitude of other departments for a share of the corporate budget.

At the heart of this dilemma is the fact that “brand” is often a misunderstood concept within the leadership circles of B2B companies – so much so that, in some instances, it’s even seen as a dirty word. Many CEOs consider brand to be a soft issue with little or no demonstrable bottom line value – even though a McKinsey study reports that companies with strong B2B brands enjoy one of the ultimate measures of financial success, higher-than-average EBITDA.

The biases of an organization and its leadership aren’t the only obstacles in this scenario, however. Often, senior B2B marketers fail to make the business case for branding – to demonstrate the value that branding would generate for the organization. It is, however, a case that absolutely must be made. To quote a Forrester report, “B2B CMOs who fail to align marketing activity with business results will continue to struggle to gain credibility and retain budgets.”

SEE ALSO: The C-Suite: David Chen, CEO of Strikingly

5 key failure points – and how to avoid them

Typically, senior marketers fall out of alignment with their chief executives on five points:

  1. Priorities: What’s most important to your CEO and business, long and short term?
  2. Definition of “brand”: Do you really know how your CEO defines “brand” (and feels about it)?
  3. Expectations: How is marketing expected to contribute to the business, and by what metrics will branding be judged?
  4. Accountability: Are you thinking like an owner, treating every investment like it’s your own money? (Your CEO is.)
  5. Presentation: Does your time-pressed CEO want a full presentation or just a summary?

You can avoid all of these failure points if you employ what should be one of your strongest skills as a marketer: developing a deep understanding of your audience. Simply approach understanding your CEO with the same rigor that you would apply to customer research (you are religious about your customer research, right?).

Put yourself in your CEO’s shoes

Before you formulate any plans or presentation, make sure you clearly understand the following:

Understand priorities: Do you know what really matters to your CEO and the business?

It’s not enough to know what business leaders in general want (although that information can be helpful and can be found in various industry reports). You need to know specifically what your CEO is aiming for, and how your plans can best help fulfill that mission and reach those goals.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you understand the long-term (+5 years) corporate vision, beyond just financial goals?
  • Do you know the specific, prioritized short-term goals (12-18 months)?
  • Is your CEO on a “burning platform?” In other words, is there one extremely urgent issue that she or he feels must be addressed immediately?
  • What is the culture or philosophy behind making investments? Is it “pilot and test” or “invest and go for it?”

Sandy Howe, Senior Vice President of Global Marketing for ARRIS, a global leader in IP, video and broadband technology, describes their culture of marketing investment: “A key to our team’s success in working with our executive leadership and building our marketing investment over time is looking for small trials, small wins that are highly measurable, and then proving it out. When we can demonstrate strong ROI, the light bulb comes on, and our executives become eager to see how we can build on those results exponentially with additional investment.”

Clarify the definition (and value) of “brand”: How does your leadership define it?


Some B2B leaders seem skeptical at best about branding, particularly if they are left to perceive it as simply “logos and colors” that have little impact on the bigger picture or bottom line. Others are sold on the essential role of branding. Don Lewis, President of the Americas Business Unit for SCA, a leading global hygiene and forest products company, believes that branding for B2B makes business sense. “I look at branding as a positive differentiator. Without it you risk becoming a commodity-priced, low-value product.” It’s up to you as CMO to assess your leadership’s attitude toward branding, and then educate, enlighten and persuade as needed.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Does your CEO think of brand as an investment or expense?
  • Do you need to educate your CEO, and overall organization, on the definition and benefits of branding?
  • Do you need to use a different vocabulary? Can you best sell the benefits of branding if you get rid of that word and use different terminology?
  • Is your own definition of brand and what it encompasses too narrow?

RELATED: Branding Edison: Creating a Culture of Brand Storytelling


Speaking to that last point, Bill Nussey, President and CEO of Silverpop, an IBM company that provides cloud-based marketing software and services, remarked, “I’m a huge advocate of brands, but I think that branding is one of those ideas that’s rooted in old-school thinking. Most people would agree that it’s so much more than a logo these days, so don’t just show me another proposal for a logo refresh…because you know what? The number of people who are going to form their impression of my brand based on the logo versus the number who will be influenced by our content marketing, for example, is relatively small.”

He went on to explain that “marketers need to be architects of the customer experience” and that “the mirror of customer experience is called ‘brand’.” When we asked how he’d respond to the CMO asking to fund a new logo and look, versus one looking to create an experience-enhancing program, he offered this pointed reply: “One would get rolled eyes – and one would get a check.”

Define expectations: Be clear on what the CEO wants marketing, and you, to deliver

Part of successfully managing brands is learning to manage executive expectations – and first you need to understand them.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Is marketing seen as primarily tactical, expected to generate awareness and support sales with materials and communications?
  • Are you also seen as a strategic resource, expected to produce marketing intelligence, product/pricing direction, qualified leads and other higher-value deliverables?
  • Are you equipped to accurately measure and report results to your management?
  • Is there an established scorecard for your performance – and if not, are you ready to create one?


Cindy Stilp, Director of Marketing at SCA Tissue North America, says, “The common question from sales and organizational leaders is ‘How can I sell brand to customers? What’s the ROI?’ The challenge we face as marketers is to build strong business cases that link brand initiatives to business initiatives, including business strategies to gain market share, grow sales and improve margins. When we can prove the link between a strong brand – one that is recognized and valued by customers – and buying preferences, that’s how we show that investing in brand is worth it.”

Own your accountability: Think like a business owner, not just a marketer

A big part of your challenge as a B2B marketer is to win the respect of leadership. To do that, you need to recognize that your CEO thinks like an owner – and then show that you can think and act in the same way.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you demonstrate that you treat any budget you have as if it were your own money?
  • Have you established clear goals and objectives – and how they support the businesses goals and priorities?
  • Have you considered a wide enough range of options for reaching those goals?
  • Have you clearly defined what metrics you’ll monitor and how you’ll measure success?
  • Do you report on progress toward those goals regularly, simply and clearly?

As Don Lewis says, leaders like him want to know: “Did the investment in brand get us where we were supposed to go? I want to see ownership being taken by the marketing heads, to know that they’re standing behind the investment they’re asking me to fund.”

SEE ALSO: Why Every Brand Could Use a Chief Narrative Officer

Tailor the presentation: Serve it up the way your CEO likes it

Back to that point about reporting clearly and simply – do you know how your CEO wants to receive information, and what criteria he/she will use to make a decision? The best business case for branding will get you nowhere if it isn’t heard and understood.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Is there a company-wide format you should use – is it used consistently throughout the organization for planning and budgeting, or is each submission different?
  • Do you really know how your CEO likes to review plans and proposals?
  • Have you built a convincing argument and mastered the executive summary, so you can deliver your case quickly but persuasively for your time-squeezed CEO?
  • Have you answered the essential questions: What is the proposed plan? Why is it being recommended? What are the goals and what will the business gain? How much will it cost?

Take a tip from Don Lewis: “I prefer a succinct summary, because I don’t like the feeling of being sold on something. I know the longer the presentation, the more it’s going to cost me.”

Make time to make your best case

There’s no way around it – planning and budgeting is a competitive sport. To win, it takes time and extensive preparation before you even make your presentation. You need to:

  1. Do your research – know your CEO
  2. Socialize your successes throughout your organization, to build support
  3. Make your most persuasive case
  4. Follow through; deliver and report results; repeat

The points shared here should help simplify the task of building a business case for branding. If you have other approaches that work in getting branding plans and budgets approved, please leave us a brief description of them in the comments section below.