We all live in the real world where we get a paycheck, have to buy groceries, pay rent, and all those other adult things that have somehow landed in our lives. So let me be clear, I understand the pressures on marketing to show ROI; I even welcome it. I definitely agree that we need to look at each dollar we spend in marketing and determine what will help drive the biggest impact.

In the last few years, we’ve seen an upheaval in B2B marketing departments with the rise of marketing automation and the heavy emphasis on ROI. Now, I’m not saying that these things are bad in any way, but what’s been missing this past time is recognizing branding as part of that equation. On an intuitive level, we all get that a well-known and understood brand will automatically convert better. In fact, my belief is that we can make what today is referred to as ‘growth marketing’ even stronger by simply adding brand thinking to the equation.

But brands take time to build

And with an average B2B CMO tenure of under 30 months, time is something CMOs don’t have.

If we let ROI measurements guide our brand-developing activities, we’re putting even more pressure on our CMOs, especially because a lot of brand-building efforts take at least 18 months to bring fruition. The lack of focus from B2B companies on brand building does not come from the fact that they don’t believe in it, they just don’t have the time to wait for the results. So, to free up resources to focus on branding, I recommend putting the measurement where it belongs, on amplification exercises.

B2B and B2C have commonalities, sure. But the marketing funnel for a database requires a bit more than the classic B2C sales funnel for say, shampoo. Each stage of the B2B funnel requires more extensive marketing to educate the consumer about what the product is and create a connection and need. And that means more brand awareness activities – an often underrated step in consumer marketing.

The B2B funnel also means that sales cycles are longer. It obviously differs from product to product and deal size to deal size, but it’s hard to find a sales cycle that is shorter than 3 months. Therefore, traditional brand studies that show levels of brand awareness often mean very little for a B2B company. What matters more, from a business perspective, becomes the number of leads generated by marketing activities.

In other words, B2B CMOs need to focus on building the demand gen machine

They need to be delivering leads in a reliable manner. That is built on lead gen, demand gen, and ABM campaigns. It involves content marketing and thought leadership. All places where the brand can, and should, come through to amplify the message. This is an area where B2B needs to be better. Many companies carry out 4-5 lead gen campaigns per month and spend hefty amounts on digital ads to complement.

But often the ads look and read as they come from one company, while the actual digital experience you land on looks like it’s from another firm. An inconsistency that only grows stronger from campaign to campaign. B2B marketing departments are infamous for growing bored of their own advertising and marketing much quicker than the audience. This lack of consistency is something that quickly undermines our branding efforts. Because, if there’s one thing we can learn from consumer marketing, it’s consistency. Just look at Coca-Cola and the consistency of that brand and its execution over the last 100+ years.

B2B marketers are fighting fires on many fronts. Not only are they trying to build a brand and deliver leads to their sales departments, but they are also oftentimes trying to create a category simultaneously. There are very few completely new categories in the consumer market. Yes, we might be delivering a mattress in a new way, or even cabs, but at the end of the day, most product developments happen inside an existing category. In B2B, on the other hand, many new products are completely new – many of them tied to the cloud. In these cases, we don’t have the luxury of positioning our service or product next to that of an existing brand. Instead, we have to first inform people that the need even exists. And then secondarily, that we’re here to fill it.

In general, branding as a discipline has been undervalued in the B2B world

Mostly because CMOs don’t have time to stick their necks out to fight with CEOs and boards over investments that might not show return on investment until long after they’re gone. What we’re missing in this approach is the insight that branding which creates known and understood brands will automatically and naturally drive higher conversions.

Cover image source: Morgan Housel