Overcoming 4 barriers to successful B2B rebranding
Changing markets and buyer expectations are driving the need for companies to re-examine best practices for rebranding a business.
The Edelman Trust Barometer highlights a gap between today’s brands and buyer expectations.
According to Edelman, trust is more important than it was in the past. “Marketers would do well to take inventory of what current perceptions are of the brand and ensure marketing strategies and customer engagement are aligned around creating promises and experiences that strengthen credibility.”
Markets shift and reform as acquisitions continue. Acquisitions challenge companies to integrate brands, whether branded house or house of brands. And acquisitions change the shape of markets as new solutions are formed and new strategies result.
The trouble is brand creation projects have fallen behind the times. They remain complicated and expensive, forcing marketers to delay serious efforts at rebranding.
Four primary barriers delay B2B brand investment.
- Front-loaded research. Brand firms have offered the idea that companies cannot possibly know the gaps and opportunities in their brands and that an honest assessment of competitive brands cannot reveal opportunities in the marketplace. Up front research is driving up budgets and timelines. Not only that, but up front research is often done at the expense of validating the new brand at the back end.
- Brand is “discovered” as though there is no valid prior work. More often than not, companies have research, customer interviews, win-loss analysis, and other insights. Lacking these insights, simple focus groups can suffice to form early positions.
- Executives remain in review and approve mode, creating delays and lower value as critical senior input is not included soon enough, resulting in protracted timelines and bloated project budgets.
- Cost justification. Few formal ideas, especially in B2B marketing, exist to justify branding. As a result, executive teams are left to justifying brand investments by trading off critical demand generation dollars or pointing to the “outdated nature” of the current brand. With no ROI, brand projects are delayed or downsized to a small and ineffective effort at refreshing logos, colors, and templates (brand identity). While valuable in and of itself, brand identity does not fix market competitiveness issues, shifts in strategy, nor integration of new acquisitions.
Our five-point program keeps rebranding moving forward.
StudioNorth has innovated a five-point program that gives B2B marketers the balanced approach and ROI they need to justify and move forward with high-impact branding projects.
Hypothesis-driven branding projects maximize use of available research, company knowledge, and competitive analysis to form a hypothesis for branding teams to evaluate and iterate on before validation in the market. This gives branding projects a rapid start and allows for validation of the answer—more critical than up front research. Back-end validation can be less expensive and avoids the risk that funds are spent up front and despite that research, the team creates solutions that cannot be tested, so they miss the mark.
A primary driver of failed brand projects or costly timelines is the lack of executive participation in creating the brand. When executives sit on the sidelines while brand teams do the work, critical input is missed up front, and excessive iterations are required to get to the answer. The result can be a Frankenstein brand that has a mix of input and tweaking of words but a lack of executive context leadership for less experienced brand team members.
We suggest that brand projects should include executives on the brand team. Create the brand team with the executive staff and critical market touchpoint leaders (e.g., sales, customer service, product management/marketing, industry relations). Balanced participation will avoid excessive iterations and will reduce timelines.
Also include brand project leadership and creative representation. Branding projects are one part science and two parts creativity. To move quickly, teams must have the specific brand project leadership and high-end creativity to rapidly drive toward the highest-value, stand-out brand.
Working Session Orientation
Many brand projects include up front interviews followed by magic behind the scenes (with either internally led or externally led project teams). Then, the tiger team moves into the brand iteration phase. Instead, we suggest multiple working sessions in which the balanced team interacts with a continually refined brand. As the brand is refined more detail is added, thereby including the balanced team in the full creation of the brand. Approval cycles are removed and change management has already begun at critical brand touchpoints. In addition to reducing costs and timelines, this increases the impact of the brand.
Customer Infusion (or back-end validation)
If you have money for research, spend it on the back end. Back-end validation tests choose words and further refine the brand and truthfully include customers in the creation of the final brand. Up front interviews merely provide input that may or may not be effectively included in the eventual answer. Back-end validation can be quicker and is often done through focus groups, thereby decreasing the timeline and ultimate costs of the brand.
Stand-out brands do generate measurable return on investment (ROI). The benefits from a brand stem from incremental market growth. Companies with solid products and market execution should be able to grow at market growth rates. A rising tide lifts all boats (if your boat does not have a leak; check for leaks first and fix them).
High-growth companies will, however, require a stand-out brand. So, the benefits of a new brand can often be calculated as incremental growth beyond the current market growth rate.
How to budget a successful B2B rebranding.
In this example, a $100 million software company is growing at the market growth rate (7%). They are seeking 15% annual compounded growth. At 2.5% to 5% of total incremental earnings, their conservative investment in brand should be $344,000 – $688,000. That amount would cover brand creation and internal and external brand activation, including brand systems, website changes, and all launch and awareness investments.
Note that we have not included shareholder value in our calculation (ask your CFO for help here). From this view, brands contribute to earnings but also increase shareholders’ equity. Marketers will unlock the true value of brand creation and activation in this more complete view of ROI.
Don’t jailbreak your brand under darkness of night.
All of your hard work in creating a stand-out brand will not generate an ROI unless disciplined brand activation (both internal and external) is part of the project. Brand activation planning is not merely a 2–3-hour session, followed by a change in the website, new collateral, and a digital awareness campaign. We call this jailbreaking a brand.
Instead, we suggest including a robust brand activation program across all key customer touchpoints. If you include this in your ROI calculations, then you will find adequate budgets to successfully rebrand your business, and you’ll find you can achieve your return on investment.