A simple step to avoid B2B overbranding.

It’s happening at this very moment inside of hundreds of marketing departments at mid-sized B2B organizations. It’s wasting money, confusing customers, and undercutting business objectives. It’s called overbranding.

You’ve likely seen it yourself. Leadership or sales asks for new marketing materials and requests to “make it fresh” or “do something different.” Eager to meet the need, marketing gets creative, developing a snappy new tagline for a product, a new logo for an updated service, or a stand-alone microsite with an equally stand-alone graphic treatment.

The internal stakeholders are excited – but did marketing really do a good job? Over the years, this scenario repeats itself with requests from various departments and divisions. Inevitably it leads to a marketing presence and sale materials that resemble a quilt-work of mixed messages and identities, not a clear and compelling brand.

Marketers themselves are guilty contributors to overbranding, often for the simplest of reasons: they get bored.

Marketers see and work with the brand and messaging every day, causing the brand to “age” prematurely in their eyes. Like rock stars who grow tired of playing their greatest hits night after night, the designs and copy they once loved start to feel worn out. So, long before your customers tire of the brand, marketers start to look at every assignment as an opportunity to “freshen things up” and make changes.

No matter the mix of individuals and roles contributing to this creative cacophony, the result is the same: your brand gets diluted or, worse yet, customers get confused. Such confusion will be especially damaging post-COVID, as recent research shows that only 20-30% of B2B buyers are still willing to interact with sales reps in person. What you need now is more, not less, clarity and consistency in all marketing touchpoints.

So, is your organization suffering from overbranding? It’s a critical question, and there’s a simple-yet-powerful exercise that will quickly reveal the answer: A Wall Walk.

To assess the state of your brand coherence or confusion, gather all of your marketing and sales materials, along with employee and investor communications, and put everything up on a wall. Then, along with key stakeholders, “Walk the Wall,” and ask yourselves these seven key questions:

  • Is my visual brand (i.e., look and feel) consistent across all items/materials?
  • How many product/service names do we have?
  • How many logos, symbols, and icons (or versions) do we have?
  • Is our messaging clear, consistent and compelling?
  • Do we have a consistent “voice” across all items/materials?
  • Does this all look like one company?
  • Are we conveying the image we desire to project?

How to optimize your Wall Walk.

Of course, even “simple” exercises require good technique, structure, and discipline. For this exercise, you want to:

  • See everything at full size and scale. You’ll need a long wall or a large room in which you can set up large foam core boards. Use large monitors to display digital communications.
  • Organize materials by audience: customers, prospects, investors, employees, etc.
  • Within each audience, organize by customer journey and touchpoint (i.e., what the audience experiences, first, second, third, etc.)
  • Along with your own materials include third-party creations, such as external press coverage and reviews.
  • Go beyond the obvious to include every item, including emails, sales decks, invoices, trade show materials, etc.
  • “Walk the wall” with company leadership, in addition to marketing and sales, to break down silos and get everyone on the same page.
  • Step far enough back to accurately review the “big picture;” not only is it necessary to gain physical distance – it’s also advantageous to bring in an outside marketing expert who can facilitate the conversation and achieve a more unbiased perspective.

As a B2B brand strategy and activation firm, we’ve led clients through these wall walks so many times and have seen so many instances of overbranding that we have a nickname for them: “The Wall of Shame.” The point, of course, is not to shame the organization but to help everyone see the extent of their overbranding and begin a conversation about the implications it creates. Clients inevitably end up with a transformative “Aha!” moment that propels their brand and business forward.

A real-life example of overbranding impeding revenue growth.

One case, in particular, stands out. Our client, a B2B company that serves the North American market, struggled to generate the kind of growth they desired across all divisions and their entire product portfolio. They were significantly lagging in their cross-selling and upselling within existing customer accounts. Sadly, one of their greatest strengths – constant iteration and innovation – was becoming a weakness because of each new product and service’s overbranding, which notably blurred their corporate brand in the marketplace.

In fact, during our voice of the customer (VOC) research, we discovered that some customers didn’t even realize that our client was the provider of all products and services they were already buying. The abundance of disparate messages, logos, and visual look-n-feels had eclipsed the brand of the parent company. As we shared this customer insight with our client and demonstrated it by showing them their “Wall of Shame,” the CEO said something to the effect of, “Wow, even our invoices don’t match! No wonder they [customers] don’t understand who we really are and everything we can do for them.”

“Walking the wall” was the first step toward them having much greater success with cross- and up-selling.

What are the next steps after The Wall Walk?

Assessing the state of your overbranding is an essential beginning, but it’s only that. What your Wall Walk uncovers should motivate you and your organization to take three subsequent steps:

  1. Revisit and optimize your brand strategy
  2. Determine a better method for implementing and managing your brand
  3. Identify ways of working together to become a more effective team of brand stewards

Lastly, you can prevent overbranding from creeping back into your organization by conducting a Wall Walk once or twice a year. It will ensure you spot “random acts of branding” early and be able to make corrections before it becomes a detriment to your marketing and sales efforts.

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