CEOs on B2B branding, part 1

Branding is sometimes a dirty word. It’s too soft and touchy-feely. It’s too intangible.

At least, that’s what you might think if you casually discussed the topic with many B2B leaders. I recently had the opportunity to explore the subject in depth with two experienced, and highly successful, business leaders as part of writing my new column for Branding Magazine, “The B2B CMO.” Their responses—and their enthusiasm for what branding can help B2B firms accomplish—may well surprise you.

The issue at hand was “How B2B CMOs can make the business case for branding,” and in talking about that my two executive interviewees offered many more insights than could possibly fit into one article—in fact, I need to create two posts just to fit in the highlights. In this first installment we’ll hear from Bill Nussey, CEO of Silverpop, part of IBM.

Bob Domenz, Avenue: How do you define brand?

Bill Nussey, Silverpop: When we think about brands [in B2B] the focus tends to be on the logos and choice of colors—a very visual and old school view of brands…[but] there are two points about B2B branding that aren’t as heavily emphasized, and I think they are far more important than logotypes. One is the process of going through branding, particularly for the new executive…the process of asking themselves “Who are we?” or “What do you think we are?” and “Who do we want to be?”

When people think about brands, they’re really thinking about mission and vision and market perception and position—and it’s sad that all that great research usually ends up in the appendix of some PowerPoint deck and the focus still ends up being the colors and the logo.

“Brand is the collective thoughts of all our buyers and prospects”

—Bill Nussey, Silverpop

Branding is one of those ideas that’s really…rooted in tons of old school thinking, and yet most people would agree it’s so much more than a logo these days. The decades-old notion of a brand as an external or outbound marketing effort is largely diminished. Brand is the collective thoughts of all our buyers and prospects—but our ability to directly influence that collective view has diminished massively.

Bob: What do you see as branding’s role in B2B?

Bill: I think brand has moved from the static photograph, captured visually, as it was four decades ago, to now—it’s a dialogue. It’s a dialogue in which you as the company are one of many voices…and oftentimes, depending on the size of the company and business, you’re a small voice.

One of the things I love to say—and I’ve even been quoted on it a few times—is that marketers are the architects of customer experience…Most companies are only thinking about a tiny portion of their customers’ experience, but the totality of customer experience is the direct reflection of [the company]. The mirror of customer experience is brand.

Marketers embracing [this] new view of branding—once they realize that what they call social media, what they call digital advertising, what they call customer support and relationship marketing, [when taken all together]—will see that there is a theme running through all of it, a massive theme called branding.

Brand strategy: the foundation of customer experience

All too often there is a disconnect between what an organization says in the market, its company policies and processes, its employee beliefs and behaviors, and ultimately what customers experience and think.

Of course, at Avenue we believe that a strong, clear brand Purpose and Promise is the foundation that aligns and guides customer experience.

When an organization’s purpose (its mission, vision and values) and promise (the benefit offered to customers, and the means by which it is communicated and delivered) are clearly articulated and “operationalized” with the organization, it helps bring to life the meaningful customer experiences that—to Bill’s point—are required to build successful businesses today.

Watch for part two of this series, as I share branding insights from Don Lewis, President of the Americas Business Unit of SCA.

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