Is 2021 the year of brand for B2B marketing strategy?

By Vanessa Cheal |
3 minute read

Is 2021 the year of brand for B2B marketing strategy?

“We need leads.”

This goal has been a mantra for B2B marketing teams since forever. And with more pressure to prove quicker ROI at every turn, it is understandable that demand has been a bigger priority than brand for many CMOs.

Yet interestingly, in the wake of COVID, we have seen an increasing number of our B2B clients feeling exposed. They’re worried about the true authenticity of their brand values and eager to reassess what their brand promise really means for customers, employees, and the wider community in 2021.

On the 27th November, our Creative Strategy and Planning Director, Vanessa Cheal joined Joel Harrison at B2B Marketing, ON24’s Marketing Director (EMEA), Emily Smith, and Stefan Doering, PwC’s Brand Strategy Lead to discuss the resurgence of brand for B2B businesses, and how marketers can ensure their brand stays fit-for-purpose in our ‘new normal’ post-pandemic era.

Here are a few key takeaways from the webinar:

What matters most to people is changing

Moments of crisis and uncertainty have always shifted views on what matters most to people. We’re forced to reflect on our values and what it means to be human. Trust becomes paramount, and we turn toward the things we know best for clarity and connection. This applies to brands, too.

Recent global branding research revealed that many B2B decision-makers have changed their preferences and behaviours since COVID, with more than 82% increasing spend with brands that have shown strong compassion, kindness, and empathy for the wider society during the pandemic. Conversely, 25% admit walking away from brands that have continued to act in their own self-interest.

As Vanessa Cheal explains: “A lot of B2B brands are realising that their brand strategy is out of date and not relevant to customer needs, values and preferences anymore. In many cases, COVID has exposed the lack of humanity or emotion in the way the brand has behaved recently and tested how true and sincere a brands purpose really is.”

Employee branding increases in importance

For 2021 we should be even more conscious of the role our workforce plays in brand communication and advocacy. Employees have uncontrolled access to customer-exposed channels like social media, community forums, or review sites like Glassdoor. The power of your employee brand determines whether this is a positive or a detriment to your business.

Emily Smith explains: “Brands should communicate inside-out first. A brand’s passion, personality and culture come largely from the experience it gives its employees. Marketers needs to be increasingly mindful of that”. Stephan Doering supports this: “Employees own your brand and have a huge part to play in bringing the brand to life. It’s critical they adopt your brand identity, culture, behaviour and purpose for the brand experience to feel true and authentic in front of customers.”

Vanessa Cheal adds “In 2021, we should be very mindful of the rising influence of Gen Z employees; the strength of their voice and honest opinions on the role their brands need to play in helping society become a better place – whether that’s sustainability initiatives, ethical practices or staff wellbeing.”

Impacting the view of the Board

One of the webinar viewers asked the panel how to shift boardroom mindsets away from the traditional, serious, corporate view of B2B brands into something more human-centric and empathy-driven. The answer comes back to discovering your real brand purpose – your brand WHY – and ensuring the senior leadership team and/or board are involved with shaping (or reshaping) it based on their personal views and experiences to improve buy-in.

Stefan comments: “Make sure your brand purpose reflects and guides the way the senior leadership behave and make decisions top-down, just as much as it does employees, partners, customers. They should equally be empowered to show their human side and advocate the brand authentically.”

Vanessa Cheal concludes: “Martech makes it a lot easier to formally measure brand recognition, sentiment and loyalty, and the impact of a more human-centric brand approach on top and bottom-line results. Boardrooms are waking up to this, and for the first time in ages, we are seeing personal notes from the CEO taking over corporate home pages rather than showing product propositions. Whether it’s about COVID, Black Lives Matter or mental health awareness, it has given many leadership teams confidence to have an opinion and start behaving less like faceless institutions and more like people, which is what their customers and employees really buy-in to.”

During the course of the hour-long webinar, the panel covered far more than the above:

  • Has the ‘brand versus demand’ balance tipped decisively in brand’s favour?
  • Is brand purpose a game-changer for marketers eager to have more brand influence?
  • How is the explosion of Martech changing the brand challenge facing marketers?

The whole thing is available on-demand, here.

Huge thanks to Joel and the whole of the B2B Marketing team for organising the webinar and inviting us to contribute. And thanks also to Emily and Stefan for the lively debate. 

Want to learn more? Find out how we help clients with B2B marketing strategy at this page.