An open letter to B2B CMOs

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This post original appeared on CMOEssentials

This is your time. As customer touchpoints multiply with the never-ending emergence of new delivery channels, B2B organizations are recognizing the critical role of a clear, credible, compelling and consistent brand—and, therefore, the critical role of a capable CMO. Many B2B companies’ CEOs are hiring CMOs for the very first time. Problem is, they don’t fully understand what building a world-class brand means, or how to get there. The notion of brand is still largely an enigma, managed passively and often as part of someone else’s “real job.” So now you arrive. Your job—whether or not you choose to accept it—is to build a brand whose value can be demonstrated not just from a marketing standpoint, but (wait for it now…) across the entire organization. No small challenge.

So how can you scale this mountain? More specifically, how can your transform your company’s internal perceptions of brand as “the design logo that our marketing folks manage” to “a business asset that can be leveraged to drive the business forward?”

One part of the answer is simple: what you do at the outset matters. Over the years, I’ve observed that CMOs who succeed long-term tend to do three things consistently at the beginning of the process.

They use research as a Trojan Horse.

In B2B organizations, data consistently carries the day—period and end of story. So use research as your starting point. Not qualitative research, but hard-core quantitative research. The issues you need to address might vary: customer acquisition, product brand equity, how people make choices, barriers to entry in a new market—but the point is to use research to build a quantitative foundation for the brand. Doing this will legitimize whatever story you’re ultimately going to tell. And it will legitimize your role immediately by communicating to skeptics within your organization that building a brand is rooted in a language that they understand and value: the language of numbers. In several cases, we have positioned initial research as a way to assess the most effective way to invest in a brand. For example, maybe the research identifies that the best strategy for a particular organization is to build their brand against 2-3 specific audiences, rather than taking a broader shotgun approach. Whatever the case, starting with research is at worst informative, and at best transformative.

They frame the notion of “brand” in a way that resonates internally.

For many B2B CEOs, “branding” is still an alien concept: remember, it’s what Roy Disney (no lightweight brand) once defined as “something you do to a cow.” In many cases, even using the very word “brand” in a B2B environment is a non-starter. So here’s a revolutionary concept: if your customer (in this case, your CEO or Board or business leaders) isn’t interested in buying “brand,” sell them something they want to buy. There are a number of ways to position brand-building programs that don’t use the word: Research Analysis (see my first point), Corporate Reputation Study, Cultural Assessment, Customer Acquisition Analysis. It doesn’t really matter what you call it as long as it resonates with your internal customers.

They identify and enlist influential internal allies—quickly.

 As the CMO of a B2B company, you might often feel like an island. So populate that island—fast—with Brand allies. Find those senior people who believe in the value and power of what you’re trying to do. They may not be immediately apparent, but finding them early in your tenure will be time well spent. Maybe they’re on the Board of Directors, maybe they’re in HR, maybe they even run an important line of business—but find them, spend time with them, and share your vision of what a well-branded future looks like. They’ll talk to their colleagues, and ideally your CEO. This in turn will begin to build credence, credibility, and very importantly, clarity for your mission as a CMO. When others outside of the C-suite—as well as within it—talk about the value of brand and branding with enthusiasm, it makes your job that much easier. These folks are your best allies and can help you sell the brand back to the company as well as to prospective clients. Simply put: populate your island.

At the end of the day, perceptions regarding the value of a strong B2B brand are, and will continue to be, improving. That said, building a world-class brand in a B2B organization remains no easy task. As CMO, your success depends on convincing senior management that brand is an asset that can drive the business. There is no one way to climb this mountain, but what you do at the outset is critical: build a data-driven foundation for the story, frame the notion of brand in a way that resonates within your organization, and identify internal influencers who support and will proselytize for your cause. Doing so will help you lead an interested but still somewhat skeptical organization to the top of the branding mountain. The reward? A seat for Brand—and for you—at the Big Table, where all the organization’s critical decisions are made.

David Srere is co-CEO and Chief Strategy Officer at Siegel+Gale. Follow him on Twitter: @David_Srere


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