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Creating brand experiences in 2018: Our top 5 recommendations

At Symmetri, the majority of our clients are B2B. And our engagements frequently include some level of brand strategy – whether it be message development or extensive brand positioning. The activation of that work then turns into campaign or communications planning. As we enter 2018, we believe the conversation needs to move beyond just how to reach and influence customers to how the brand experience will be the most critical element to winning in B2B marketplaces. Decision making within B2B organizations is changing more than many businesses realize. It’s not just driven by the ubiquitous access to technology and information but rather due to the changing demographics of decision makers and the expectations that large consumer brands are setting for effective customer engagement and interaction.

The statistics are amazing. In the U.S., four out of every $10 spent online is with Amazon, and 64 percent of households have Amazon Prime. Fifty-four percent of U.S. adults say they have Netflix in their household. Of the 81 percent of Americans who use the Internet, 58 percent have a Facebook account. That’s crazy. And while baby boomers are retiring at the rate of approximately 10,000 per day — over 3.6 million each year — those that remain on the job are far more digitally aware than in years past.

Four out of every $10 spent online is with Amazon, and 64percent of households have Amazon Prime.

Four out of every $10 spent online is with Amazon. Successful brands must broaden their horizons, taking the measure of companies like Amazon that are shaping everybody's expectations.

The point is, B2B decision makers are certainly online, and the brands they interact with shape their expectations regardless of the industry they’re in. So, it’s only natural for them to compare brands with those that create great experiences, not just those within a specific competitive set.

From a product standpoint, brands must always differentiate features and benefits against competitors that make similar products. But from an experience standpoint, successful brands must broaden their horizons, taking the measure of Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, Google, Uber and others that are shaping everybody’s expectations.

At Symmetri, we have always talked about the fact that your brand is the experience you create. And it is defined by the interactions people have with it. For those who realize that brand experience is critical to winning in their marketplace, here are our five recommendations to focus on in 2018.

1. Purpose is the way forward. 

Every brand must find what makes it unique in the market. And, based on that differentiation, it must deliver a promise to its customers that nobody else can make. This hasn’t changed. But it’s not enough for long-term success anymore.

To be successful today, a brand must find its purpose and infuse that into everything it does. Research by Timé Marketing Partners illustrates that purpose-driven B2B organizations have shown 16 percent higher sales volume growth and 100 percent higher net-profit growth over the past three years than transaction-based B2B companies. And they are 148 percent more optimistic about sales volume growth over the next three years than transaction-based B2B organizations.

It’s hard to differentiate solely on features and functions. An innovative feature may buy a company some short-term sales growth. But when an organization aligns its entire business behind a unique purpose — from R&D to product development, sales, customer service, implementation teams and so on — it has the ability to reorient the market around what should be expected from a brand in a particular segment.

The future will be won based on what you do and why you do it. Purpose wins.

2. It’s about the story, not the message

Defining the messages you want to tell customers is important. However, creating brand experiences requires generating emotional engagement as much as rational engagement. Stories bring together emotion and reason to make brands more relatable.

In a Forbes article, Storytelling: The new Strategic Imperative of Business, contributing author Billee Howard writes, “Emotional engagement is the sister to rational engagement. Rational engagement is based on the stimulation of the mind, whereas emotional engagement is based upon the stimulation of the heart.” In today’s age of brand experience, emotional engagement is proving to be more and more critical to achieving winning results.

Effective storytelling is at the heart of this movement. Story wins.

3. Solve problems. 

B2B brands exist to solve a problem, not merely to provide a product, and this needs to be reflected in the content they produce and the experiences they create. By understanding the challenges and hurdles their customers face, and how they try to overcome those obstacles, brands gain insight and proficiency for solving those problems.

Brands must be proactive. They must educate. And make it easier. Remember, you’re being compared to brands in other spaces that win by identifying and solving problems for their customers. There was a great article a few months ago in Harvard Business Review titled, Obsess Over Your Customers, Not Your Rivals.

Customers look to you for answers. Problem solving wins.

4. Be advisors. 

Building on the last point, organizations that win the brand experience game will move from being spokespeople for their products and services to being advisors to their customers. This requires gaining insights into their business and the challenges they face.

Many of our customers have adopted the Challenger Sales Model, while some have adopted the Insight Selling approach. We don’t advocate for either model over the other, as both approaches establish the importance of proactively identifying opportunities or problems. We do advocate for brands to use their sales force, customer service team, website, content and campaigns to help guide customers.

Effective decision making drives successful businesses. Trusted advice wins.

5. Brand campaigns are out. Brand content is in.

Too often, a company will refine its brand position, possibly establish a new tagline, and develop a campaign to create awareness of it. These campaigns are useful, but inherently limited. They have a beginning and an end.

But if brands adhere to the previous two points of solving problems and being advisors, there is no start or stop. Brands must always be solving problems and they must always be advisors. As such, they must always be developing real, believable and useful content. This doesn’t necessarily require a substantial investment, but does require commitment from the organization.

Fresh, relevant information continuously shapes the customer experience. Brand content wins.

Emerging from the static brand positioning of the past and engaging customers in more dynamic, meaningful experiences will make a real difference for business success.

It’s about standing for an important purpose. Telling a compelling story. Solving tough problems. Offering actionable advice. And continually delivering timely content that illuminates strategies for business improvement. The opportunities for effective B2B digital marketing have never been brighter. Where will you take your brand experience in this new year?

The great part about hiring an agency to help with brand development is that we know how best to create meaningful interactions with your audience. If you have questions or are looking for an agency with experience to do the heavy lifting, we would love to hear from you.