Construct amazing brands in the customer-driven age
Let’s be honest: those who work in B2B don’t want to spend more time than they have to making buying decisions. Buying complex software and hardware solutions has always been daunting—and continues to get exponentially more so.
In just the past two years, the number of people involved in B2B decisions has risen 25% to almost seven, each with his or her own potentially conflicting perspective. (Harvard Business Review. The New Sales Imperative. March-April 2017)
Massive amounts of available data exacerbate the inherent complexity of these decisions. This is the age of the customer; we all have easy access to information and are empowered to share our opinion. The wealth of data collected means buying decisions can slow to a crawl as new questions, challenges and possibilities arise.
Brands work to counter these forces with better awareness of purchase complications and ways to drive sustainable business growth. Still, mitigating those complexities doesn’t automatically get easier
Today’s CMOs look to engineer eloquent customer experiences with applications and relevant messages that support customers to buy and re-buy. Most B2B CMOs subscribe to this approach: Gartner reports that 82% of B2B marketers expect to compete in customer experience by 2020.
Moving ahead, CMOs must shift their focus from simply being relevant to fostering resonance—creating a brand vital to your audience’s lives by emotionally locking out the competition from consideration. The goal is the relationship; the sale is one stage along the journey to achieving that goal.
Move beyond experience: cultivate resonance
Marketers must shift the paradigm by moving beyond brand relevance based solely on customer experience towards fostering deeper, emotional relationships between the brand and its customers. Resonance is the outcome of an intense psychological connection with the brand based on the customer’s human context: who they are at work, at home and at play.
Forrester agrees: “Great brands are built on great customer experiences. Amazing brands are built on resonance. It fosters attachment, nurtures a community, and builds lasting engagement.” (Forrester. Strategic Plan: The Brand Experience Playbook, 2018)
These are table stakes. Simply delivering on product promise is no longer enough. CMOs must grow brands with a strong meaning by understanding the context around the role they play in people’s lives.
By freeing their brands from antiquated command-and-control management paradigms and inviting customers into the conversation, CMOs can identify new pathways for customers to engage with and be inspired by the brand. Focus the energy on observing customers using the brand in their own world. Come down from the ivory towers of ideology and visit customers in their real-world environments. Ground-level intimacy brings a clearer understanding of customer needs and fears, vital emotional knowledge that drives sincere resonance.
The brand also belongs to the customer. To truly resonate, brands need to be shared. By being humble, brands let their customers tailor the brand’s meaning for them. This helps the brand find a role in each customer’s life and become indispensable.
Curiosity is a mandate: continual evaluation around brand use and customer perceptions is vital to maintaining ongoing importance in people’s lives.
With this mind shift you need a different type of partner, one that compliments your brand organization in key ways by:
- Helping obtain a deeper understanding of the needs, passions, fears and personal context of the people that choose the brand. Becoming woven into a person’s life—especially in B2B—requires data that informs how it’s used in people’s lives and inter-personal relationships. Relationships must be observed in the work environment. The data gathered by this approach and the empathy to put it to work results in initiatives that assure CMOs that their investments will deliver in-market impact.
- Engineering a strong, connected customer experience that delivers on the brand’s purpose at every stage is a must. Focusing on delivering value based on the deeper understanding of people creates a strong foundation for emotional connections that grow into relationships.
- Making the conversation fresh by creating new pathways. By starting with the brand’s core meaning and holding the brand accountable to those values, transformation is guided by the brand’s unique “why” with sincerity that is vital to success. Knowing how people feel and act according to the issues that matter to them is critical to continually fostering resonance.
- Aligning cross-functional teams to ensure everybody is on board with the new emotionally driven purpose of the brand. Buy-in requires discussing how this paradigm shift impacts their roles and choices, and how they are empowered to fuel resonance. Education around the customer and contextual data is the cornerstone of internal clarity and empathy.
- Engineering multifaceted brand activations across the customer experience at key points of interaction, so customers have the applications and information needed to help grow the relationship with the brand.
- Fostering social currency within and around communities to build positive energy, giving customers the implied permission to express their experience with others.
- Building connected experiences with analytics needs to happen from the outset. Looking across all channels and platforms and identifying the data that’s needed, matched with data gathered from observations and then analyzed provides clarity on where and how to improve brand/customer and customer/customer interactions.
Competing across the customer experience is not enough today to build a healthy and sustainable pipeline. Building your brands to become vital to people’s lives, emotionally locking out the competition from your audience’s consideration is required in a new era of customer-behavior driven, empathy-inspired B2B.