In the midst of constant change the market is fixated with immediate results. Impatience as well as low tolerance for investment risk permeates many organizations. You would expect that every business has developed a solid brand and marketing strategy with the ability to execute against it.
There is no doubt that B2B brands have improved their approach. They have always been sales driven but in the past two decades marketers have made a lot of progress with executive leaders. Most recognize the importance of marketing and organizational alignment around brand.
Yet a growing drumbeat of skepticism has surfaced as growth is more elusive. As powerhouse brands such as GE and Nike show signs of vulnerability there is a perception that a brand’s utility may be in decline.
Confusing Motion with Progress
To thrive, brand owners have to be faster and more agile. This means that impact cannot be created solely from communications. Yet technology is enabling marketers to produce volumes of content while many brands are challenged with defining their core target audience, framing the opportunity, or articulating how an activity benefits brand in the long term.
Pick an industry and the process is similar - research, design, content. A lot of activity starts with an insight but doesn’t necessarily align to a strategy, often falling short of its potential. The layers of complexity multiply if a business is managing a complex distribution channel.
For established entities, this will become even more challenging as AI plays a larger part of the customer experience.
Humans are the Larger Part of the Equation
Leveraging your brand to design the right experience is critical. And to have the right experience you need to be precise with audience needs and motivations but also look holistically at the ecosystem. The ecosystem cannot just focus on what you control but also needs to be integrated with partners, particularly indirect customers. Partners are an integral part of the feedback loop and need to be equipped to deliver the experience.
Clear M&C Saatchi recently conducted an in-depth study designed to understand how marketers can leverage AI to create a marketing advantage. Even with 84% of consumers open to using AI in product purchase and service interactions online, 79% are still open to offline. And out of the 17 categories tested, consumers in 8 categories believe that offerings are improved more by humans than AI. While the technology will become ubiquitous and shift attitudes, feeling understood as a person will never change.
This also means that employees have to be engaged. They need to understand and deliver their brands every day. Beyond keeping customers happy, engaged employees produce operational benefits. A 2016 Clear M&C Saatchi study with over 2000 employees in the UK and US reaffirmed several assumptions:
• 15% of absenteeism with unengaged vs 5% with engaged employees
• Engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave the organization than disengaged employees
Set the Agenda and Win the Debate
Change and technology have unleashed fear. Yet rushing to the latest digital strategy du jour because you think it will make your brand competitive is not the solution. The wrong approach can not only make growth unachievable but weaken your position.
When most of us are cautious we tend to be risk averse. With intense financial pressure, we begin to think that our addressable market is much bigger than it really is. We forget what made a brand special and why it exists. Brands get diluted and established leaders risk becoming followers. Fundamentals are still important but brands and activities need to be connected to their target needs.
Brand owners need to have a strong, actionable brand and marketing strategy. At the core, you have to be able to answer the following:
What’s the problem or challenge you are trying to solve?
Who are the most critical audiences and what are their needs and motivations?
What are the category pain-points and where will growth come from?
What does an optimized ecosystem look like?
What experience do you need to create and how can you engage and support employees and partners?
The energy behind AI is overwhelming. But the best way to harness its power is to design the experience where technology and human engagement support each other. There are three overarching rules for optimizing your AI marketing:
• Build on existing consumer expectations of where AI and human involvement help
• Focus on the benefits that matter most in your category
• Tailor activations to your brand’s purpose and personality
Heightened consumer expectations have blurred the lines between B2B and B2C and every B2B brand must elevate its game. For most the need to design the right customer experience and engage employees are key areas of opportunity before AI or any other digital tool can drive sustained growth.
The old paradigms for staying relevant are gone. Is your strategy built for the future?