The bedrock of business-to-business marketing is strategy. But how do you act strategic when there are so many unknowns? Maersk and Covance/LabCorp’s head marketers share their insights, including why the brand itself should not be ‘agile’— despite all of the buzz surrounding the word.
This has been a revolutionary moment for business-to-business marketers. Adoption of digital is off the charts and the blurring of what’s a B2C tactic or a B2B tactic is in full effect. However, when it comes to the core tenets of a brand, this is not the moment for experimentation, according to B2B experts.
“You need more agility in your brand strategy… but your brand shouldn’t be agile. It has to be something that outlasts your products, your strategies, your next campaigns and it’ll probably outlast us as brand managers as well,” Sam Poulter, head of corporate branding at AP Moller – Maersk, told The Drum during B2B WorldFest’s ’Brand strategy for a digitally transformed world’ session.
Each day, Maersk deals with keeping the global supply chains moving while the rest of the world is various stages of lockdown. This reality “really pushed us back to square one, to remember that core role we are playing in society,” says Poulter. This moment “is about going back to core values, your purpose, and why what you’re doing matters.”
Said another way, “if the waters are choppy, you’ve got to hold your course. Stay true to the heart of your brand,” says Derek Stewart, chief strategy officer at Stein IAS. In fact, Stewart says his agency is seeing more pure brand briefs coming through the door of late, as marketers look to drill down into one central story. “You cannot tell people different things on different channels. You need an identifiable brand story.”
With so many factors at play for Covance/Labcorp, which services the pharmaceutical and bio industries, the company is careful “not to speak in yesterday’s voice,” says Steffany Cox, senior global vice president, head of marketing and strategy at the company. Balance is required. “It is about evolving the message, not throwing away the brand. Looking at your data, your customer relationship, your customer insights and seeing [what needs] to be refreshed. Can you deepen your relationships? Can you be there for them, like you've never been there before? Can you make it easier for them? Can you be more empathetic?”
Seizing the small moments
The consumer vogue for the return of throwback brands is also coming to pass in B2B. “Even with endless information people are forced even more strongly to go for the easier, the less complex, what they know,” says Poulter.
The key for B2B brands is seize the moment with short-term messaging that is relevant now, but that doesn’t compromise a brand in the long-term. “Stay true to where you are coming from and where you want to be in the long-term,” says Poulter.
Cox agrees. She says that when it comes to tactics, “you need to pick your moments. People are engaged so differently, you need to throw your scorecards out the window, your plans out the window, your trade shows, the things you used to do need to be evolved, need to be different. Pick your moment, make it matter and make it something relevant.”
More human, more tactical and more quantifiable
It isn’t just about picking the moment. It’s about picking the content too. B2B marketers have a greater opportunity to reach their clients as humans during this very human moment. And, in many ways deciding what to say and how to present has become a little clearer. There are a few reasons why.
First off, this is a good moment for quantitative research. Unlike in the not-too-distant past, people are more willing to engage in market research because they have the time. “We have found the opportunity to get these pulses of what’s happening in the marketplace,” says Cox. “You don’t want to read too much into it because we are in the middle of a pandemic. You don’t want to throw out your brand. But there are opportunities to see, in this interim, where you can help, make it easier or maybe be more empathetic than you have in the past.”
Research and social listening “allows you to, kind of, sharpen your pencils and spend some time with the customer because they are online,” she says.
Poulter says these findings allow B2B brands to find the “few opportunities which are closer to you and your core brand story where you can do something with a little more impact. It’s an accelerator of the relationship because this is a chance to really prove your worth and establish it.”
Shine up that snackable content and new tools
Tactically, this relationship building needs to be respectful of consumers’ time. Even though Covance/Labcorp’s offerings can be complex, it has found success creating content that is shorter, “more snackable and consumable,” says Cox. “You don’t want to overwhelm people with two or three pages and click here or click there. It has to be relevant because they have so many opportunities to go so many places.” Cox has also cut webinar times in half from 60 to 30 minutes. “Things that we used to hold sacred, it’s a good time to re-evaluate,” says Cox.
Now is also a moment to roll out new digital tools, says Poulter. Maersk had been working years to create tools that make it easier for customers to handle their supply chains and manage their containers. “The pandemic has accelerated the willingness to try new approaches. We were lucky enough to be ready with them.”
No matter what the opportunities or challenges, Stewart says: “you have to be able to tell your brand story, express it in a way that is relevant and meaningful. If you can’t, or aren’t prepared to, then I would suggest you just shut up shop.”