Creative Brand Strategy B2B Marketing

Why performance branding is at the frontier of B2B marketing

By Ian Darby, journalist

November 21, 2023 | 9 min read

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Lead generation is often seen as the ultimate goal in B2B marketing. But the idea of 'performance branding' offers a more balanced approach and the key to longer-term success.

Creating a perfect B2B customer journey

Creating a perfect B2B customer journey

The B2B customer journey is more complex than ever. It has evolved to include many points of interaction throughout the marketing funnel. But how can marketers make the most of each stage and achieve the perfect balance between short-term sales activation and longer-term brand consideration?

CMO’s in B2B categories have no shortage of research to advise them on the more tactical, short-term and narrow end of the marketing funnel, placing a strong emphasis on targeting and performance marketing tactics because they are so easy to track.

But there is a strong possibility that this focus is misplaced. Afiya Addison, market engagement lead at LinkedIn's thinktank The B2B Institute, says: "Lead generation marketers have dominated the B2B marketing landscape over the last decade, in large part, by focusing on generating short-term results – sales leads – and positioning marketing as a precise science where all waste can be eliminated and all actions can be tied to a dollar outcome."

However, this concentration on lead generation ignores the importance of using brand-building to create demand for products and services in the minds of buyers. This shouldn’t be forgotten due to the 95-5 Rule, which makes clear that 95% of category buyers are not "in-market" for goods and services at any given time. As a result, lead generation can capture only a percentage of the 5% of buyers who are "in-market".

The advice for marketers is clear. Instead of basing a B2B marketing strategy on lead generation, optimize campaigns to stimulate "category entry points" throughout the funnel. A term coined by Professor Jenni Romaniuk at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, category entry points are "cues that category buyers use to access their memories when faced with a buying situation."

In order to generate these cues, marketers should attempt to balance lead generation with strong brand messages. Two different types of approach that require varied creative, media and measurement strategies as customers progress through their journey.

Focus on brand-building

There are positive signs that B2B marketers are embracing the need for balance. According to the recent LinkedIn B2B Benchmark study, although lead generation (36%) receives the highest share of B2B budget allocation, B2B leaders are also allocating budget to brand building (30%) and demand generation (20%).

However, more emphasis is required on the brand-building, top of the funnel, element. Marketing effectiveness experts Les Binet and Peter Field say in a recent B2B Institute report: "Activation should be tightly targeted on hot prospects and designed so that it is easy for them to respond. This is the world of performance marketing, incentives, and much digital activity. This kind of tactical activity is good for short-term selling, and ROIs can be high."

Yet, Binet and Field argue, this activation-based marketing is unlikely to be very memorable, and its effects won't last long and do little to foster long-term growth. By contrast, brand-building "usually works on an emotional level to create long-term memories and associations that continue to influence purchase decisions long after the advertising runs. As a result, brand-building is the main driver of long-term growth and profit."

In consumer marketing, this balance is optimized at 60% to 40% of spend in favor of brand-building. However, Binet and Field’s modeling suggests that in B2B this should be adjusted to 46% of budget allocated to brand, and 54% to activation. Although this varies by category and context.

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'Performance branding' in action

The success of this balanced, full-funnel approach is highlighted in recent activity from advertisers on LinkedIn’s platform.

Fuji Electric has worked with LinkedIn since 2021 to engage B2B buyers across international markets. In one campaign, the company sought to promote its vending machines to retailers globally, using a full-funnel, organic and paid media strategy on LinkedIn.

Fuji Electric's plan was to use the top and mid-funnel to create a more entertaining and emotional appeal for the brand by sharing fun facts about the history of its vending machine business. It then created product-focused content on how retail companies could use the vending machines to grow their business.

The brand also embraced bottom-funnel marketing to generate leads through targeting, rotation of specific ad formats to capture buyer information, and retargeting to audiences that had previously interacted with their ads in order to nudge them towards conversion. This campaign achieved both higher brand engagement and click through rates.

Another example is CleverTap, the customer engagement and retention platform. It came to LinkedIn looking to address the challenges of establishing brand awareness and unlocking access to new audiences, target the most relevant audience to establish a pipeline of sales qualified leads, leverage the LinkedIn algorithm to achieve maximum organic reach, and nurture leads into conversions.

The solution involved a multi-product strategy utilizing LinkedIn ad formats such as Sponsored Content, Dynamic Ads and InMails to deliver content relevant to market segmentation and customer lifecycle.

CleverTap was also able to reach a larger pool of professionals that resembled its "ideal customer" with Matched Audiences, and champion the usage of industry-relevant hashtags to reach out to a wider audience. Meanwhile, the Sponsored InMails were used to nurture leads on the same platform where they entered the funnel.

Each of these campaigns, and many others on LinkedIn, highlight the strong potential for 'performance branding' - brand-building that creates high levels of lead generation and subsequent sales.

This full-funnel approach engages buyers throughout their journey and is proving successful across a whole range of categories. Sophisticated rather than complicated, performance branding leads to B2B marketing that goes far beyond measuring clicks and delivers for marketers in both the short and long term.

For more information about LinkedIn’s full-funnel approach, visit here.

Creative Brand Strategy B2B Marketing

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