CFO Agencies B2B Marketing

Do CFOs value brand building in B2B? We asked them

By Vanessa Cheal, Head of Brand and Creative Planning



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July 19, 2023 | 9 min read

Following the agency’s major research, Vanessa Cheal of Transmission looks at whether B2B CFOs value brand. Short answer? Not particularly. Slightly longer answer? Possibly, but not in the ways CMOs want.

Stacks of coins

Do CFOs care about brand-building? Agency Transmission asked them. / Rifath via Unsplash

In a unique opportunity to ask the same questions to two traditionally siloed sets of colleagues, we at Transmission decided it was high time to examine the divide between chief marketing officers (CMOs) and chief finance officers (CFOs) in B2B. Our ‘Closing the CMO-CFO brand value gap in B2B’ report looks at where there’s alignment and contradictions between the two roles, and how we can bridge that gap.

CFOs don’t trust their CMO colleagues

Collaboration is something we as an industry constantly bang on about. It was also a popular discussion topic at the Cannes Lions festival this year, not least because our report found that only 32% of CFOs feel the relationship with their CMO is “highly collaborative” (compared with 43% of CMOs).

The consensus was that bringing CFOs into the planning and creative thinking process early on could be a game changer. It makes it easier to set objectives that both parties agree to, and more importantly, it shows CFOs that there’s actually a strategy behind brand programs (shocking, I know).

Regardless of how we do it, something needs to change. 55% of CFOs don’t see brand building as a critical marketing activity. 72% of CFOs say that their CMO struggles to track and measure the commercial effectiveness of brand programs, a challenge made worse by working in siloes.

Senior marketing leaders need to work closer with their finance counterparts to show them that, no, 12 months isn’t long enough to measure the effectiveness of brand programs (81% of CFOs believe it is). And, no, commercial metrics like customer acquisition rates and profit aren’t effective gauges of brand health. And, no, lead generation isn’t the only investment when times get tough. Without this, CMOs risk getting stuck in a vicious cycle of brand under-investment.

… But CMOs aren’t helping themselves

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like CMOs are giving CFOs any reason to change their minds. We thought it was bad enough that CFOs expect to see a return on brand in such a short period. So imagine our surprise when we saw that 44% of CMOs agreed.

It’s not just the impatience for results that’s rubbed off on the marketing department. While B2B’s shift to account-based strategies allows us to target the ‘right person at the right time, on the right channel’, it also feels like it’s hamstrung how the C-suite views brand in the growth equation.

When looking for a new solution, you first think of brands you already know. It’s brand building 101: awareness leads to familiarity, which leads to consideration. But when we asked whether brands grow through relevance or reach, 68% of CFOs answered the former. More alarmingly, so did more than half (54%) of CMOs.

In failing to recognize that brand is about reaching your roughly 95% out-of-market audience, can we really be surprised that CFOs are doing the same? Embracing innovation is something we in B2B are especially good at. However, compromising on the fundamental principles of brand building isn’t the way to see eye-to-eye with your CFO. Education and uncomfortable conversations are.

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Creativity: we’ve got a long way to go

B2B buyers want safe, reliable brands. But it doesn’t mean that brand creativity should be the same. Being bought hinges on whether you’re known. That’s a reasonable assumption – unless you’re part of the 76% of CFOs who believe it’s better to have a safe, reliable brand than one that’s bold and disruptive.

After all the calls for greater creativity in B2B, CFOs still seem to want to err on the side of caution when building their brand. Sure, no one ever got fired for buying IBM. But B2B markets are more saturated than ever and brand ads that don’t cut through that noise will become wallpaper.

To echo a point I made earlier: buyers don’t buy the best product; they buy the brand they know best. A lack of brand awareness has a more negative effect on sales growth than brand rejection, so why are we so hung up on taking the safe route? Spoiler: the fact that CFOs (84%) and CMOs (71%) think buyers purchase the best solution, product, or price and not the best brand doesn’t help.

Senior marketers have a very steep hill to climb before convincing CFOs about brand’s value. But before we lay the blame solely at the feet of our finance colleagues, CMOs need to look inwards to see whether they’re really making the best case for creativity they can.

You can explore Transmission’s findings by downloading a full copy of the report.

CFO Agencies B2B Marketing

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