In a Data-Dominated World, B2B Branding is Making a Big-Time Comeback: Karen O'Mahoney

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

In the B2B landscape, data dominates and, arguably, makes marketers less creative and interesting.

Decisions are heavily (overly?) influenced by KPIs and metrics. The numbers don’t lie, right?

But here’s something exciting (at least to me): B2B companies are starting to rediscover the value of brand and branding.

In a noisy, ultra-competitive landscape, it is critical to stand out from the crowd.

A brand has to be differentiated, compelling, memorable, and interesting.

Otherwise, you’re just another company battling for attention, even if your product is amazing.

Karen O’Mahoney says many B2B companies are starting to focus on the fundamentals and what really makes them different.

They’re focusing on how they want customers, prospects, and employees to see the brand and what it offers.

Karen, CEO of Brandlucent, says developing a brand strategy is not a one-and-done exercise. It’s about making sure that a brand evolves and changes as a company grows, pursues new opportunities and markets.

Your brand should be your “North Star” that propels your company forward and allows you to boldly and distinctly stand out from the crowd.

You're listening to marketing spark. Thepodcast at delivers inside tools and tips from marketers and entrepreneurs in the trenches intwenty minutes or less. In a marketing world increasingly dominated by data, brandingstill matters. Karen O Manny, the CEO and founder of brand loose inMontreal, heads up a strategic branding agency that works with BEDB tech companies toharness power of their authentic brand. Welcome to marketing spark. Hi Mark,thanks for having me. As I set off the top. In a BDBworld dominated by data, I'm curious about your thoughts on the state of branding. How much of a focus are BEDB companies putting on branding these days,given the fact that there's so much noise, there's so much content, there's somuch social media out there, and what I actually find that a lotof people really have honed in on their brand and because of that right,because there's because of all the noise, really and what we want, whatwe see a lot of in a lot of companies, is that they're reallycertain to focus in, back to the core, back to what really makesthem different. When you think about brand, it's a companies DNA. It's impactinglike sales and marketing, but also obviously has its place and leadership anddecisionmaking a direction. So for a lot of people it's coming back to whatdo I want my company to be? Where is my company direction taking meand how does that affect all of our teams? So everything from product teamsto development to HR operations, the whole company. And so from that pointof view, we find that a lot of BEACHP companies are coming back totheir brand and really starting to think about it a lot more to say,okay, well, we have the power in our hands to really wield thiscompany and adapt to whatever landscape comes up. But now we want to see wherewe want to take this and where our vision is going to go.So before we move forward, let's take a step back to why your brandscoming back to the brand. I mean it strikes me, as as abrand person myself, is that Brandon is...

...always important. Brand should always bepart of what you do and how you position yourself. Why are they comingback? What does that means? That mean they they didn't pay attention tobrand, they were focused on other things. Maybe provide a little bit of context. Yeah, for sure. So I think what it is a lotof the time it's people are thinking about their brand as one undone, right. So it's like a lot of the time they will think about doing abrand strategy, for example, they're say, Oh, you know, we've doneit like a while back, and they're like that's been fine, Rit's kept us going so far. It's kept us going for the last fewyears, and they take that and you can bring out a lot of thesebrand strategies and messages through marketing, through content, through all of the waysthat you're engaging. But the thing is, what they're they have been noticing overtime is as the company grows, as it changes, if now timeto refocus and say, okay, well, we've changed, we've grown, we'vestarted to open to new markets, we've started to look at different directions, and that's where it's coming back to the brand strategy. I would saynot necessary. Maybe I should explain that. It's coming back to a brand strategyto see where next right. So it's it's keeping that focus on ona point of the future. The minute the point in the future is suddenlybehind you, you should have done your brand strategy again. I felt likethat idea of like keeping it ahead of you so that you can continue tohave it as your North Star. So how do brands not adopt the oneand done or our brand is written in stone approach? Because, you know, as you know well, I'm being immersed in this. It's brand isvery fluid, it's very dynamic, it evolves over time and it can evolvedvery quickly. So you always have to be on top of it to makesure that your brand is relevant, it resonates and it's aligned with the waythat people are thinking and talking and acting. From your perspective, how do brandsmake sure that they're they're always being brand focused, are always making surethat their brand is is fresh and up to day. Yeah, so,I mean from our point of view, it's coming from that central core,right, so it's coming from that central...

...leadership team and moving out from there. So the first thing is commitment. It's really say okay, well,are we committing to where our brand is going to take us? And ifthat's the case, let's keep it relevant, let's keep on top of it,let's build it into our company values, let's build it into our company goalsand start to actually reflect that in all of our departments. So thisis that idea of having your brand, we something that's actually adopted and takento actually run your company. And I think a lot of people see branda lot of the time in terms of marketing only and they don't see itin terms of the full part of your company. So when you know themarketing and the messages around marketing can adapt as long as they're still on brandright, you know you can have campaigns that are about different things as longas they are within the brand DNA itself, right, so they don't go againstthe brand values, they don't go into company mission, they don't goagainst the complete purpose. However, while we don't see a lot of thetime, is maybe people adopting the brand across their companies, and that's somethingthat we try to help people to do, which is to build in those companygoals for each department around the actual brand itself. So see adoption andthe actual usage of the brand in an everyday sense, and that's how youkeep it relevant, one to the employees but also to every new work withbecause again, if your employees understand the brand, they're living it as well. Right. So if you imagine you're an operations person, you understand thebrand, you live around, you talk about the brand, you work withyour teams and you operate within the brand structure. Now whenever you every timeyou work with a client, for example, you're going to bring that same dynamic, you're going to bring that same element with the brand with you,so that experience translates across how we work every day as well. One otherquestion why to ask you in terms of making sure that all employees and alldepartments are aware of the brand and brand strategy, is how do you makethat happen? How do you make them...

...aware of the fact that this issomething important, this is something that needs to be reflected in their work?So, for example, you know, I talk a lot about mail chimpand what they do as far as as brand perspire personas. So what they'lldo in their office is that got these big posters with different types of customersto remind all their employees that these are the people that matter. Yeah,these is the people that you should be focused on when you're doing sales ormarketing your customer success. So how do you apply that same approach to companyto make sure that your brand is not only living and breathing. But allyour employees are always aware of the importance of brand and how it has tobe an integral part of how they work. Yeah, and mail chimp is agreat example. Am I really like Malchian's brand and any time I've evergone to an event where they've had experiential boots and stuff, it's always beenfantastic. But yet, so back to your question. Yeah, so ifI think about it, it's like when we talk about your brand living acrossthe whole company and reminding people of those things. We want that to comefrom the departments themselves. And how do you do that? Right, soyou get commitment from the top down first of all. So there's no pointin having, and I've done this in the past where, you know,I was part of a branding exercise within a department and we didn't have necessarybuying from the top levels of leadership. That's why we always work with leadership, because we want to make sure that whatever we commit to is something wecan deliver on. So that's the first step, right. So we getcommitment from the top first. Then from there you want to build your teamof Brandom Basters, and we do this in in brand us in ourselves.We have like a oneday workshop that we take people through. Now you haveto remember that when your brand changes, and even a slight change in yourbrand can have a huge effect on the employees, right. So it's goingto say, okay, well, I thought we were about this stuff andnow we're kind of slightly changing direction. Or how does that impact my job? So there's a lot of change management that goes into that and you're basicallytrying to understand who's, you know, who's on board. How can weconvert those people into random masters from a...

...point of view, so that theyare engaged in that they can adopt it. So from there, right, soyou're kind of getting this idea of like, okay, you're helping themunderstand that, you're helping them see how it's relevant, you're helping them seewhy, why we're doing the things that we're doing throughout this workshop or howeveryou want to create your random masters, and then from there you want themto build their own goals for their own departments that are relevant to them.For sure, having those, you know, bright buyer personas around the office andall of that stuff. Obviously, covid is changing that now, buthaving things that are relevant, having your values somewhere visible, having your missionsomewhere visible, having your vision. Talking about things a lot, but thenhaving each department actually come up with their own goals and saying, okay,well, how do I want to live this value? But how do wewant to reflect this company piece, this part of our brand, in howwe work and have them see how that can translate. Because again, wecan come in as brandy experts and tell them here are some examples. That'sgreat, but at the same time, when it comes to the day today, they are the experts in what they do. So now we wantthem to come up with ideas and to help nourish those ideas around. Howare they going to make the brand of reality for every stakeholder that they workwith, every partner that they work with, every client that they work with?One of the questions that I've asked people on this podcast over the last, I guess eight months since covid emerged, is how has their business or howhave their clients changed post covid? And I don't know whether that's arelevant question anymore, given the fact this is the new reality, this isthe world in which we operate. But have you seen a discernible difference inwhat your clients or what your new customers are doing now when it comes tobrand, versus what they were doing nine months ago, a year ago?I think what we've noticed is actually like, as I was saying, that there'sbeen more than interest actually to working on their brandom brand strategy, andthe reason for that is, I think,...

...it's that longer term vision, thatlonger term strategy. So I think at the beginning what we saw wasa little bit of a reaction and typically, having gone through the last recession backin two thousand and eight and remembering that and seeing the reaction people had, and then there was like a little bit of a shuffling around and theneveryone kind of came back to okay, let's heads down, let's let's keepon track, right, let's keep following our vision. So seeing that again, I it's like there was a little bit of a reaction, but thenthey came back to say, okay, well, we still have our longgame right, we still are playing the long term strategy. Yes, wecan work on tactics here and there to, you know, to react to what'sgoing on, but the long term strategy needs to remain the same.Now we're taking into context what's happening. But again, for for our clientsin particular, where working be to be tech, they've probably never been busiera lot of them. So it's kind of a strange situation for them.For a lot of the companies who are out there working on, you know, totally remotely, and they're using a lot of these betb tech tools andproducts and services. They're seeing an uptake. Now. The other thing is whatwe've seen as a different prices, that they're coming back to those groundingprinciples that I've said right. So now we're seeing more of a focus onhow do we keep our employees engaged? Right, we're seeing a lot moreof a focus on employer brand as well as, you know, your externalfocus brand and basically what it was. If you think about a lot oftech companies and they invest heavily in their offices and having these wonderful workspaces with, you know, lots of stuff. Suddenly we don't have that anymore.So it's really that time to reflect on well, what is it about ourcompany that makes us different? If we don't have all of those perks,if we don't have all of those things. What actually makes people want to workhere? And you know, I've worked in amazing workspaces that had alot of stuff, but if you don't like the work, you're not goingto stay. So it's coming back to that core. We talked about authenticbranding. It's what is actually different now.

What we say is different. It'smore about what we what is the real differences in terms of our brand. So I think it's actually been, I won't say a good thing,because code has been horrible, but I would say for a lot of peopleit's getting them to reshift and refocus on what's really important, where they reallywant to go and how they really want to become these amazing companies that arechanging the world now. Working with MEDB companies over the last twelve years,many of them are very product eccentric, that it's all about the tag,it's all about, you know, a team of developers creating more and morefeatures to make the software increasingly sticky and attractive and surveying the needs of differenttypes of users. What about some of the mistakes they make when it comesto brand? Because I don't think a lot of them, or don't thinkenough of them are focused on brand and brand positioning and brand storytelling for thatmatter. So from your experience, what are some of the mistakes that BTBcompanies are making when it comes to brand? What are the tools that they needto use or the approaches they need to use to realize that they aregoing in the wrong direction or they're not going in the right direction at all? One part was like that, thinking it's one undone right. So thatpart of say okay, well, we worked on our brand strategy were we'redelivering on that, is like yeah, but maybe things have changed. Right. So your products has evolved. You're you know, like, as yousaid, you've added all these new features. How has that Changed Your Your CompanyDirection? Right, so maybe it was like a focus before. Let'ssay we're talking about a project management software. Maybe there was a huge focus beforeon like, you know, the time management, time tracking and allof that. And now you are moving into the financials. Well, nowyou're giving different benefits to your fins. Now you're your positioned in a differentway to them. They're already experiencing a different brand from the brand you're communicating. So now we wanted to get your brand ahead of you again. Right. So now we want to start to say your brand has changed, yourbond has evolved, and let's go back...

...to thinking about where's it going,right. So now, just rather than in this world of like, okay, we want to pivot, we're going to add new features, we're goingto move quickly. That's all great, but from a client perspective, Iwant to understand what you're becoming. Right. So I want to understand where you'regoing to because I want to I'm investing in you. Right, it'snot just when we when we bite off for we're not just investing in itfor now, right. We're typically putting all our data into us. We'reusing it every day. We're getting more and more invested. So you wantto see that the company direction makes sense for what you're going to need foryour company direction. So I think a lot of the time we don't seepeople sharing that. We don't see them sharing here's where we're going. Wesee a lot of you know, here's what we're doing. Well, wedon't see out of here's how we're going to be calm, and I thinkthat's something that's often missing, is that sharing of our own stories, ourown client experience, our own our own journey as a company and to whatit's going to become. Let me ask you a difficult question, only becauseI think it's going to be a long answer, but what is what isbrand loosen's branding methodology? When you have a client that comes to you andthey're struggling with their brand or they need to brand refresh or they want tocreate a new brand, what are this different steps that you take them throughso that they go from not having a brand or wrong brand to having somethingthat's compelling, that resonates, that actually makes a difference in terms of theirposition in the landscape. So we all start with their brand strategy, right. So that's really one of our major programs that we offer, and wedo this in a very program centric way. We've created programs out of all ofour services, and that's because we want to give people a finite amountof time. We're saying, okay, this is going to take this amountof time, it's going to cost this amount of money and you know exactlywhat you're getting come from, which I think is something that a lot ofcompanies don't do, because they're saying what it depends. When I'm saying,well, I'm going to tell you that this definitely does cost this much andit definitely will take this amout a time.

That's one thing that we want tocommit to very early on because it give people the right expectations up frontand I think when you're a service based business, a lot of the timeit can feel very much like will it go deep enough and so on.We've built this program so that it actually has gotten better and better every timewe've done it, and that's because we're learning from our clients as well aswe go so we're iterating, we're building new areas of the business because ofpoperer learning along the way. So that's our brand strategy program typically, then, it's a very exploratory process. We work, as I said, withthe leadership teams. We work with them and we collaborate, we take itaway, we work on the creative side of things and we come back withour major brand strategies and road map and from there we can say, okay, well, here's our recommendations, here's what you're going to to be doing. Now from there you can take it any which way depending on what therecommendations are, but we typically work in areas like brand, identically brand naming, and brand naming could be like many subbrands if you different products. Ifthere's area that we need to go into more detail, like, let's say, if you do have multiple sub brands, are you do have several different products, you might have the brands rategy for each of them, employer brand, which I've talked about it quite a bit already, and obviously brand successto help them along the way. The idea here is that we really arelearning from them, spending a lot of time with them at the beginning,especially, to understand more about their products, their teams, how they work,what makes them different, how their processes work, how their approach works. Again, when we think about as you were saying earlier, you knowyou're looking at a lot of products based companies who are investing heavily in theirproducts. There's still some magic around the how right the the approach and howthey work and how they typically operate and how their support works and how theywork in their team. So we want to harness that. We want toreally find out what's what's the special source, i. what's the what's the authenticpiece they're that really set them apart and make them so much different fromtheir competitors. It's been really helpful to...

...talk about brand because a lot ofthe times we're focused on tactics and how we can get stuff done and howwe can make things happen and and the metrics and the Kpis around metrics.So brand and branding is extremely important if you're a BEDB company and you arelooking to take advantage or move forward within this competitive landscape. I think afocus on brand as a must do. Karen, where can people find outmore about you and, as important, how can they learn more about brandloosen? We're pretty active on Linkedin, so definitely connect with us on there. Our instagram game is getting better. We definitely are investing more in that. It's more time in it right now, but obviously you can check it outin our website from this since Dot Sea, I'd love to connect withanyone on Linkedin. Linkedin is kind of for replay. That's our field,Karen. Well, thanks, thanks a lot for being on a guest onmarketing spark and thanks everybody for listening to another episode of marketing spark. Ifyou enjoyed the conversation, leas review and subscribe by Itunes. Or your favoritepodcast APP. For show notes of today's conversation and information about Karen. VISITMARKETING SPARK DOT COL blog. If you have questions, feedback, would liketo suggest a guest or want to learn more about how I help be tobcompanies as a fractional CMO consulting advisor, visit marketing spark dot co contact.I'll talk to you next time.

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