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


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. The podcast at delivers inside tools and tips from marketers and entrepreneurs in the trenches in twenty minutes or less. In a marketing world increasingly dominated by data, branding still matters. Karen O Manny, the CEO and founder of brand loose in Montreal, heads up a strategic branding agency that works with BEDB tech companies to harness power of their authentic brand. Welcome to marketing spark. Hi Mark, thanks for having me. As I set off the top. In a BDB world 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 so much social media out there, and what I actually find that a lot of 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, what we see a lot of in a lot of companies, is that they're really certain to focus in, back to the core, back to what really makes them different. When you think about brand, it's a companies DNA. It's impacting like sales and marketing, but also obviously has its place and leadership and decisionmaking a direction. So for a lot of people it's coming back to what do I want my company to be? Where is my company direction taking me and how does that affect all of our teams? So everything from product teams to development to HR operations, the whole company. And so from that point of view, we find that a lot of BEACHP companies are coming back to their 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 this company and adapt to whatever landscape comes up. But now we want to see where we 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 brands coming back to the brand. I mean it strikes me, as as a brand person myself, is that Brandon is...

...always important. Brand should always be part of what you do and how you position yourself. Why are they coming back? What does that means? That mean they they didn't pay attention to brand, they were focused on other things. Maybe provide a little bit of context. Yeah, for sure. So I think what it is a lot of 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 a brand strategy, for example, they're say, Oh, you know, we've done it like a while back, and they're like that's been fine, R it's kept us going so far. It's kept us going for the last few years, and they take that and you can bring out a lot of these brand strategies and messages through marketing, through content, through all of the ways that you're engaging. But the thing is, what they're they have been noticing over time is as the company grows, as it changes, if now time to refocus and say, okay, well, we've changed, we've grown, we've started 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 say not necessary. Maybe I should explain that. It's coming back to a brand strategy to see where next right. So it's it's keeping that focus on on a point of the future. The minute the point in the future is suddenly behind you, you should have done your brand strategy again. I felt like that idea of like keeping it ahead of you so that you can continue to have it as your North Star. So how do brands not adopt the one and 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 is very fluid, it's very dynamic, it evolves over time and it can evolved very quickly. So you always have to be on top of it to make sure that your brand is relevant, it resonates and it's aligned with the way that people are thinking and talking and acting. From your perspective, how do brands make sure that they're they're always being brand focused, are always making sure that 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 if that'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 goals and start to actually reflect that in all of our departments. So this is that idea of having your brand, we something that's actually adopted and taken to actually run your company. And I think a lot of people see brand a lot of the time in terms of marketing only and they don't see it in terms of the full part of your company. So when you know the marketing and the messages around marketing can adapt as long as they're still on brand right, you know you can have campaigns that are about different things as long as they are within the brand DNA itself, right, so they don't go against the brand values, they don't go into company mission, they don't go against the complete purpose. However, while we don't see a lot of the time, is maybe people adopting the brand across their companies, and that's something that we try to help people to do, which is to build in those company goals for each department around the actual brand itself. So see adoption and the actual usage of the brand in an everyday sense, and that's how you keep it relevant, one to the employees but also to every new work with because 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 the brand, you live around, you talk about the brand, you work with your teams and you operate within the brand structure. Now whenever you every time you 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 other question why to ask you in terms of making sure that all employees and all departments are aware of the brand and brand strategy, is how do you make that happen? How do you make them...

...aware of the fact that this is something important, this is something that needs to be reflected in their work? So, for example, you know, I talk a lot about mail chimp and what they do as far as as brand perspire personas. So what they'll do in their office is that got these big posters with different types of customers to 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 or marketing your customer success. So how do you apply that same approach to company to make sure that your brand is not only living and breathing. But all your employees are always aware of the importance of brand and how it has to be an integral part of how they work. Yeah, and mail chimp is a great example. Am I really like Malchian's brand and any time I've ever gone to an event where they've had experiential boots and stuff, it's always been fantastic. But yet, so back to your question. Yeah, so if I think about it, it's like when we talk about your brand living across the whole company and reminding people of those things. We want that to come from the departments themselves. And how do you do that? Right, so you get commitment from the top down first of all. So there's no point in 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 necessary buying 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 we can deliver on. So that's the first step, right. So we get commitment from the top first. Then from there you want to build your team of 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 have to remember that when your brand changes, and even a slight change in your brand can have a huge effect on the employees, right. So it's going to say, okay, well, I thought we were about this stuff and now 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 basically trying to understand who's, you know, who's on board. How can we convert those people into random masters from a...

...point of view, so that they are engaged in that they can adopt it. So from there, right, so you're kind of getting this idea of like, okay, you're helping them understand that, you're helping them see how it's relevant, you're helping them see why, why we're doing the things that we're doing throughout this workshop or however you want to create your random masters, and then from there you want them to 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 and all of that stuff. Obviously, covid is changing that now, but having things that are relevant, having your values somewhere visible, having your mission somewhere visible, having your vision. Talking about things a lot, but then having each department actually come up with their own goals and saying, okay, well, how do I want to live this value? But how do we want to reflect this company piece, this part of our brand, in how we work and have them see how that can translate. Because again, we can come in as brandy experts and tell them here are some examples. That's great, but at the same time, when it comes to the day to day, they are the experts in what they do. So now we want them to come up with ideas and to help nourish those ideas around. How are they going to make the brand of reality for every stakeholder that they work with, 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 how have their clients changed post covid? And I don't know whether that's a relevant question anymore, given the fact this is the new reality, this is the world in which we operate. But have you seen a discernible difference in what your clients or what your new customers are doing now when it comes to brand, 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's been more than interest actually to working on their brandom brand strategy, and the reason for that is, I think,...'s that longer term vision, that longer term strategy. So I think at the beginning what we saw was a little bit of a reaction and typically, having gone through the last recession back in 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 then everyone kind of came back to okay, let's heads down, let's let's keep on 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 then they came back to say, okay, well, we still have our long game right, we still are playing the long term strategy. Yes, we can work on tactics here and there to, you know, to react to what's going 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 clients in particular, where working be to be tech, they've probably never been busier a 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 and products and services. They're seeing an uptake. Now. The other thing is what we've seen as a different prices, that they're coming back to those grounding principles that I've said right. So now we're seeing more of a focus on how do we keep our employees engaged? Right, we're seeing a lot more of a focus on employer brand as well as, you know, your external focus brand and basically what it was. If you think about a lot of tech 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 our company 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 work here? And you know, I've worked in amazing workspaces that had a lot of stuff, but if you don't like the work, you're not going to stay. So it's coming back to that core. We talked about authentic branding. It's what is actually different now.

What we say is different. It's more 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 people it's getting them to reshift and refocus on what's really important, where they really want to go and how they really want to become these amazing companies that are changing 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 more features to make the software increasingly sticky and attractive and surveying the needs of different types of users. What about some of the mistakes they make when it comes to brand? Because I don't think a lot of them, or don't think enough of them are focused on brand and brand positioning and brand storytelling for that matter. So from your experience, what are some of the mistakes that BTB companies are making when it comes to brand? What are the tools that they need to use or the approaches they need to use to realize that they are going 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 that part of say okay, well, we worked on our brand strategy were we're delivering on that, is like yeah, but maybe things have changed. Right. So your products has evolved. You're you know, like, as you said, you've added all these new features. How has that Changed Your Your Company Direction? Right, so maybe it was like a focus before. Let's say we're talking about a project management software. Maybe there was a huge focus before on like, you know, the time management, time tracking and all of that. And now you are moving into the financials. Well, now you're giving different benefits to your fins. Now you're your positioned in a different way 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, your bond has evolved, and let's go back... 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 going to move quickly. That's all great, but from a client perspective, I want to understand what you're becoming. Right. So I want to understand where you're going to because I want to I'm investing in you. Right, it's not just when we when we bite off for we're not just investing in it for now, right. We're typically putting all our data into us. We're using it every day. We're getting more and more invested. So you want to see that the company direction makes sense for what you're going to need for your company direction. So I think a lot of the time we don't see people sharing that. We don't see them sharing here's where we're going. We see a lot of you know, here's what we're doing. Well, we don't see out of here's how we're going to be calm, and I think that's something that's often missing, is that sharing of our own stories, our own client experience, our own our own journey as a company and to what it's going to become. Let me ask you a difficult question, only because I think it's going to be a long answer, but what is what is brand loosen's branding methodology? When you have a client that comes to you and they're struggling with their brand or they need to brand refresh or they want to create a new brand, what are this different steps that you take them through so that they go from not having a brand or wrong brand to having something that's compelling, that resonates, that actually makes a difference in terms of their position 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 we do this in a very program centric way. We've created programs out of all of our services, and that's because we want to give people a finite amount of time. We're saying, okay, this is going to take this amount of time, it's going to cost this amount of money and you know exactly what you're getting come from, which I think is something that a lot of companies 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 and it definitely will take this amout a time.

That's one thing that we want to commit to very early on because it give people the right expectations up front and I think when you're a service based business, a lot of the time it 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 time we've done it, and that's because we're learning from our clients as well as we go so we're iterating, we're building new areas of the business because of poperer learning along the way. So that's our brand strategy program typically, then, it's a very exploratory process. We work, as I said, with the leadership teams. We work with them and we collaborate, we take it away, we work on the creative side of things and we come back with our 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 the recommendations are, but we typically work in areas like brand, identically brand naming, and brand naming could be like many subbrands if you different products. If there'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 success to help them along the way. The idea here is that we really are learning 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 know you're looking at a lot of products based companies who are investing heavily in their products. There's still some magic around the how right the the approach and how they work and how they typically operate and how their support works and how they work in their team. So we want to harness that. We want to really find out what's what's the special source, i. what's the what's the authentic piece they're that really set them apart and make them so much different from their competitors. It's been really helpful to... about brand because a lot of the times we're focused on tactics and how we can get stuff done and how we 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 are looking to take advantage or move forward within this competitive landscape. I think a focus on brand as a must do. Karen, where can people find out more about you and, as important, how can they learn more about brand loosen? 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 out in our website from this since Dot Sea, I'd love to connect with anyone on Linkedin. Linkedin is kind of for replay. That's our field, Karen. Well, thanks, thanks a lot for being on a guest on marketing spark and thanks everybody for listening to another episode of marketing spark. If you enjoyed the conversation, leas review and subscribe by Itunes. Or your favorite podcast APP. For show notes of today's conversation and information about Karen. VISIT MARKETING SPARK DOT COL blog. If you have questions, feedback, would like to suggest a guest or want to learn more about how I help be tob companies as a fractional CMO consulting advisor, visit marketing spark dot co contact. I'll talk to you next time.

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