One mistake guaranteed to kill your brand awareness campaigns

Will Brookes03/12/2018

Shoehorning in unnatural calls to action will just make it look like your content campaigns aren’t working. Marketers must commit fully to their brand awareness initiatives if they want to deliver results.

Picture the scene:

You’re the managing director of a leading content agency meeting with one of your biggest clients. And you’re absolutely fuming.

Someone’s just said something stupid. You know in your gut it’s a bad idea. You’ve seen this kind of thing ruin countless content campaigns in the past. But now the client seems set on it.

We’ve all been there, of course. You put in weeks of graft developing a new top‐of‐funnel content initiative. You create something bold, creative and new. Then at the last minute, you panic because there’s no easy way to track its performance – and as you’re about to see, that panic leads to a bad decision you don’t need to make.

Take a deep breath. You have a choice to make – and you’re going to need a level head to get the conversation where it needs to go.

Do you hold your tongue, smile and agree to do something you know will make your client look bad? Or do you stand your ground and try to show everyone in the room why this idea will fail?

This kind of decision is always tough. You want to have your client’s best interests at heart. But at the same time, you certainly don’t want to upset them or lose their business.

“Why do so many brands have these last‐minute wobbles?” you ask yourself. “What the hell causes them?”

Of course, you know the answer. That one’s easy. Salespeople tend to feel as though they’re the ones keeping customer relationships going. They don’t acknowledge that it’s marketing that gets them in the room in the first place.

As a result, marketers are under constant pressure to prove the value of their work, and for that you need metrics. Short‐term ones. Senior marketers feel like they must find something – anything – they can measure to show that their campaigns are working.

In this case, four of the company’s senior marketers have decided they want to cover everything in QR codes people can scan with their mobile phones after they’ve read the content.

In truth, you think they’ll look ugly. But, that’s not the main reason you think it’s a bad idea.

No, the real problem is that brand awareness campaigns work over the long‐term. They’re absolutely essential for driving long‐term sales growth, but they take time to deliver results. So, it doesn’t make sense to start looking for their impact right away.

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Until just now, you thought you and this client were on the same page about this. You’re sure these marketers know in their hearts that brand building works on a different timescale to sales activations.

In fact, you’re certain this is just last‐minute jitters. There are far better ways to prove the impact of brand awareness campaigns, and with a little tact you’re sure you can convince them there is a better way.

So, you look the CMO straight in her eyes and you ask her: “Have you ever actually scanned a QR code?”

Silence. You glance from one face to the next and your spirits start to rise. They don’t need to say anything. The four blank expressions staring back at you have confirmed your suspicions already.

None of them have.

How last‐minute nerves kill content campaigns

Perhaps it’s only natural for marketers to wonder if they might be able to capture the data of even a portion of the people who engage with their brand awareness campaigns.

Just 5 per cent of B2B marketers are very confident they have accurate figures for measuring ROI. But despite that, 59 per cent say they’re under more pressure than ever to generate viable sales leads.

In this case, the client thinks QR codes will give them an idea of how many people have seen their content. But of course, the proportion of people who will respond to these codes in the way you want is tiny. Like coupons or discount codes, this kind of technique is best‐suited to short‐term campaigns with a direct response component.

That’s not to say it’s impossible to deliver a successful brand awareness campaign featuring a call to action. But, you need a really compelling offer to get people to respond to one. Unless this offer fits naturally with the idea of your campaign, people will just ignore it.

The point is, shoehorning a CTA into your campaigns because you think you should at least be measuring something is a bad idea. All the exercise will do is risk making you look bad – and that is a big problem.

As Thomas Barta and Patrick Barwise say in The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, B2B marketers must constantly be showing that their work delivers financial returns.

Using the wrong metrics to measure your campaigns is a good way to lose the buy‐in you need to deliver them in the first place.

“Delivering and proving marketing returns is essential if you want to mobilise senior leaders to fund important activities,” they say. “This includes measuring the revenue effects that are easy to quantify and explaining those that are harder.”

That’s the solution to this challenge in a nutshell. Measuring the business impact of brand building is tough. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution that will serve everyone. But seizing on poorly‐suited metrics just because you can measure them is not the answer.

Instead, it’s up to marketers to show the rest of the business why brand building is essential for many B2B businesses.

Historically, this has been tricky. Research into how branding affects revenue usually focuses on B2C buyers, who are typically thought to be more impulsive and less rational than their B2B counterparts.

But in recent years, pioneering research has shed new light on exactly how brand awareness enhances B2B business performance.

Why B2B marketers need brand awareness

Given the economic importance of the B2B sector, it’s strange that 83 of the world’s 100 most valuable brands are B2C.

The obvious conclusion is that B2B marketers tend to neglect brand awareness in favour of other activities. Yet, the case for investing in brand awareness is very intuitive.

B2B buyers want to make decisions that improve the performance of their businesses without exposing them to unnecessary risk. At the same time, they want to avoid investments that make them look foolish.

Against this backdrop, the role of ‘brand’ in B2B is to reduce the perception of risk in the mind of the buyer.

For example, B2B buyers use brand familiarity to inform their purchase decisions when faced with several similar products. As the saying goes, no one ever got fired for hiring IBM.

The role of B2B branding is also pronounced in markets that are changing rapidly. When the pace of innovation forces buyers to make decisions more quickly, buyers may opt for recognised brands because of their perceived quality.

The fact is, investing in brand building campaigns sends out a strong message about your company’s commitment to quality. Just like in B2C, there is a perception that you wouldn’t invest in them if you didn’t believe your offering was good enough to justify that investment.

As such, greater brand awareness can make your brand appear more established and higher quality than those of your competitors.

Marketing academics Christian Homburg, Martin Klarmann and Jens Schmitt were the first to prove this link between B2B branding and sales.

Their analysis of more than 300 B2B firms across a range of industries clearly shows that brand awareness correlates with increased sales in B2B. These factors have the greatest effect in markets where buyers struggle to choose the right solution for them.

“Many practitioners in B2B markets are still sceptical as to whether the high investments usually associated with building and establishing high brand awareness really pay off,” they say.

“Our study addresses this issue,” they add. “Even in B2B markets, brand awareness may provide an opportunity to differentiate products or services and gain an advantage over competitors.”

Of course, it’s up to individual marketers to understand the dynamics of their own market and judge whether brand building is right for them. But, taken together these factors spell out a strong case for investing in greater brand awareness.

In fact, marketers are already starting to recognise the importance of these longer‐term campaigns – with 46 per cent now citing ‘growing brand awareness’ as one of their top challenges.

Effectively measuring the performance of these activities is still beyond the means of many brands. But, that shouldn’t force marketers to neglect such a key aspect of modern business.

The story we’ve looked at in this post is real. It depicts an actual conversation I once had with a client just days before the launch of a brand awareness campaign. Thankfully, they saw the error of their ways and the campaign was a success.

Armed with these insights, you should be in a far better position to have similar conversations within your own organisation – and show company stakeholders why brand building is vital for many B2B businesses.

More importantly, it should also help you avoid the kind of last‐minute panic that can kill your brand awareness campaigns.

Once you commit to a brand building initiative, you have got stay disciplined. Don’t panic at the last minute and try to shoehorn a messy call to action where it doesn’t belong.

Stick to your plan and see it through to the end.

Key takeaways

  • Brand awareness campaigns do matter in B2B. They’re essential for driving long‐term business growth.
  • Don’t expect to see results right away. Measuring the short‐term impact of brand building will just make you look bad.
  • You have got to stay disciplined. Don’t panic at the last minute and try to shoehorn a messy CTA where it doesn’t belong.