B2B Brand Messages.

I have a number of rules I like to remind myself of. I say, ‘remind’, instead of, ‘follow’, because I still fail to follow brand messages with alarming regularity.

“Assume Nothing.” As a B2B brand advisor, that’s one of the biggies. You just don’t mess with, “Assume Nothing.” It’s worth a reminder because in a recent search for the ‘fix’ to a client’s brand  messages, I found myself making assumptions that I shouldn’t.

Having spent an entire day in a brand positioning workshop, I was still scratching my head. It takes a great deal of effort and commitment to organize a Brand Positioning Workshop. The attendees are senior client executives who have received a three-line whip from ‘Sir’ as part of a new marketing strategy. We meet, we tease, we cajole, we systematically release and reveal insights and information associated to brand communication. By the end of the day we’re usually feeling quite smug in all marketing matters. We know roughly where the problem lies and can retreat to the safety of a bottle of Jack D to figure the rest out. But this one was different. We had some ideas. We had some recurring themes. But we didn’t have the answer.

I thought I was losing my touch. Then I thought, “Ridiculous. Do you know who? You? Are?” In the sanctuary of a local bar one of the workshop attendees asked me how I thought it went – how they compared to other B2B marketing workshops. “You were very quiet in the spaces where there’s usually noise,” I said. “Before we started; at the lunch break; during some of the exercises… there’s usually a lot of talking, but you were all pretty quiet.” The executive considered for a moment before replying, “Probably because it’s the first time we’ve been together as a group.” I apologised, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean any of you to feel uncomfortable. I should have spent longer at the introductions helping you all to relax.” “No, no,” he replied, “I didn’t mean you. It’s the first time our team has met together.”

“But… we’ve been talking about brand messages all day – you’re based around the world, but you also clearly know each other.” “Oh sure,” he said, “I speak to them, they speak to each other, they speak to me – individually. We’ve never actually met together though. Today’s the first time we’ve all been in a room at the same time.”

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a distributed team. Conference calling and video calls are two of the most formative advances in B2B communication in recent years. But in the context of brand communication, particularly the challenge of fixing bent, broken or twisted brand stories, the human backbone has a lot more potency than a fiber optic one. The ability to gather, discuss, consider and evolve the brand seemingly can’t be achieved as well individually or in isolation. It requires creativity that only really materializes when all parties are in the room, not on the line.

The danger is that the inability of distributed teams to tell a consistent story leaves a vacuum for the audience. And if you leave a space in the minds of an audience, it will inevitably be filled with something. But not necessarily the idea or brand message that you would like. For the brand to be most effective, the story needs to strengthen at every customer touch point. Consistency, repetition, familiarity, expectation… these are the traits that customers want from their brand engagements.

In the context of the workshop, the attending team had been focusing the brand story in their own country markets, but leaving gaps between the countries. It was a bit like ripping out the last two or three pages of every chapter in a book. You could probably work out the story, but it won’t really be satisfactory. The behaviour in the internal workshop was being replicated in external communications across the marketing mix. I assumed something was ‘wrong’ with the quiet moments of unfamiliar downtime so I filled the vacuum with my own ideas. The customer would do the same thing unless we achieved a more connected brand.

That wasn’t the complete ‘answer’ of course, (assume nothing, remember…), but it was enough to start looking smug again.


Scot McKee