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Industry Contributor 5 Apr 2022 - 4 min read

The great rebrand: Latest data shows B2B drive for CX over product marketing; major brand investments in 2022, rebranding or reinventing to ward off start-ups

By Joel Thomson - Head of Strategy, Green Hat

After betting most of the farm on lead-gen, B2B marketers are emerging as the new brand converts. Latest data shows more marketers are planning to rebrand, focus on CX rather than product-led marketing and make it easier for people to buy their wares to ward of new competition, says Green Hat’s Joel Thompson. He lists a further five reasons 2022 may herald the start of something big – and prove Ehrenberg-Bass right.

Last week, I was in a pitch, competing for a valuable rebrand; the real deal, strategy to identity and launch, thought to finish. It made me think; this is the third since January, is 2022 the year B2B brands change up and focus on more than short-term lead-gen campaigns?

Green Hat’s annual research (the B2B Outlook Marketing Research Report) tells us that growing and measuring B2B brand awareness has been the #1 challenge B2B marketers have faced for the last three years. Every year, that challenge remains unaddressed, but in 2021, we saw a significant shift in intent from marketers across almost every sector; businesses are considering switching up with a 2022 rebrand.

Back to that pitch, the client (we'll call him Kevin) made an interesting comment. Kevin said: "We're entering a new post-pandemic world. It allows an older established brand like ours to change too, and radically. We believe our customers will give us that permission". So maybe that's the answer, now is the time, everything has changed, we can too.

Smart businesses and marketers (like Kevin) always question if their brand fits with their customers’ needs and, if not, what do they need to change. A brand's positioning, messaging, and visual identity run through all business go-to-market activities and usually last for many years.  One of the most influential and enduring business decisions a marketing leader can make is to change the brand.

But what's driving the focus on rebranding now?

We continually engage with clients on rebrands, helping them work through the business justification and process steps using our strategic frameworks as a guide. And based on our experience over 2021 and 2022, the rate of rebranding is rising. There are many reasons; here are a few.

1. We need to invest in brand-building to generate long and short-term demand. Our business is too invested in 'lead gen' and 'demand gen', which only reaches a tiny part of the potential market, those looking to buy now.

B2B marketers focused on short-term demand are missing opportunities by focusing on sales that will never happen instead of targeting long-term goals. New research from Ehrenberg-Bass supports this concern; they propose that up to 95 per cent of businesses are not in the market for most goods and services at any one time.

2. We need to switch our brand positioning and our marketing to solutions and services. Our business and brand has always been product-led.

Repositioning for solutions marketing demands a significant change in approach to messaging. In a solutions marketing model, the buyer's mission and vision for success are front and centre, while products and features are the support. It’s the opposite for product marketing, where pricing, and promotion are front and centre, while benefits play the support act. In a solution brand positioning, ‘customer-centricity’ is king.

3. We can't get away with being 'daggy' because we're B2B. The customer expects the same professionalism, design and experience they get from B2C brands.

This is a customer experience issue. B2B buyers are accustomed to, and want, the streamlined, personalised, omnichannel experiences they get with B2C brands. But it's also a design issue. B2B brands almost always default to a conservative visual identity playbook. The outcome is uncreative and unengaging. In a B2B marketplace awash with ‘beige brands’, there is a real opportunity to differentiate with design and creative thinking.

4. Our positioning is too complex. We need to make our brand easier to buy (or for salespeople to sell).

Positioning developed internally across multiple stakeholders will often result in complexity or a lack of focus. The buyer and the sellers' understanding of the brand, positioning, and value should be simple to convey and clearly differentiated. A strong frame of reference (usually a competitor) helps a business understand, recognise, and embrace its meaningful (and relevant) difference.

5. New start-ups are disrupting us; we need to re-establish our brand. We might need to reinvent it altogether.

Market disrupters, usually disruptive technologies, often turn established incumbents into challenger brands overnight. Both the brand and the business need to transform. Disruption is a significant shake-up, but it's also a chance for established brands (if they move fast enough) to connect with their customers in a whole new way. In B2B, disruption is often the way that many business marketers can realise the opportunity for brand re-invention.

6. Our brand needs to increase talent recruitment and retention. We need an authentic and attractive purpose for employees.

How a brand engages its current and prospective employees may never have been such a hot topic. The 'Employee Value Proposition' or EVP is a critical part of any modern rebranding in response to the 'The Great Resignation'. In B2B, the EVP can drive a greater focus on defining the brand's purpose, moving it beyond purely transactional reasons to exist. That purpose can differentiate the brand for customers too.

7.We have acquired (or been acquired), and our old brand identity fails to capture the value of the newly combined companies.

Complex as they are, mergers and acquisitions can be a powerful thing for brand identity. Mergers provide an opportunity for a refresh. An acquisition gives access to a whole range of new customers. Re-branding can help employees, and customers better connect to the new brand. The right merger can even offer the opportunity to change an image.

8. Covid has transformed our business; we need our brand to reflect our new solution.

Covid-19 is the second disrupter in our story. The pandemic has changed customer behaviour forcing brands and marketers to rethink their playbook for the next normal. For many B2B brands, the effect has been a wholesale transformation. For most brands, the effect has been to put renewed pressure on marketing to 'clearly' communicate brand and business value, as the sales team has less contact with the buyer, and digital transformation accelerates. Again, disruption in B2B comes with the opportunity for businesses to re-invent their brands.

This last point brings us back to the beginning of our story. The pandemic has driven wholesale change for many business models, making executives look at their brand's relevance or value to their business. Customers emerging from the pandemic are expecting and accepting change.

Smart B2B marketers know that their brand and positioning will help them rise above the noise and reach buyers who may not be in-market now but will be thinking of their brand when they are.

Here's some parting advice to any marketers considering a rebrand. Research first, get the data to support your decision-making. Be agile, iterate and be open to new ideas. Get broad engagement from across the business and customers and gather insights to help or direct you; the outcome will be better and more authentic. And finally, be brave; define what's sacred, then embrace challenging directions because that's where differentiation is and your brand's ability to capture attention in the new cultural landscape.

Let’s hope we win that pitch.

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Joel Thomson

Head of Strategy, Green Hat

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