Monday, January 09, 2006

Brand Stuck

Your company’s clipping right along. You’re pedal-to-the-metal, lights flashing, siren blaring. If you were a K-9 unit, your dog’s head would be out the window, ears flying in the wind.

Suddenly, you’re not moving at all. Morale collapses. Sales stop. What happened? And you think (cupping a hand over your mouth and exhaling), “Could it be…my brand?” Not likely, according to Bob Lamons. He thinks B2B marketers have a hard time with branding, ‘cause a lot of business marketers started on the tech side of their businesses, like engineering or science. In his view, they tend to fixate on “features and benefits.”

I’ll support Bob this much. In the classic Features-Advantages-Benefits (FAB) triad, a large cohort of clients rush to F and A, but forget about the B. Customers do want to hear about the B – what’s in it for them? Lamons does equate brand with emotion: B2B buying decisions are made as much today by gut feel as the result of some detailed evaluation.

Susan Kirkland, veteran ad designer, responded, “Brilliant – what says we can’t manipulate that ‘gut feel’ much the same as we manipulate a hernia? Isn't that what ‘grab 'em by the balls’ means? Pardon my French.”

In a Wall Street Journal piece last month, Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief knowledge and research officer (CKRO – whew!) for Burson-Marsteller reported that in an ongoing survey of 685 global business leaders in 65 countries, 81% reported that there are more “company reputation” threats today than two years ago. She listed seven warning signs of a company reputation in trouble. Of these, Number 6 was the most telling to me: “Employees stop telling positive stories about the company.”

(You may be particularly vulnerable to the brand attack blog. One example: “Verizon Sucks” entered into Yahoo nets 473,000 sites dedicated to exposing brand deficiencies.)

It takes an internal audience to repair this kind of damage. Your stakeholders ought to believe and should have real reasons to do so. Fast damage control: re-energize your internal audiences and unleash the troops.

Quick, Robin, back to the metaphor! You’re hubcap deep or out of gas. You have to get out and push. And if you live in a nice town, you suddenly find that a couple or three or half-a-dozen other people have gotten out of their vehicles and are helping you muscle your car out of the muck.

In B2B buying decisions, the company behind the product or service is a genuinely critical decision factor. Re-build an emotional attachment with customers and prospects, by all means.

But start with your managers, your employees and their families, your retirees, your stockholders. When they believe, when they are missionaries (or in today’s term, “marketing buzz agents”), you not only get help that advertising and PR can’t buy. You re-empower your company with a potentially inexhaustible supply of emotional energy that’s worth millions.

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