Sunday, June 26, 2022

How Marketers Can Leverage Job-Focused Content . . . and Why They Should

The first step in designing an effective marketing strategy and creating compelling content is to understand what potential buyers are trying to accomplish when they purchase particular products or services. In most cases, people don't buy a product or service primarily because they want the product or service itself. Most often, what they really want is what the product or service will help them accomplish.

Theodore Levitt, the legendary professor of marketing at the Harvard Business School, expressed this truth when he often reminded his students that, "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole."

In The Innovator's Solution, Clayton Christensen and co-author Michael Raynor built on Professor Levitt's insight and described what is called the jobs-to-be-done framework. Christensen acknowledged that he did not originate the jobs-to-be-done framework, but his adoption of the model has helped make it part of mainstream business and marketing thinking.

The basic idea of this framework is that when people become aware of a "job" they need to get done, they look for a product or service they can "hire" to perform the job.

Christensen argued that this is how potential customers "experience life." Their thought process begins with an awareness that they need to get something done, and then they seek to hire something or someone to do the job for them.

The attributes of the jobs people are needing to get done constitute the circumstances in which they buy. Therefore, the jobs-to-be-done framework can enable company leaders to reliably predict what features or functionality will cause people to buy a product or service.

The jobs-to-be-done framework is most often used to guide the product/service development process, but it also has two important "use cases" in marketing.

How Marketers Typically Use the JTBD Framework

Marketers typically use the jobs-to-be-done framework to guide the development of their marketing content. They identify the jobs that potential buyers are needing to get done when they purchase products or services like those the company offers, and they focus most of their marketing content on describing how their company's products or services can help buyers get those jobs done.

Using the jobs-to-be-done framework in this way can enable marketers to create content that is more likely to resonate with potential buyers because the content is more relevant and provides meaningful value.

A Second (and Equally Important) Use for the JTBD Framework

The second way to employ the jobs-to-be-done framework in marketing is to focus on the buying process itself and use the framework to identify the jobs potential buyers need to get done in order to make sound purchase decisions. When marketers use the framework for this purpose, they think of their content assets - videos, blog articles, ebooks, white papers, etc. - as distinct "products," and they ask what specific buying-related job or jobs each asset helps a potential buyer get done.

When a business person becomes aware of an issue or problem in his or her company, he or she will look for a source of information - most likely a content resource - that can provide useful insights about the issue or problem. In essence, the business person will try to "hire" a content resource to provide information about the issue or problem.

If the issue or problem is sufficiently important, the business person will begin a process to identify possible solutions. This learning process will become a buying process if it appears that making a purchase may be the best way to address the issue or problem.

The "customer journey" of a potential buyer is essentially a process of answering a rather large set of questions, and obtaining the information that's needed to answer those questions constitutes the jobs that the potential buyer needs to get done to make a sound purchase decision. Throughout the buying process, a potential customer will hire numerous content resources to perform these jobs.

The questions a potential buyer needs to answer will change as he or she moves through the buying process, and therefore the jobs that need to get done will be different in the early stages of the process than in the later stages.

In the real world, no single content resource will be able to perform all the jobs a potential buyer needs to get done over an entire buying process. So, what marketers must do is develop a portfolio of content resources that collectively will cover the whole process.

It's also essential for marketers to identify the specific jobs that each of their content resources will effectively perform - i.e. what specific questions the content resource will answer. A content resource will only resonate with a potential buyer if it helps the buyer perform the specific job or jobs that are immediately important to the buyer given where he or she is in the buying process.

By linking each content asset to specific jobs, marketers can make better decisions about what assets to offer a potential buyer and how to describe and promote each of their content assets.

The bottom line is, the jobs-to-be-done framework is a powerful tool for creating effective engagement with potential buyers and elevating the performance of marketing.

Image courtesy of via Flickr (CC).

Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Recipe for Effective Demand Generation Messaging

Source:  The Marketing Practice and B2B DecisionLabs

One of the most difficult challenges facing B2B marketers is creating demand generation messages that will persuade potential buyers to act. The challenge is particularly daunting when marketers are attempting to motivate action by a "new" prospect - one their company hasn't already done business with.

Business professionals are inundated by dozens of business-related marketing messages every day, and the reality is they ignore virtually all of those messages.

For example, some recent data indicates that the average open rate for B2B marketing emails is between 15% and 20%. But the average click-through rate is only about 3%, which means that about 85% of the emails that are opened aren't persuasive enough to motivate action.

Clearly, B2B marketers need to improve the effectiveness of their early-stage (a/k/a "top of funnel") demand generation messaging. This improvement is vital because consistently acquiring new customers is essential for revenue growth at most B2B companies.

Fortunately, recent research by The Marketing Practice, B2B DecisionLabs and Dr. Nick Lee, a behavioral scientist and professor of marketing at the Warwick Business School, has identified three concrete steps B2B marketers can take to increase the effectiveness of their early-stage demand generation messaging.

How the Study Worked

This research was in the form of an "experiment," which is a research method that is frequently used in the behavioral sciences. The study involved 500 B2B professionals who were involved in making purchase decisions for their company.

The objective of the study was to test what combination of three messaging variables was most effective for early-stage demand generation. The three messaging variables were:

  1. The use of emotional vs. rational language to describe the business challenge and solution benefits
  2. The use of unquantified vs. quantified statements of business impact
  3. The use of contrast. In this study, contrast means describing both the current implications of the business challenge and the future benefits of the solution.
To test various combinations of these messaging variables, the researchers created five simulated early-stage demand generation emails.
  • Email 1 - Emotional language-unquantified description of business impact-no contrast
  • Email 2 - Emotional language-quantified description of business impact-no contrast
  • Email 3 - Rational language-quantified description of business impact-no contrast
  • Email 4 - Emotional language-quantified description of business impact-contrast included
  • Email 5 - Rational language-quantified description of business impact-contrast included
Note:  The report describing the study includes the actual text of these simulated emails. This text provides a richer picture of the messaging variables, so I encourage you to read the full report.
Each of the simulated emails was read by 100 study participants. The researchers then asked each study participant several "attitude" questions. Participants rated their reaction to the email on a scale of 1-9. The researchers also asked each participant "recall" questions to measure how well they remembered the information they had read.
And the Winner Was . . .
The research revealed that Email 4 - quantified emotional with contrast - outperformed all other email versions along several important dimensions. Specifically, this email:
  • Made the business problem described in the email feel more impactful to the relevant study participants
  • Caused the relevant study participants to feel a greater sense of urgency to address the business problem described in the email
  • Made the relevant study participants more likely to say they are willing to investigate potential solutions for the business problem addressed in the email
Email 4 also outperformed the other email versions in terms of memorability. Ninety-seven percent of the study participants who read Email 4 accurately remembered the business problems described in the email, and 90% answered all of the recall questions correctly.
The research also revealed that Email 3 - quantified rational, no contrast - was the least effective email version tested. This finding is important because based on my experience, this is probably the most prevalent type of messaging used for early-stage demand generation.
One final point needs to be made. This study used simulated emails to test the effectiveness of different types of messaging. But the findings of the study are also relevant for other types of content used primarily for early-stage demand generation.
So for example, if you are writing a blog post or an article for a third party publication, or if you are creating an infographic, and if your primary objective is early-stage demand generation, you will want to include emotionally evocative language, specific numbers that quantify business impacts, and contrast.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

[Research Round-Up] Revenue Marketing, Content Marketing and the New Normal in B2B Marketing

(This month's Research Round-Up features a look at "revenue marketing" benchmarks by Demand Spring, an extensive examination of the state of content marketing by Semrush, and a report by Considered Content discussing two surveys that show where B2B buyers and B2B marketers are on the same page . . . and where they aren't.) 

2022 Revenue Marketing B2B Benchmark Report by Demand Spring 

Source:  Demand Spring
  • Based on a survey of marketers located in North America and the UK
  • 150 respondents representing a "variety of industries" and a wide range of company sizes "from SMBs to large enterprises"
  • The report doesn't state when the survey was conducted
  • Report published in February 2022
This is the fifth edition of Demand Spring's revenue marketing benchmark survey. Revenue marketing has been around for more than a decade, so it's not surprising that 91% of the survey respondents said they were familiar with the concept.
Revenue marketing has been defined in a variety of ways, but in general, it refers to an approach to marketing in which:
  • Marketing and sales are aligned on the goal of driving pipeline and revenue growth; and
  • Marketing activities are tied directly to demand generation and revenue growth.
The Demand Spring research addressed several important issues. For example:
The primary metrics used to measure marketing performance - The top four metrics identified by survey respondents were revenue (54%), total inquiries (40%), pipeline initiated (38%) and pipeline influenced (38%).
How much of the revenue pipeline marketing is expected to initiate and/or influence - The largest cohort of respondents (38%) said marketing is expected to influence 25% to 50% of the revenue pipeline.
The main barriers to driving pipeline and revenue - The four top barriers identified by survey respondents were technology (38%), budget (37%), talent (33%) and shifting marketing and organizational priorities (32%).
The primary areas of marketing spending - The top three areas selected by survey respondents were content creation (44%), webinars (37%) and SEO/SEM (32%).
Top revenue marketing priorities for 2022 - Fifty-eight percent of the respondents identified improving conversion rates through nurturing the middle/bottom of the funnel as their top priority or a high priority for 2022.
A multi-faceted report based on several data types and sources.
Source:  Semrush
  • Google search queries and questions relating to content marketing
  • Cost-per-click data for keywords relating to content marketing
  • Twitter topics and hashtags trends
  • Input from nine content marketing experts
  • A survey of 1,500 marketers
  • Data relating to 500,000 blog articles
This 115-page report is one of the most extensive resources regarding content marketing that I've recently reviewed. The data on which the report is based are primarily from calendar year 2021, so the insights provided in the report are timely. The report addresses four broad topic categories.
The first portion of the report focuses on several specific topics relating to search and Twitter topics and hashtags. It identifies the most popular search queries and questions at Google pertaining to content marketing, and it identifies the most expensive cost-per-click keywords relating to content marketing. The report also discusses the most popular hashtags and topics at Twitter relating to content marketing.
The second portion of the report contains brief essays by recognized content marketing experts discussing what they believe will be the top content marketing trends in 2022.
The report also includes the results of a survey of 1,500 marketers working in more than 20 industries. Survey respondents were located in more than 40 countries around the world. This survey addressed a variety of content marketing topics, some of which were also addressed in the latest content marketing survey by the Content Marketing Institute and MarrketingProfs. So, it's interesting to compare the findings of these two surveys.
The final portion of the report presents an analysis of the common characteristics of top-performing blog articles. Among other things, it discusses what makes headlines effective, what article structures work best, and what article lengths are most popular with readers.
Because of its length, this report requires a fair amount of time to read and absorb, but it you're involved in content marketing, that will be time well spent.
Longer sales, greater expectations, less contact:  Welcome to the new normal in B2B marketing commissioned by Considered Content (surveys conducted by Censuswide)
  • Based on two surveys
    Source:  Considered Content
  • A survey of 150 B2B buyers with companies having at least 250 employees
  • A survey of 150 senior in-house marketers with companies having at least 250 employees
  • Location of survey respondents not specified
  • Surveys conducted in December 2021 and January 2022
This type of marketing research - where buyer and marketer survey participants are asked similar (or parallel) questions - can be particularly useful because the results can reveal where buyers and marketers are on the same page . . . and where they aren't.
The Considered Content surveys provide this type of insight. For example, the survey findings show that buyers and marketers agree that sales cycles are getting longer. Fifty-six percent of the surveyed buyers said that purchase decisions are taking longer because it has become more difficult to gain agreement among the multiple members of the buying group.
Buyers and marketers also agree that buyers are conducting more research independently - before they contact a prospective vendor. Sixty-six percent of the surveyed buyers said they are self-serving more information before they contact vendors, and 74% of the surveyed marketers said customers are taking more control of the buying process.
The Considered Content surveys also revealed where gaps exist between what B2B buyers want and what B2B marketers are providing. For example:
  • Twenty-five percent of the surveyed buyers said they want to be able to get all the information they need online before contacting a salesperson, but only 9% of the surveyed marketers said they provide this level of information.
  • Twenty-eight percent of the buyer respondents said they want to be able to view testimonials, case studies and reviews from named businesses, but only 9% of the marketer respondents said they provide this kind of content on their website.
  • Forty-two percent of the surveyed marketers said they offer pre-recorded demos, but only 23% of the surveyed buyers said they want to watch pre-recorded demos.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

[Book Review] "The Context Marketing Revolution"


Source:  Amazon
"Starting on June 24, 2009, everything that once worked in marketing, stopped. What we do, how we do it, and who does it were transformed forever." (Emphasis in original)

So writes Mathew Sweezey in The Context Marketing Revolution:  How to Motivate Buyers in the Age of Infinite Media (Harvard Business Review Press, 2020). According to Sweezey, June 24, 2009 was the day when ". . . private individuals - not brands, not businesses or traditional media outlets - became the largest producers of media in the world." (Emphasis in original)

Sweezey argues that the business environment has transformed from a limited media era - where media creation and distribution were limited to people and organizations with sufficient capital to participate - to an era of infinite media - where every human being on the planet with access to the internet can create and distribute media (that is, content).

Sweezey contends that as a result of the explosive proliferation of content and the emergence of the new media environment, consumers and business buyers have largely stopped listening to marketing messages. This means, Sweezey writes, that companies and their marketers must fundamentally change how they approach motivating buyers and driving growth. As he puts it, "It demands not just new marketing ideas but rather a whole new idea of marketing." (Emphasis added)

In The Context Marketing Revolution, Sweezey describes the "new idea of marketing" that will be necessary for success in the infinite media era. He calls the solution context marketing, which he describes as follows:

"Motivating consumers today has nothing to do with getting their attention and everything to do with understanding their context - that is, their current position in time and space and whatever their task may be in that moment. Today, helping people achieve their immediate goals is the only way to break through the noise and motivate consumers to act." (Emphasis in original)

What's In the Book

The Context Marketing Revolution is organized in three major parts.

Part One (Chapter 1-2) - In Chapter 1, Sweezey discusses the profound differences between how marketers motivated buyers in the limited media era and what will be needed to motivate them in the infinite media era. Chapter 2 explains how the changed media environment has given rise to a new kind of consumer and a new consumer decision making process.

Part Two (Chapters 3-8) - This part contains the core of the book. In Chapter 3, Sweezey introduces the context framework - a model for describing the level of context in interactions between brands/companies and customers/buyers. Sweezey's framework describes the level of context along five dimensions - available, permissioned, personal, authentic and purposeful. Following the introduction in Chapter 3, Sweezey devotes a separate chapter to each of the context framework components.

Part Three (Chapters 9-14) - In this part, Sweezey provides a road map for implementing context marketing. In Chapter 9, he describes how marketers can identify the critical attributes of the customer journeys that are relevant for their company, and in Chapter 10, he discusses how marketers can use triggers to keep buyers moving through their customer journey.

Chapter 11 covers the role of technology in context marketing, and Chapter 12 explains the benefits of adopting agile marketing techniques and practices. Sweezey concludes the book with a discussion of the organizational and performance measurement changes that are needed to enable successful context marketing.

My Take

The Context Marketing Revolution is an important book that should be on the reading list of most marketers. This is a "dense" book in the sense that Mathew Sweezey addresses numerous important issues and discusses the subtle nuances of those issues.

I am usually skeptical of claims by pundits that "everything" in marketing has changed, but Sweezey has built a compelling case for the proposition that many aspects of marketing have changed in fundamental ways.

Many of the ideas contained in The Context Marketing Revolution aren't new. For example, most marketers have long recognized the importance of permission-based marketing, personalization and authenticity.

Even the core idea of context marketing - which is to help buyers achieve their immediate goals at each moment during the customer journey - isn't completely new. For example, Google's idea of micro-moments of marketing - which I wrote about back in 2015 - is similar in some ways to context marketing. And marketers who have been creating content resources that are tailored for specific buyer personas and specific stages of the buying process can be described as practicing a rudimentary form of context marketing.

The most important point in The Context Marketing Revolution is Mathew Sweezey's argument that the role of marketing and the scope of marketing's responsibilities must the dramatically expanded in order to make context marketing a reality.

Sweezey contends that companies must deliver contextual experiences in order to break through the noise created in the era of infinite media. Contextual experiences will often encompass more than marketing communications, and Sweezey argues that marketers must be prepared to move beyond conventional notions of marketing communications in order to create and deliver compelling contextual experiences.

The Context Marketing Revolution provides an insightful and sometimes provocative view of what is needed to effectively motivate today's consumers and business buyers. It's a very worthwhile read for marketers.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Where to Find Topics for Thought Leadership Content

Consistently producing content that connects with potential buyers remains one of the greatest challenges facing B2B marketers. The need to create content that is relevant for individual business decision makers at every stage of their buying process, to publish content in multiple formats across multiple channels, and to publish new content frequently have combined to strain the creativity and resources of B2B marketers.

This challenge applies to all types of content, but it is magnified for thought leadership content because of the higher standards that effective thought leadership content must meet.

Numerous studies have identified the characteristics that make thought leadership content persuasive. While the descriptions used in these studies vary somewhat, the research consistently shows that three attributes define real thought leadership and distinguish it from other types of marketing content.

Relevant - Real thought leadership content addresses topics and provides insights that are highly relevant for the target audience. Of course, all good marketing content will be relevant for its audience, but what sets real thought leadership apart is that it addresses issues that can have a major impact on the business or professional success of the target audience.

Novel - Real thought leadership content provides information and insights that are genuinely novel. Therefore, to qualify as real thought leadership, a content resource must provide information or insights that add something new to the body of knowledge about a topic. In other words, real thought leadership provides the audience something they cannot find elsewhere.

Authoritative - All types of marketing content must be credible, but thought leadership content needs to be particularly authoritative. Because thought leadership content introduces new and novel ideas, it's essential for content developers to support those ideas with sound evidence.

These higher standards make it more difficult for marketers to find topics that can be used for thought leadership content. They must identify issues that are having or will have a significant impact on their target buyers. They must find topics about which they can offer new information or insights. And, they must be able to develop sound evidence to support their new insights.

Four Sources of Thought Leadership Topics

To address these challenges, marketers need to take a broad view of the topics or categories of topics that can be appropriate for thought leadership. From a subject matter perspective, there are four basic types of content (shown in the following diagram).

Product/Service Content - This is just what it sounds like - content that describes the capabilities, features and functionality of a product or group of related products. For a service, it would describe the nature and features of the service.

Having good product/service content is essential for marketing success, but this category is not usually a fertile source of thought leadership content.

Category Content - This type of content discusses issues or needs that a type of product or service can address. When a provider of account-based marketing software creates content that explains why ABM is a more effective approach to marketing or describes the capabilities prospective buyers should look for in an ABM solution, that's category content. Good category content doesn't promote a specific company's product or service, but it often will "evangelize" the product/service category. 

Most of the thought leadership content created by B2B companies is category-based content, and this is the content category that most B2B marketers will focus on first. This is a valid approach, but category content will provide only a finite number of appropriate topics for thought leadership content.

There are, however, two additional types of content that can be good sources of topics for thought leadership content.

Job Function Content - This content category includes topics that address issues relating to the job responsibilities of the individuals who will make or influence the decision to buy a company's product or service - i.e. the members of the buying group. 

For example, if the buying group for your company's product or service includes senior marketing and sales leaders working for companies that manufacture industrial equipment, your thought leadership content could address topics such as:

  • The communication preferences and buying behaviors of industrial buyers
  • The growth of online third-party marketplaces for industrial equipment
Industry-Related Content - This type of content addresses topics that relate to the industry or industries in which a company's prospective customers operate. For example, thought leadership content based on this category could discuss how new or pending environment laws or regulations will impact the target industry or industries.
Cast a Wide Net for Thought Leadership Topics
Some marketers may question the value of creating thought leadership content that isn't closely related to their company's product or service. One of the primary reasons to produce thought leadership content is to demonstrate awareness and understanding of the issues and challenges prospective customers - and the individual members of their buying groups - are facing.
From a marketing perspective, the objective of thought leadership is to engender feelings of trust and confidence in your company by potential buyers. High-quality thought leadership content from any of these content categories can help you achieve this objective.
Developing a sufficient volume of great thought leadership content will always be challenging, but you can make the task a little easier by expanding where you look for thought leadership topics.

Top image courtesy of Grand Teton via Flickr (Public Domain).

Sunday, May 15, 2022

[Research Round-Up] B2B Highlights From "The CMO Survey"

Source:  The CMO Survey

(This month's Research Round-Up is devoted entirely to the most recent edition of The CMO Survey, which was published in late February. The CMO Survey has been conducted semi-annually since 2008, and it consistently provides a wealth of valuable information about marketing spending, trends and practices.)

The findings of the latest edition of The CMO Survey were published in February. The CMO Survey is directed by Dr. Christine Moorman and sponsored by Deloitte LLP, Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, the Coach K Center for Leadership and Ethics and the American Marketing Association.

The February 2022 survey results are based on responses from 320 senior marketing leaders at for-profit companies based in the United States. Over two-thirds (71.0%) of the respondents were affiliated with B2B companies, and 96.6% were VP level or above. The survey was in the field January 11 - February 7. 2022.

The CMO Survey is conducted semi-annually, and it provides a wealth of valuable information. Dr. Moorman and her colleagues typically produce three reports for each edition of the survey.

  • "The Highlights and Insights Report" - This is a relatively brief and graphically-rich report that provides mostly overall results, along with an analysis of those results and major marketing trends.
  • "The Topline Report" - This report provides response data at the aggregate level for all survey questions.
  • "The Firm and Industry Breakout Report" - This report provides response data by four primary economic sectors (B2B product companies, B2B services companies, B2C product companies and B2C services companies), fifteen industry sectors, company size and volume of internet sales. This report is quite lengthy, but it provides the most detailed view of the survey data.
In this post, I'll be discussing the responses of B2B marketers exclusively, unless otherwise indicated. The percentages and other numerical values in this post are the mean of survey responses, also unless otherwise indicated.
Marketer Optimism Moderates
For the past several years, The CMO Survey has asked participants about their level of optimism relating to the overall economic environment. The August 2021 edition of the survey found that the optimism of B2B marketers had returned to pre-pandemic levels. The February 2022 survey revealed that marketer optimism had moderated.
The survey asked participants to rate their level of optimism regarding the overall U.S. economy on a 100-point scale, with "0" being least optimistic and "100" being most optimistic. The following chart shows how B2B marketers rated their optimism in the five surveys conducted since February 2020.

The February 2022 survey also asked participants if they were more or less optimistic about the overall U.S. economy compared to the previous quarter. The following table shows how B2B marketers responded.

In the August 2021 survey, 31.7% of respondents from B2B product companies and 36.5% of those with B2B services companies said they were more optimistic about the U.S. economy compared to the preceding quarter.
This slight decline in marketer optimism may be connected to the state of the pandemic. The February survey was in the field January 11th through February 7th. For most of that period, many parts of the U.S were dealing with a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant of the virus, and this may have worked to temper marketer optimism.
The Continuing Commitment to Digital
The February survey confirmed that B2B marketers remain strongly committed to digital marketing. For example, respondents with B2B product companies said they are currently spending 53.2% of their total marketing budget on digital marketing activities. And respondents with B2B services companies reported devoting 60.1% of their budget to digital marketing.
The survey also showed that the growth in spending on digital marketing is still outpacing the growth of overall marketing spending. The following chart shows how overall marketing spending and spending on digital marketing changed in the twelve months preceding the survey in B2B companies.

B2B marketers expect their investment in digital marketing to continue growing. The CMO Survey asked participants to estimate how their spending on digital marketing will change in the twelve months following the survey, compared to the twelve months preceding the survey. Respondents with B2B product companies said they expect their spending on digital marketing to increase 13.6%, while respondents with B2B services companies expect an increase of 18.3%.
Ambivalence on Climate Change
For several years, marketers have been inundated by research studies purporting to prove that customers and potential buyers want and expect the companies they do business with to take actions to address environmental and social issues. I discussed a few of the more recent studies in my post about purpose marketing from earlier this year.
The February 2022 edition of The CMO Survey included several questions relating to climate change, and the responses are likely to be disappointing to those who believe business organizations should play a more active role in protecting the environment.
Among other things, the survey participants were asked about marketing's responsibilities relating to climate change, whether their company has specific goals relating to climate change, and whether they believe customers and prospects will reward their company for taking actions to reduce its impact on the environment.
The following table shows how B2B marketers responded to some of the climate change questions included in the February survey.

The survey did find that, in general, larger enterprises are more attuned to environmental issues. For example, survey respondents (B2B and B2C) with companies having $10 billion or more in annual revenue were more likely to say that:
  • Reducing climate change is part of marketing's responsibility in their company (40.0% vs. 24.0% of all respondents)
  • Their company has explicit goals related to its impact on climate change (75.0% vs. 33.7% of all respondents)
  • They have incorporated climate change issues into their brand strategy (63.2% vs. 33.0% of all respondents)

Sunday, May 8, 2022

[Book Review] "How Brands Grow Part 2 (Revised Edition)"

Source:  Oxford University Press

Every business or professional discipline has a few books that are widely regarded as seminal works. In marketing, one such book is How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp. Published in 2010, How Brands Grow quickly became one of the most influential books in the field of marketing.

I read How Brands Grow several years ago, and I found it to be both insightful and provocative. So, I looked forward to reading the recently-published sequel - How Brands Grow Part 2 (Revised Edition) (Oxford University Press, 2022). The new book was written by Jenni Romaniuk and Byron Sharp (with contributions by two other writers also affiliated with the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science).

To avoid confusion, I'll refer to the new book in this review as Part 2 Revised Edition.

Byron Sharp and his colleagues at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute have long espoused a set of marketing principles that differ significantly from those advocated by many marketing academics, consultants and practitioners. For example, most marketers have been taught that differentiating their brand/product in the marketplace is vital for marketing success.

Sharp made his position on differentiation clear in How Brands Grow when he wrote, "Rather than striving for meaningful, perceived differentiation, marketers should seek meaningless distinctiveness. Branding lasts, differentiation doesn't."

In How Brands Grow, Sharp also discussed eleven "law-like patterns" of consumer behavior and brand competition, and he described "the most important knowledge" in the book as follows:

  • "Growth in market share comes by increasing popularity; that is, by gaining many more buyers (of all types), most of which are light customers buying the brand only occasionally."
  • "Brands, even though they are slightly differentiated, mainly compete as if they are near lookalikes, but they vary in popularity (and hence market share)."
  • "Brand competition and growth is largely about building two market-based assets:  physical availability and mental availability. Brands that are easier to buy - for more people in more situations - have more market share. Innovation and differentiation (when they work) build market-based assets, which last after competitors copy the innovation."
In Part 2 Revised Edition, Jenni Romaniuk and Byron Sharp seek to show that the principles spelled out in the first book apply in a wider range of product/service categories and in a broader array of markets than were discussed in the first book. For example, Part 2 Revised Edition contains a significant amount of data from emerging markets.
The Application to B2B
One of the major questions I've had about the approach to marketing advanced by Sharp and his colleagues at Ehrenberg-Bass is whether or to what extent it is effective in B2B marketing. Therefore, I was particularly excited that Romaniuk and Sharp devoted a chapter in Part 2 Revised Edition to B2B.
It will be tempting for many B2B marketers to immediately dismiss the principles advocated by Romaniuk and Sharp because they stand in stark contrast to so many widely-accepted B2B marketing practices, such as account-based marketing, targeted marketing and personalization. However, I would argue that B2B marketers should at least give the ideas of Romaniuk and Sharp thoughtful consideration.
The B2B marketing practices that are currently popular are primarily designed for "high consideration" purchases that involve expensive and/or complex products or services, multiple decision makers and long buying cycles. But such high consideration purchases have never represented all or even most B2B commerce. Romaniuk and Sharp make a similar point when they write:
"The term 'B2B marketing' is often used as if it describes a single homogenous category. However, there is no single B2B market . . . The businesses on both sides of the B2B can come in many shapes and sizes . . . B2B businesses can sell consumables, durables or services. B2B categories can vary in price from discounted to luxury, and in whether the relationship with the buyer is subscription or repertoire in nature . . ."
The diversity of B2B commerce means that some B2B markets will exhibit the same buying behaviors and competitive attributes that characterize many B2C markets. In those markets, the principles advanced by Romaniuk and Sharp may well be relevant for marketers. In their chapter on B2B, the authors discuss how those principles apply in various B2B markets, including business insurance, business banking and concrete.
For me, the bottom line is that B2B marketers should give thoughtful consideration to the ideas contained in Part 2 Revised Edition. In fact, if your haven't read How Brands Grow, I suggest you read that book first because it does a slightly better job at explaining some aspects of the Ehrenberg-Bass approach to marketing.
Both of these books contain provocative ideas, and they are worthwhile reads even if you ultimately decide that many of the ideas don't apply to your market.