What's working in B2B Marketing?There's no one way to deliver ROI… But there is one place

Subscribe via email

RSSContact us via LinkedInFollow us

What do you stand for?

September 16, 2014 Categories: Best Practice

Building a strong brand is tricky, particularly in B2B marketing. But get it right and the rewards are clear, writes copywriter Damien Seaman. Here’s one very powerful way you can do it.

As the UK Design Council says, “If a brand results from a set of associations and perceptions in people’s minds, then branding is an attempt to harness, generate, influence and control these associations to help the business perform better.”

The trick is to move beyond the overly-simplistic and often futile search for the Unique Selling Proposition and look instead at what resonates with the people who pay your salary.

I’m talking, of course, about your customers.

To stand out as a brand, you need to stand for something – something your customers care about. We’ll explore how you can do that in a moment. First, here’s one company that did this brilliantly.

Back in the early 1960s, car rental firm Avis was the David to Hertz’s Goliath. With just a fraction of its bigger rival’s market share, Avis turned to advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach for help.

Agency copywriter Paula Green didn’t try to fake uniqueness. Instead, she made a virtue of the reality, coming up with a slogan you probably recognise:

“We try harder”

The company treated it as a manifesto and overhauled its customer service standards to match. Within four years, market share rocketed from 11% to 34%. The slogan is still being used today.

This is the first secret to making sure you stand for something. It’s more than just throwing words at a wall to see what sticks. “We try harder” is specific and makes a promise to the customer – try us out and you’ll get better service.

It’s something a company can believe in and put into action. It’s also one, simple, big idea, easily grasped.

So, how do you achieve this?

Step 1: Work out what you’d like to stand for

Try this exercise.

Gather your key stakeholders together. Show them some famous brands. Ask for their impressions of each, and then ask how they think you compare to them.

This is something I went through recently with a client. Not only did we discuss other brands in their industry, but also the likes of Starbucks, Apple, Microsoft and others.

This is a great way to work out where you’d like to position yourself in the market.

But this is just the first step.

If this is all you do, you end up with the Echo Chamber effect. You’ll only get back what you put in. And usually that’s not enough.

Thankfully, there’s one very powerful – even obvious – way out of this conundrum: to work out where you really do stand in the market.

Step 2: Ask your customers what they think

Sounds so simple. But so easy to get wrong.

What do you do for your customers that they really value? Why did they choose you? What do they think of your service? Your prices? The answers to these questions should give you the raw material you need to present your brand more powerfully.

You might be tempted to use a survey. But tread carefully, because research – and experience – shows that surveys often don’t work.

The one big pitfall of customer surveys…

If you don’t ask the right questions, you can easily end up leading your respondents to give you the answers you want – another variation on the Echo Chamber.

The only sure fire way to avoid this is to hire a good research firm, tell them what you want to know, and leave them to get on with the details.

A cheaper, more practical alternative is to listen in on customer service calls or review call notes. Review the feedback you get in emails, letters and social media. Google your company, look on industry forums and read relevant blogs to see what people are saying about you online. Phone up some clients that like you – and some who’ve made complaints. This has a double benefit. Not only can you see what you’re doing right, you’ll also see where you need to improve.

And, with a little luck, that last point will give you a clue as to how you can stand out – I mean really stand out – from your competitors. Because if you’re falling down on something then maybe they are too. Improve in this area and you’ll have yourself a genuine point of differentiation.

Step 3: Put it all together on paper

Having worked out where you’d like to be and where you actually are, draft a positioning statement.

You do this by listing out all the benefits you offer. Start with what your customers say, then throw in what the stakeholders have said and see how it matches up.

Step 4: Work out where you can really add value

The result of all this is that you have a list of both existing benefits and ones you aspire to.

Now you need to take a good, hard look at whether you can achieve your aspirational benefits. How long will it take to get there? How much will it cost? Can you get the budget?

If so, then you can use this as the basis of what you stand for. Because if you’ve done your information gathering right, your aspirational benefits will both match what your customers want and need and also be things your competitors don’t do yet. Like Avis – not only did they improve their service, by doing so they offered better service than their rivals, and customers responded by switching to them.

Step 5: Find the big idea

At this point, you’ll be able to put what your brand stands for into words. Don’t try to be all things to all men, because that just leads to weak branding. Instead, look for the big idea that underpins everything in your positioning statement and try to bring it out. Boil it down to its simplest form. That way it won’t just resonate with your audience. It will resonate with your employees too.

Step 6: Don’t just say it – live it

A big idea is a powerful thing. But it can’t just stay an idea on paper. Get the whole company’s buy in to turn this idea into reality. Customer service staff, sales reps, managers, marketing – everyone needs to get behind it.

If they don’t then all the fancy marketing in the world won’t cover up the fact that you don’t really stand for what you say you do.

The benefits of standing for something

So, in summary:

  • Work out what you’d like to stand for
  • Ask your customers what they think
  • Put it down on paper
  • Work out where you already add value – and where you could add more
  • Find the big idea the underpins what you offer
  • Turn the idea into reality

The fact is, you can’t really control how people perceive your brand or your company. But if you can work out a set of values or a big idea that everyone in your organisation can get behind – and that resonates with your customers – then at least you can be consistent and customer-focused.

And that alone will set you apart from most of your competitors.

No comments | Posted by Claire Lund

B2B branding is about emotion, says the late John Peel

September 2, 2014 Categories: Best Practice

Actually, he didn’t exactly say that. But he said something that ties in nicely with a report on B2B brands that’s just come my way from the CEB Marketing Leadership Council™.

The report – “From Promotion to Emotion: Connecting B2B Customers to Brands” (prepared in partnership with Google) – says that emotion plays a much greater part in the B2B sales process than some people might think.

It says that factors providing personal value to the buyer have about twice the impact on the decision making process that rational factors, that provide value to the business, might have.

And before you comment, we’re not talking about brown envelopes full of cash here. It’s about emotional factors like personal prestige, or fear of losing one’s job.

The point is, it reminds us once again that the B2B sales and marketing process is first and foremost about people, not organisations.

The much-mourned John Peel’s contribution comes from a conversation he had with someone about the value of digital media versus analogue. Specifically, why did John Peel prefer vinyl, when CDs had no surface noise?

“Life has surface noise,” said John Peel.

In other words, life is analogue. We’re human and we respond to human-ish things.

For John Peel, the cold layer of zeros and ones between the creation of the music and the listener leaves many people dissatisfied.

This is why vinyl has undergone something of a revival in recent years. Digital music is dead music.

Equally, your customer communications have to be human first, rational second. You have to engage the instinctive right brain before the language-heavy, filter-strewn left brain kicks in.

And, says the CEB Marketing Leadership Council, you have to keep engaging the emotional side right through to the point where your customer signs the contract.

They asked 3000 B2B buyers across 36 brands and 7 categories to find this out. If only they could have asked John Peel.

No comments | Posted by Stuart Constable

Lovely example of email marketing from Pizza Express

August 31, 2014 Categories: Best Practice

You occasionally see a campaign that just makes you appreciate the work of a marketer somewhere. My favourite examples tend not to be Meerkats or Gorillas playing drums; I prefer the ones where you can see a marketing engine working away in the background bringing a few different things together (in this case, good database marketing and email best practice).

My latest example is this birthday offer email from Pizza Express. To start with, the basic act of capturing and acknowledging my birthday is a good start (maybe we should try more of this in B2B…).

Then there’s some clever use of the fact that Outlook won’t automatically download the images in the email. This technique of using boxes with different background colours to create an image has been around for a while, but certainly works well here.

pizza express email without images

When you download the images, the design fits together perfectly…

pizza express email with images

And the finishing touch is the use of an animated gif to bring the flowing wine and candle to life (which starts automatically when opened on a mobile device):

No comments | Posted by Paul Everett

The Marketing Practice and our clients top the B2B Awards shortlist

August 11, 2014 Categories: At the Barn

We’re delighted raving about being the most-nominated agency with 14 appearances on the 2014 B2B Awards shortlist! Congratulations to our team and our clients at AXA, Canon, Motorola, O2 and Nokia.

Putting all modesty aside, we’re celebrating the sheer breadth of categories that our clients have been recognised in. From creative campaigns to lead generation programmes, across digital, direct, content, telephone and event channels. Which is what makes us unique of course – the fact that all of these different techniques and channels come together in one place and work so much more powerfully because of it.

Here’s the full list of categories our clients have been shortlisted in:

  • Best use of direct mail
  • Best use of live-event marketing
  • Best use of digital techniques or technologies
  • Best use of content marketing
  • Best limited-budget campaign
  • Best integration of sales and marketing
  • Best SME-targeted campaign
  • Best corporate decision maker-targeted campaign
  • Best B2B lead generation campaign
  • B2B marketing communications agency of the year

And congratulations as well to our clients O2 Enterprise and AXA Wealth Elevate who have both been shortlisted in the marketing team of the year category.

It’s already bringing back memories of lasts year’s awards (where – to blow our own trumpet one last time – we won the most awards of any agency)…

No comments | Posted by Claire Lund

The IT Buyer’s Journey: stats from IDC

July 31, 2014 Categories: Best Practice

I was looking at IDC’s infographic (below) on sales enablement through the IT buyer’s journey. A couple of their stats jumped out at me…

“30% or less of the decision is made before sales interaction when the investment is $1m or more.”

This is great evidence to have to counter all the hype around content marketing for large enterprise deals. Not that content is irrelevant, just that the bandwagon has ignored the reality of how large deals are done. I’ve never believed the blanket hype like “Technology buyers are two-thirds of the way through their buying process before they engage with vendors’ sales teams”. In this type of deal, we need to think more about how marketing can enable the right kind of sales interactions at the right points in the buying process, rather than trying to replace sales with marketing.

IDC put it nicely in context to show that marketing has a much larger role to play in smaller deals: “50% or more of an organisation’s decision about which vendor to use when making a purchase of £10,000 is decided via online marketing material before a sales rep is brought in.”

And it’s interesting to see that in 62% of cases, the deals are funded by the Line of Business rather than by IT. The largest single group of decisions (23%) are made by the Line of Business with IT being ‘aware’ (17% are made by the Line of Business with IT ‘unaware’).

A word of caution though for traditional technology firms – I often hear people talking about wanting to ‘bypass IT’ and reach new Line of Business contacts. This can be a dangerous game when it is often easier to sell with or through your traditional IT contacts. This still involves all the thinking about making propositions relevant to a Line of Business of course, but without the risk of alienating an area of your existing spend.

IT Buyer's Journey

No comments | Posted by Paul Everett

‘We’re all quite mad here, you’ll fit right in’

July 17, 2014 Categories: At the Barn

Last month we held our most successful charity event to date raising £11,600 for Naomi House and Jacksplace at our summer party.

Here’s a few of the highlights from the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ themed night…

To find out more about the great work Naomi House and Jacksplace do to support children, young adults and their families have a look at their website. If you’d like to make a donation please visit our justgiving page.


No comments | Posted by Claire Lund

Social selling and the power of the individual

July 17, 2014 Categories: Best Practice

Highlights from the recent S&M Forum

The top two influencers in the wine and beer market are individual bloggers. Not companies.

Is that surprising? I think so. I could write a separate blog here about the continuing debate on the declining power of brands. But the point for now is more about the ever-expanding reach of the individual across the whole sales process. And in B2B, that means Social Selling.

This was an interesting point made by Tim Hughes, Business Development Director at Oracle. Tim was joined by Andy Eustace from LinkedIn at our recent S&M Forum in discussing the impact of social practice within B2B sales, and the role marketing plays in supporting it.

Tim’s challenge is evidence of a couple of key points that came out of the evening:

  •  The power of Social Selling in B2B is all in the individual. Your social profiles are your ‘personal brand’ – and Social Selling is the means by which an organisation leverages that personal brand to create 1-2-1 connections with customers and prospects. As Paul Everett put it during his interlude – Social Selling means your people really can now be a differentiator.
  • There’s another side to Social Selling that isn’t talked about much: data. Social media are a mine of information – from contact details to behavioural trends and network connections. And that data can be leveraged by salespeople both online and offline through Social Selling.

There were 5 insider tips that I took from Tim, Andy and Paul as being the key to doing Social Selling well:

1)      Create. Content is the currency of Social Selling. Marketing can be responsible for developing the right content to support Social Selling, but the sellers themselves can also be a source of content – Tim’s blog being a great example.

2)      Relax. The key to being a good social seller is to be yourself. When you get over this hurdle and become comfortable tweeting, blogging and posting, you’ll find it comes naturally. It’s no longer something tagged onto the end of every day.

3)      Lead. Marketing’s role can be to act as leaders in this field. Everything from making sure their profiles are exemplary, through to using the corporate social media accounts to share what individuals are creating and posting to encourage them.

4)      Incentivise. LinkedIn’s Social Selling Index allows you to rank your sales people on how good they are at it. Alongside more traditional methods of tracking such as lead and nurture targets, you can make the most of the sales team’s competitive spirit and celebrate the most successful.

5)      Start. Don’t think about it too much – policies, rules and guidelines are always helpful, but there’s no reason you can’t start tomorrow by sorting out your LinkedIn profile and setting yourself some diary reminders to check for new connections and look for content to post.


For more detail about the speakers’ views, arguments and examples, have a look through the slides below:

No comments | Posted by Matt Harper

Winning with emotion in bid support

July 14, 2014 Categories: Best Practice

A lot of people are talking about the power of ‘emotion’ in B2B marketing (although it’s not exactly news that B2B buyers are people too!). It tends to be a discussion amongst marketers talking about brand campaigns. But at the critical point of bid support – when influencing just a few key people is more important than ever – it often gets forgotten.

Winning-with-emotion- bid-support

So what’s the secret to winning the bid?

Of course, it’s important to understand the bid process thoroughly and respond with a suitable technical and commercial response. But you also need to understand how to make your response stand out amongst competitors. After all, they can likely offer similar solutions and similar commercials.

Supporting the technical requirements of your bid submission with effective marketing can make that crucial difference between standing out and getting lost in the crowd.

“Men decide far more problems by hate, love, lust, rage, sorrow, joy, hope, fear, illusion, or some other inward emotion, than by reality, authority, any legal standard, judicial precedent, or statute.”

So whilst the ability to technically support your potential new partner with a viable solution and commercials is important, winning over hearts and minds can be the difference between success and failure.

Finding the right emotional angles is vital to a winning bid submission. What are the key decision-makers’ personal motivations for selecting a supplier?

  • Avoiding risk?
  • Looking good?
  • Doing something new?
  • Getting out of work on time?
  • Working with people they like?

Think about the one thing you want people to think, say, or feel once your bid team leaves the presentation. This should help you formalise these things – and give your advocates a message they can use to fight your corner.

Running a creative theme throughout all bid collateral can help communicate this emotion to your key audience. Use videos with messages from your core team. Or write sections of the proposal from real people. Touches like this can help make an emotional connection to you and your company.

Simply making sure your brand is showing up when they’re out and about (anywhere from outside their office to their LinkedIn homepage) can make sure they see you as more credible and trustworthy.

Aligning your brand with theirs is important. No matter how strict your brand guidelines are, always remember this is an internal document likely to be seen by fewer than 20 people outside  your business. Making sure your bid submission has a clear marketing theme can deliver the following benefits:

  • An instant visual cue of your ability to work in partnership with them.
  • Finding a unified message delivered across the bid that consistently aligns to the client’s culture.
  • Consistency across all collateral from word and power-point templates, executive summaries, animations and bid delivery technology.
  • Gaining insight and awareness within your target group can be key for keeping your brand top of mind throughout the process. This can include social profiling as well as targeted awareness activity both on and offline.
  • Finding new and innovative technology to deliver your message can enthral an audience already bogged down in the small print of the submission itself.

Of course there are exceptions to every rule. Local government and public sector organisations may be put off if you appear to be spending vast amounts of budget on over the top creative and technology. However, they are still likely to be impressed if your knowledge of the brand, identity, and key stakeholder challenges have been investigated and resolved as part of your submission.

So yes, your technical responses and commercials need to be up to scratch. But your marketing needs to be highly defined and targeted to make sure you stand head and shoulders above the rest.

No comments | Posted by Katya Hill

Social Selling round-up: The S&M Forum highlights in 140 characters

July 8, 2014 Categories: Best Practice, Experiments

Our latest S&M Forum was the most social yet. Maybe that’s what you’d expect, as the theme was Social Selling and the role of Marketing.

Here’s our Storify of the evening – a round-up of the best tweets. So you’ve got the low-down of the most important views, facts and commentary from the night.

No comments | Posted by Matt Harper

Thinking of applying for a job at TMP? Read this first.

July 8, 2014 Categories: At the Barn

By Joanna Marlowe, HR & Recruitment Coordinator, The Marketing Practice 

As you can imagine, working in HR means that I’ve read more CVs than you’ve had hot dinners. The sheer volume that crosses my desk means that you – as a potential employee – have to perform something of a circus trick. A tightrope walk, to be precise. On the one hand, your CV has to conform to a very strict formula. On the other, it must stand out and grab my attention.

If you’re thinking about applying for one of our vacancies, I’ve got some advice that might help you out.


If you’re interested in our grad day, there’s really not much time left to apply. Get a move on.

Do your research

Understand the job inside out and make sure it’s right for you. I’ve had people apply for every vacancy in a company! Those people don’t make the final cut. Jobs are serious things – they require commitment on both sides. Doing your research shows that you’re interested in us as a business, and tells us a lot about your professional approach.

Get social

Connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. We love that. One of our aims is to improve our social footprint and we’re always interested in who is following us. It’s likely that we’ll be interested in you if you’re interested in us (see above). And when your CV lands, it’ll stand out that much more.


We’re based in sunny South Oxfordshire. Is it somewhere you’re willing to commute to? When we offer you a job, we want you to stay. We want to make sure you are happy, so put some serious thought into why you want to work here and if it fits with your life ambitions.

Make your CV personal

Your CV is a checklist for the role. Personalise it for the job you’re applying for and only include information that’s relevant for the job.

I’ve got a short attention span

So don’t go over two pages. Summarise qualifications and experience into a bullet list and only expand on those relevant to the role. Put important points at the top. Try to avoid big blocks of text – consider how many CVs I go through on a daily basis. If you’ve got a lot of relevant previous jobs only expand on the latest two – keep the rest as headlines.

The opening paragraph

It’s vital (first impressions and all that). If you can, use the kind of language that we use on our website to show you’d be a good fit. Oh, and be concise.

Attention to detail

Make sure you get my name right! I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been called Joanne (I’m Joanna). Make sure you run a spell check, and if you can, get someone with a fresh pair of eyes to proof your CV and cover letter to be double sure. Oh, and make sure your font and font sizing is consistent throughout, and that dates are in the same format (12th March / 30-Jun etc.) – something like that can cause a real distraction when you’ve got a pile of CVs to go through.

Stick with the facts

As I won’t be interviewing you, there’s no point trying to impress me with your lifestyle choices or opinions. So don’t include hobbies, your current salary, or even your date of birth. And no sob stories! (You’d be surprised what I’ve read…) none of it’s going to get you the job. Your skills and experience will do that. And don’t put a picture on your CV either – just add your LinkedIn profile so people can find out more that way.

Go digital

Your CV is always best in a digital format unless there’s a very good reason not to, i.e. if you’re a designer you might decide to hand deliver a beautifully bound portfolio of your work with the CV inserted. There are lots of good digital formats for your application too – we recruited one grad after he sent us a series of short, self-filmed videos explaining why he suited the role.

If you’re asked for a cover letter

Stick to the rules you’re given. If you don’t know what they are – ask. Your cover letter should never duplicate your CV. It’s a chance to explain why you’re the best person for the role. Good writing is a sign of good thinking – so run it past a few people and get their feedback before it lands on my virtual desk.

If you’re not asked for a cover letter

Write a brief paragraph explaining why you’re the right person for the job in your email or alongside your application. Don’t just write “Please find my CV attached.” I hate that!

Follow up

Don’t be scared to call or email me to check on the progress of your application. Try to keep it to one call – enough to show you’re keen, but not so much as to be an annoyance!

If you think you have what it takes and want to apply for any of our vacancies – and you’ve checked your application against this list of pointers – then send it over to me at careers@themarketingpractice.com. Good luck! 

No comments | Posted by Claire Lund