Looking Back, Looking Forward: 2018 B2B Brand Strategy Trends
Any new year brings up the opportunity to reflect on the year that’s been – and what’s to come. As Emotive Brand’s Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, I talk to individuals in different roles, at companies of every size and maturity. I am truly lucky – it puts me on the frontline as B2B brand strategy trends develop in real time.
Here are some of the most interesting trends I observed in 2017 and what’s on my mind as we move into 2018:
1. Messaging That Can Flex
Whether it’s short attention spans or Twitter’s influence, our clients are asking for a new type of messaging. For years, traditional product marketing and brand-level messaging fit in the same schematic box: target audiences, pain points, proof points, key messages, etc. But priorities shift. Now, clients want a brand story in 10 words, 50 words, 100 words, 500 words – and also in a long-format narrative. It’s all about stretching and articulating the brand story while keeping it on strategy, whether in a tweet, on a website, or in a proposal. Businesses want messaging that can flex to all platforms, moments, and media, and still stay on brand.
2. To Create a New Category or Not? Proceed With Caution
In 2017, many clients came to us and said, “We’re creating a new category. Help us define it.” A new category is one path to differentiation. The thing is, few companies have the budget, business strategy, or team to do it properly – and they have no idea what developing a new category entails. In most cases, category creation is the wrong strategy. But we want to cure what ails you so, first, we listen. Then we help clients dig into the real problems that plague the business, look for better ways to address those issues, and then move their business forward.
3. Embracing the Non-Linear
Project timelines compressed this year. Some agencies might see this reality as a total bummer. I don’t. Shorter cycles pushed us to find more agile ways to solve our clients’ most pressing business problems. It’s made us fast. We’ve developed a strong arsenal of tools, frameworks, and workshops that we apply to every business and brand issue. I admit, most of the work we did last year seemed out of sequence compared to our normal brand strategy methodology. But throughout the process, we learned we are great problem solvers. When we deliver a smart solution and solve pressing business problems – quickly – clients come back. And that’s a good business model.
4. Sales-Led Positioning Strategy
More and more, our positioning projects include our clients’ sales leadership teams. It makes sense – when you make a change in positioning, you almost always impact the sales strategy. We’ve created value propositions and messaging for subscription sales, sales kickoff presentations, and training materials, and everything needed for solution selling. We don’t just focus on marketing deliverables. Good positioning aligns marketing and sales and drives sales enablement within sales organizations. These projects produce measurable, and almost immediate, ROI and provide great case examples of our work. It’s a win-win for everyone!
5. Greater Investment in Research
We’ve seen an uptick in tech companies who are willing to pay for research – and we’re helping them get the information they need. Companies recognize the value in conducting research to benchmark the sentiment of both internal and external audiences before they launch a positioning project. Research helps set the bar. Then, once the positioning work is done, further research helps businesses test both the effectiveness and the efficacy of the brand in meaningful and tangible ways, year after year.
6. Architecture and Taxonomy
Clients are asking us to help build their brand architecture and taxonomy projects. Heavy M&A activity is likely one reason they need this kind of help. Both at the brand and product level, clients want simplification. Well-defined, meaningful brands and product offerings drive customer understanding, accelerate the sales cycle, and create customer loyalty.
7. Focus on Internal Audiences
One of the most exciting trends I’ve seen this past year is growing investment in projects geared towards internal audiences, an area we think companies have neglected. We’re being asked to create employer brand strategies and employee communications campaigns, facilitate shifts in corporate and brand strategy, and share employee benefits offerings in unique ways. We are seeing momentum here – and we like it. Brands are built from the inside out, and those that are investing internally, in their employees, will reap the rewards of their work.
Keep posted for more of our thoughts about B2B brand strategy, 2018 trends, and what they mean for businesses and brands today.
Emotive Brand is a B2B brand strategy and design agency.