B2B brand strategy — new product launches in a digital world
A 2013 study published by the McKinsey Quarterly indicates that there is a considerable gap between the brand messages that suppliers offer to customers and what their customers really want to know. The study states that with the digital revolution, B2B customers are increasingly engaging with companies through search, online communities, and web-based content. Their research suggests a potential stumbling block — a divergence between the core messages companies communicate about their brands and the characteristics their customers value the most.
In light of this, B2B companies are increasingly seeking to review and renew their service offerings. We have seen a significant shift in the way firms evaluate offerings in today’s world and it has a major impact on how they launch new offerings; from an IT company seeking to launch a new product to a media firm launching a tech-enabled offering, companies are becoming increasingly aware of changing purchase dynamics.
We believe this change has been driven by increased access to content, growing competition, external influencers like investors/VCs, and choice of distribution partners. Hence, today’s business leaders are looking at non-traditional marketing factors prior to the launch of a new product or service.
Based on our experience with new business launches across multiple B2B categories like IT, healthcare, financial services, media etc, we have put together a list of marketing markers that could help B2B firms shift their new product launches from good to great.
- Differentiate or die: understand the competitive context
In today’s global world, competition is no longer limited to a few local players. A plethora of companies — both Indian and global — is vying for the customers’ business. Moreover, most brands offer similar rational benefits as very few players are focused on creating an entirely new product category.
Hence we see most B2B brands either attempting to gain share from an existing player or launching an upgraded version of available offerings. In this situation, it is critical to get a good understanding of the brand’s competitive context and evaluate its offering vis-a-vis existing players from a client perspective. Once done, we recommend that the firm focus on one or two aspects of their offering that will help them stand out in the competitive context.
For example: A new healthcare startup believed they were unique as they offered both holistic and allopathic treatments. However, a cursory overview revealed that several competitors claimed to offer both types of services. Moreover, distribution partners preferred specialist providers for each kind of service.
Hence, the startup needed to review both their differentiator and how they would communicate its benefits to the end customer.
They also needed to benchmark their marketing collateral (with focus on digital) with global players in the same space — who were also aggressively targeting the same set of customers.
- Know thy customer: sharp pen picture prior to launch
With rapid leaps in technology, it is becoming increasingly easy to sharply define various clusters of customers. We recommend clients use a tool like netnography that helps them go beyond the position and company name to the man or woman behind the designation.
Today we can define potential buyer clusters by understanding their age, company type (enterprise or startup), job description, career background, professional aspirations etc. A sharp pen picture makes it easy to define a granular inbound marketing plan.
- Eg: A new marketing services firm felt their offering was targeted at VP level managers in large enterprise firms. However, in spite of adequate spends, their digital outreach programme was not very successful. A netnography exercise revealed their customers to be mid-level managers across large and small organisations. Their designation was not a true indicator of their real job profile.Based on a new, sharply defined pen picture, the firm reworked their inbound strategy for faster and more cost-effective customer acquisitions.
- It is becoming increasingly evident that sharply targeted digital campaigns succeed in a cluttered environment. Without focus, B2B campaigns remain suboptimal.
- Understand the implicit: stakeholder perceptions
There are usually multiple stakeholders involved in a new service launch. It could include the leadership team, VCs and investors, existing sales force (who may have to push the new service), distribution partners, and others.
We believe it is essential to define the explicit and implicit requirements of each stakeholder group to ensure all requirements are met or explanations are made. Often, new services die because they are not supported by internal stakeholders who feel their requirements have not been catered to.
- Eg: A national leader wanted to launch a new service offering in a rapidly growing ‘allied’ category. While everyone in the organisation was excited about the launch, the sales force was sceptical. They felt the new offering would be a tough sale as different purchase groups were involved. Moreover, existing players were well entrenched and had a significant online presence. Hence the team felt these optimistic sales targets would not be met.
- By getting a firm understanding of the internal challenges prior to launch, the leadership team was able to address their requirements and hire fresh talent to aid customer acquisition for the new business vertical. They also invested in a strong digital campaign and targeted a content-heavy outreach programme to create the necessary traction amongst their potential target audience.
- Be relevant: understand market trends
Most new launches are aimed at targeting a lucrative market segment. However, few startups review global and Indian market trends in considerable detail prior to defining the final brand offering. We recommend they understand market trends, explicit requirements, implicit drivers of choice — all within a competitive context.
- Eg: An MNC attempting to expand Indian operations found growth challenging. Our engagement revealed that potential clients found their offering irrelevant in the Indian context. The brand’s core differentiators and service offerings were found to be ‘too global’ for our market. Indian clients wanted solutions that were local in flavour and positioned as tailor-made for their specific business environment.
- The company reviewed their digital presence and made significant changes in the website and the kind of content shared online. By significantly increasing their India-specific offerings, case studies, and content, they were able to generate higher quality leads in their outreach programmes.
Over the past few years, we have seen new businesses grow faster than ever before, powered by the digital era. While we celebrate their speed and agility, it is also evident that several brands fail in spite of strong product fundamentals.
As decision makers across companies proactively seek out information online to help them in their daily tasks, the purchase cycle is changing. Firms need to review the message they are sharing vis-a-vis what their clients are looking for in the digital era.
Hence, business leaders need to look beyond the obvious and think granular, while defining a new brand offering in terms of product, people, values, and customer expectations being met. This will ensure their new launch is focused, relevant, and differentiated, and hence likely to have a positive impact in the market.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)