Has Content Marketing Made Branding Obsolete?

Confession: as a died-in-the-wool direct marketer, I am a branding cynic. My general attitude towards branding is summed up in the old maxim:

“Branding is what your agency calls your campaign when they can’t measure it.”

Now that’s not to say that a brand isn’t real, for some. Starbucks is a successful brand. And so is Nike. And Coke. These companies thrive, in large part, not just on the quality of their products but upon their image, and the general, emotional view that their customers have about the company, and how those customers believe the company aligns with their own personal beliefs or preferences or aspirations, or however else you care to define a brand.

But does a B2B company, particularly an early-stage company, need branding? I would argue: no.

What makes branding even more irrelevant for most B2B companies today is the very nature of modern demand generation: namely, content marketing. If generating leads depended even in small part on how consumers felt about your company, branding might have a role to play. But successful demand generation today has little to do with your company, and much more to do with your content.

The leads that you generate from a white paper about best practices, or a Webinar about ROI, or an infographic about industry trends, or (ahem) a blog post about a “hot topic” all serve to make your brand irrelevant. To reinforce this point, consider that most successful demand generation content has nothing whatsoever to do with the company or the product, and everything to do with the topic, or issue, or business challenge that the same company and product can solve.

Where brand might yet have a role to play is in lead nurturing. Once a prospect enters the lead cycle, the conversation turns from an interest in a particular topic to why that prospect should do business with your company. At that stage, the image that your company portrays, your “brand personality” (to borrow a phrase) comes into play. Does your brand speak credibility, authority, and stability? Or does it convey a company on the cutting edge, a company that understands its customers, a company that (gasp) doesn’t take itself too seriously? All may impact on the rate at which you convert that casual interest in solving a particular business challenge into a sales ready lead, an opportunity, and ultimately, a deal.

When start-up clients ask us if they should invest in “branding,” we tell them: no. They’re better off investing precious marketing dollars into identifying, and engaging with, those prospects feeling the “pain” that their product or service can address. Once the challenge turns to converting leads to prospects and opportunities and sales, then, and only then, does brand becomes more significant.

2 thoughts on “Has Content Marketing Made Branding Obsolete?

  1. Julie Schwartz

    Howard,

    With all due respect, I do not think I could disagree with you more! All marketing, whether it be lead generation or lead management has to be supported by, consistent with, and reflect the company brand. This applies to a white paper used for lead generation as well as a white paper used for lead nurturing. Branding is not advertising. Branding is not creating widespread awareness. Branding does not have to be expensive. But branding is necessary to communicate what the company stands for and how it is different from the competition. Documenting a brand architecture (Target audiences, brand promise, proof points, personality, differentiators, and core messages) is something every company must do to keep everyone singing from the same hymn sheet and create a strong presence in the market.

    Julie

  2. Howard Sewell Post author

    Julie, thanks for the comment – much appreciated! As you surmised, I think we’ll “agree to disagree” on this one. I’m familiar with the argument that “all marketing must reflect the brand” but I would suggest (respectfully) that the argument is a dated notion.

    Is a consistent message a good thing? Sure. But (to my way of thinking) that doesn’t equate to branding being a necessary investment for most B2B companies.

    With content marketing as the primary driver for today’s B2B demand generation, not only is it not essential to support or reflect the brand, it’s not even necessary to identify your company. We work with a great many start-ups and other early-stage companies with virtually NO market presence or brand awareness. The beauty of demand generation today is that it doesn’t matter. If you create quality content that appeals to prospects feeling the “pain” that your company solves, you can generate leads, and deals, AND revenue; brand or no brand.

    Cheers, Howard

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