B2B marketing strategy – how to build industry-focused brand positioning?

Ivaylo Borisov, Ardency Consulting

automation-engineers Ardency Consulting marketing and PR_01052021

Why industry-focused marketing?

Critical part of any business planning is to determine the markets to address. For B2B companies in tech or professional services market segmentation starts with industry verticals. Business development and marketing strategies follow the industry focus. Very few companies in the world could serve any industry and even then they have industry priorities. So, why should not SMEs and startups with much less resources be as focused as the IBMs and Deloittes?

B2B companies need to ground their brand positioning on common brand values of trust and credibility. Customers need to trust you that you know their pain points and believe that you will deliver on your value promise. Trust begins with proof of customer’s industry understanding. Different industries have different structures and companies in different industries face different challenges, which require highly targeted solutions or differentiated messaging and brand positioning. Customers need to recognize that you understand their industry and its pain points. Only then they could trust you with addressing their organization’s challenges.

However, although trust and credibility are emotional brand elements, too often B2B marketing is led by focus on functional benefits. Or what the brand management guru Aaker calls “the product-attribute fixation trap”. In B2B people are not completely “rational”. Instead, they look for brand personality attributes like innovative, trustful, reliable, innovative, knowledgeable.

So, how should B2B companies strategically plan for brand differentiation by addressing complexity of marketing to different industries?

Companies should strategically plan and build their marketing communications and thought leadership by: prioritizing industries, positioning thought leaders, building resources for industry positioning, and industry channels planning.

Illustration of framework for B2B strategic marketing planning industry Ardency Consulting_30042021

Put your priority industries out and front

First, and most critical, stage is to determine your business’ priority industries. These priority industries guide your marketing planning and also tell your prospects and leads that you are the expert in their sectors.

For startups or SMEs, these are the industries where you have competitive advantage, where your offering is credible, which are part of the history of the organization, and where your business has been successful. Importantly, you need to have strong proof points for consistently strong solutions delivery in these industries.

You could start with industries where you already have had completed projects and extrapolate from there. Determine your priority industries after analysis of industry health and your strength and weaknesses – you need to be able to make money in the industry and be confident that could deliver quality solutions.

IBM cloud for financial services Ardency Consulting marketing_31042021

These industries must be visible and usually prominent for web site visitors. When visiting a corporate web site during the brand consideration stage, consumers would like to see their industry available and check on your credentials and available content for their industry.

Usually, I recommend positioning prominently up to six core industries. This number is not fixed, but you should be careful not to have too many as every industry requires marketing resources but also not too few in order to have appropriate in size addressable market.

Carefully choose your thought leaders

Usually, I suggest to have three thought leaders roles: the visionary, the tech, or subject matter, guru, and the industry expert. These thought leaders, together with the sales team, play complementary roles during the nurturing stage and all contribute driving the lead to purchase.

If you want to differentiate your brand through personality traits, make sure you choose personalities for brand ambassadors.

The visionary usually is high level executive with extensive experience in the industry and with active participation in formulating vision for industry’s future; they position the company as industry leader. Visionaries articulate the message how our solutions and technologies are related to societal challenges. Visionaries are first point of contact with high level media, they underwrite highest level thought leadership pieces like research reports. Visionaries are the corporate brand spear – they need to support corporate brand messaging and bring highest visibility to the company’s thought leadership. Visionaries could engage with highest level of executives from clients and establish rapport with client’s most senior management team.

Very few companies have visionaries and even less work strategically to position them.

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Next, there are the tech or subject matter gurus. Tech gurus lead thought leadership in technology or functional area of expertise and they are well versed in how these could evolve in the future. Tech gurus establish thought leadership and brand positioning as innovator and provider of leading tech solutions. Tech gurus are also experts in articulating how technology addresses customers’ pain points and can use business cases to bring technology to benefit the organization. Tech gurus should be positioned in tech and business media and attend high and mid-level tech events.

Finally, there are the industry experts. These thought leaders have extensive experience and reputation as experts in several related industries. They participate in daily industry outreach and content marketing. Industry experts support sales with high and mid-level management outreach and are critical to move accounts closer to sales.

Thought leaders structure Ardency Consulting marketing_30042021

Marketing, corporate communications and PR teams must work in coordination to support the three roles of the thought leaders. Under one centralized team, they should plan their personal positioning, including participation in events and media relations. Marketers must carefully plan events and speaking opportunities in the context of thought leaders’ positioning. Thought leaders marketing activities participation should not only focus on sales and leads but also consider their sustainable personal branding as thought leaders. You want to further grow their reputation, not diminish it with inappropriate engagements.

The professionals in corporate communications and marketing must help and work with thought leaders to provide them with advice and assistance in their positioning strategy. Industry leaders must have strong content, coordination on messaging, preparedness in media relations and professional management of their social media pages.

Ensure industry-focused content and sales enablement

AEC industry-Ardency Consutling marketing and PR_30042021

Content and thought leaders cannot achieve optimal results by themselves; they complement each other. For each industry you need to have dedicated resources, facilitating your marketing goals and brand positioning. Resources in the form of content could be of similar format along the organization, but they need to have industry-focused substance.

Make sure your content resources are aligned not only according to industry but also appropriate to the level of the audience and corresponding thought leader. You should have high level vision papers and media articles, industry research and reports, as well as technology solutions and business challenges white papers.

More on how to strategically plan for your content marketing operations in this article.

Carefully plan for industry-specific media channels

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Industry-focused marketing strategy and media mix planning must consider two important factors. Firstly, you need to plan for appropriate for the industry marketing activities and secondly, all activities need to be aligned with thought leaders’ professional level and their personal branding.

Pivoting on industry-focused media channels is critical for the effectiveness of marketing outreach. Avoid common mistakes to work on your industry communications using your own industry channels and relying on common tools like webinars, focused on solutions, not industries. Pay special attention to available traditional and digital media, specialized in the industry you target and have offline and virtual events strategy for each industry.

I believe people will desire physical contact and attend physical events after the pandemic. Start planning about those, especially in markets with clear reopening horizon after COVID-19.

Finally, when deploying industry thought leadership strategy, a blog is a must. You should ensure resources for industry categories and content from all thought leaders.

B2B companies in tech and professional services need to make strategic decision on their industry markets and ensure sound industry-focused marketing outreach strategy which support corporate business strategy with appropriate brand positioning and resources.

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