I want to show you how to use our Strategic ThinkBox tool so you can frame your thinking before you take action. It takes a strategically sound B2B marketer to figure out how to win with brand love to attract loyal customers. As marketing rapidly evolves, the fundamentals of B2B brand management matter more now than ever.
Today’s B2B marketers are so busy, running from meeting to meeting, and they feel overwhelmed and confused. They have no time to think. Marketing is now about ‘get stuff done’— and never about taking the time to stop and ask if it is the right stuff to do.
Meanwhile, to build a relationship, you must take the time to genuinely court your customers. To move your customer from stranger to friend and onto the forever stage, you need to think all the time. With the focus on access to big data, marketers are drowning in data, that they do not even have the time to sort through it all to produce the analytical stories to help to make decisions. I see that B2B marketers are so overwhelmed by the breadth of media choices and the pressure to be everywhere, that the quality of B2B marketing execution has suffered.
Use our ThinkBox and PlayBox to manage your brand
I want to introduce you to my Strategic ThinkBox concept, which I have borrowed from sports. For instance, in golf, using a ThinkBox forces you to consider everything you are facing before you take the shot. Look at any lakes or bunkers in the way, the wind condition, or how well you are playing that day. Then, decide on your shot strategy. As you move to a PlayBox, visualize the ideal shot, think and feel your way through the mechanics of your swing, and trust you are making the right shot. Do not over-think the strategy during the execution.
With your brand, you should use a strategic ThinkBox, to get a 360-degree view of the situation, before taking action. Consider your brand’s core strength, the bond you have with your customers, your brand’s competitive position, and your brand’s business situation. Once you have completed your thinking, use the Execution PlayBox to see the ideal execution, think and feel your way, then trust your instincts.
The four questions in your Strategic ThinkBox
As I created the Strategic ThinkBox, I made it so that each of the four questions uses a forced choice to make decisions, where you must focus on only one possible answer for each question.
- What is the core strength that will help your brand win?
- How tightly connected is your customer to your brand?
- What is your current competitive position?
- What business situation does your brand currently face?
1. Start with your brand’s core strength. Decide which of four choices you will lead with:
- Brand story
- Customer experience
Your core strength will change your entire strategy, including the brand messages and the focus of your investment. In the next chapter, I show a unique process for how to choose your brand’s core strength and then show you how to write smart, strategic objective statements around your core strength.
2. Next, you have to look at your customer strategy. Start by determining where your brand currently sits on the brand love curve, whether your brand is:
- Like it
- Love it
The goal is to tighten the bond with your customer and move them from one stage to the next. In a later chapter, I will show you how to use brand funnel data, the voice of the customer, and market dynamics to determine where your brand sits on the brand love curve. I will outline clear game plans for each stage.
3. Regarding the competitive strategy, you must choose from one of four different types of competitive situations you find your brand operating within:
- Power players are the dominant leader in the category and take a competitive defensive stance
- Challenger brands have gained enough power to battle head-to-head with the market leader
- Disruptor brands have found a space so different they can pull customers away from any significant category players
- Craft brands aggressively go against the category with a niche target market and a niche customer benefit. They are small and stay far away from the market leaders
Each competitive situation leads to different strategy choices.
4. A brand must look at the situational strategy, which starts with understanding your brand health, looking at both internal and external factors. Choose one of four potential situations:
- Keep the momentum going
- Face a business turnaround situation
- Realign everyone behind a strategy
- Your brand is a start-up
Each situation leads to distinct strategies and leadership styles to deploy.
As you put all four answers together, you start to map out the overall strategic direction where you should focus. When writing the brand plan, I recommend you map out a specific key issue question for each of the four strategic questions in your ThinkBox.
How our Strategic ThinkBox works with B2B brands
FedEx’s core strength has been its remarkable experience in shipping small packages overnight, which it pioneered in the 1970s. In terms of competitive strategy, FedEx entered the market as a classic disruptor, who made it impossible for any current alternative to compete and gave the company a significant competitive advantage over UPS. However, UPS caught up in the 1980s, and most customers now view FedEx and UPS as equals.
In terms of customer strategy, FedEx remains one of the most trusted B2B brands, but UPS is almost as highly trusted. Yes, some loyal customers still love FedEx, but many are indifferent when they compare FedEx to UPS because there is no clear point of difference between them. FedEx’s bond with customers is at risk, leaving the customer’s decision to be made on price or availability.
Even with strong brand scores, the business situation is not great. With flat sales and pricing challenges, FedEx has seen its valuation fall 25% in the past few years. FedEx is stuck, wondering where to go next. E-commerce retailers and brands are building their own delivery systems for direct-to-consumer service. FedEx recently lost its deal with Amazon. FedEx is a classic case where its success is a burden. The challenge FedEx now faces is to find new revenue streams, or it will face a long, steady decline, and pinpoint where to attack itself to eliminate costs out of the system.
Boeing is a product-led brand, now facing issues with their product due to recent crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX. For decades, Boeing has been one of the most respected and admired companies in the world. However, Boeing has completely mishandled its 737 MAX situation. It’s a classic case of the PR misjudgment of hoping the story goes away rather than address the root causes head-on. As a result, Boeing’s reputation, sales results, and financial outlook have all suffered. As reporters look deeper, they question Boeing on its commitment to safety, suggesting the company is more focused on profits and cost efficiency than safety.
From a customer view, Ed Sims, the WestJet Airlines CEO, was quoted for his evaluation of Boeing saying, “I would grade it no higher than a B. I expect A-plus service from every supplier to WestJet, just as we expect our customers to evaluate us in the same way. I think Boeing has missed a beat, frankly, in the way that they have responded to this crisis.” That is never a comment a brand wants to hear from their customer.
Boeing competes head-to-head with Airbus, similar to how Coke and Pepsi battle each other. Every loss by one brand is the other brand’s gain. In the months following the 737 MAX crisis, Boeing’s market capitalization fell by $30 billion, while Airbus quickly climbed $20 billion. Moreover, Airbus has used the crisis to race ahead of Boeing with new orders and deliveries. The challenge for Boeing is how to put the crisis behind it and refocus on innovation to get back into a competitive position with customers.
When it comes to enterprise software, Microsoft is the dominant power player B2B brand having achieved a near-monopoly in the PC market with core products such as Windows, Office, and Outlook. From 2000 to 2012, their valuation felt stuck, relying on a steady stream of sales for business offices, but Microsoft didn’t seem to know where to go next, with failures in mobile, music, and search engines. The brand needed a realignment to steer it toward the future. In the last few years, Microsoft’s growth has shifted investment and attention to its B2B enterprise business, behind the Azure cloud business, which includes on-premise servers, and software and enterprise consulting services. Arguably, Microsoft has shifted its B2B focus from product-led to experience-led. The valuation for Microsoft is up four-fold, surpassing $1 trillion. Abandoning the monopoly mindset has opened up innovation with the Internet of Things (IoT), which will connect everyday internet connections with data collection and automation. As the business transforms, Microsoft needs to continue its momentum and competitively battle cloud offerings from Amazon and Google.
Marriott is the choice hotel of the business executive, not just because of the quality of its hotel rooms, but the exceptional Marriott Rewards program that makes staying in its hotels a must-have by making loyalty more enticing. Following the acquisition of Starwood Hotels, Marriott is now the power player brand by adding Westin Hotels, Ritz Carlton, and the St. Regis brands. To the market, Marriott takes a house of brands approach, but internally, the Marriott Rewards program unifies the company as it approaches the business traveler.
The Marriott Rewards program is the company’s secret sauce among B2B customers, shifting Marriott from a product-led brand into an idea-lead brand. While hotels will bid to procurement departments to be a preferred vendor, business executives have become so addicted to Marriott Rewards they insist on staying at a Marriott. With the stock up eight-fold over the last decade, Marriott needs to continue its momentum. The recent launch of the Marriott Bonvoy Rewards program goes beyond just earning and redeeming free hotel stays, now including 40 airline partners, and the ability to book flights and cars using only points. This reward program is its new power play, as it beats any competitive offering. Marriott is a great B2B case study. It proves that, instead of treating a company as your customer, B2B brands should now manage every employee at a company as a potential customer.
Although Facebook is primarily a consumer-facing brand, all of its revenues come from B2B media sales. Facebook is an idea-led brand, and the dominant power player, willing to bully any competitor who threatens it.
In terms of its bond with customers, five years ago, Facebook was on the verge of becoming a beloved brand. Yet Facebook’s arrogance and hunger for even more power have eroded its trust with users, and that puts its future B2B media revenues at risk. There remains doubt about how Facebook will handle privacy, political interference, and concerns over the accuracy of its audience numbers – uncertainty that continues to cloud Facebook’s trust. Mark Zuckerberg must be more forthcoming and honest in how he portrays his brand. The question Facebook should focus on is how to tighten its bond with users.
Looking at its business situation, Facebook still sees significant momentum with revenue increases of 20-30%. Facebook needs to regain its trust because the most significant risk to its arrogance is the threat of government regulations that would severely cut into future revenues.
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Learn to think, define, plan, inspire and analyze
- You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies.
- To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a customer profile and a customer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept.
- For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans.
- To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around marketing communications and media choices.
- When it comes time for the analytics, I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.