Have we become so pre-occupied with the niceties of brand that we’ve forgotten the reason they exist? Where’s the link to sales?
There are certainly some who will argue that brand has become too clever for its own good; that in the bid to develop brands that are purposeful, story-driven, content-rich and socially responsible, we’ve turned them into narrative machines with broad reach and blunted impact. What’s more, we’re now pursuing those attributes in such a formulaic way, some suggest, that brands are failing to generate the very thing every marketer says they want: a distinctive brand that rises above the noise. It’s a reminder perhaps that when everyone tries to rise above the noise the same way, the only thing that changes is the nature of the noise.
Means and ends
My argument has always been that purpose, story, content, behaviours and experiences are competitive elements rather than end goals. If you’re not using them to define, deliver and measure a more powerful, more competitive, more distinctive brand then, I believe, you are at risk of selling the brand itself short. You are simply delivering the new normal.
Can a brand be too interesting?
Indeed, I have some sympathy for the argument that marketers should, first and foremost, be in the business of driving up interest that supports sales. And that’s the problem isn’t it – defining what’s interesting. At what point does interest become distraction? Can a brand be too interesting? Some will argue you can’t have sales without interest, whilst others will argue that if you don’t focus on asking for the sale – and asking clearly – there’s a very good chance consumers will be interested/entertained but won’t take action.
Brand and sales is very much the topic of conversation for demand-gen focused marketers today. But too ofteen it’s too focused on the short-term at the expense of longer term brand equity. Brands need to know in their own minds what they’re doing to lift profile and where, how and why they’re chasing profit. And they need to find distinctive ways to express what they stand for that make them feel bigger (and more valuable) than product alone. At the same time, as I pointed out at a presentation recently, the more that consumers demand things for free, and the more that brands accede to that, the clearer they need to be about where and when the money gets made.
As organisations turn up the pressure on marketers to deliver top-line revenue, the need to insist on actions, and measurements for those actions, that are meaningful and that prove the difference that a strong brand makes are critical. There’s nothing wrong with social media – but there’s nothing perfectly right about it either. Someone still has to make and close the deals and sell the goods if the brand is going to deliver healthy returns and be judged a success.
Branding the sales process
I had a fascinating Long Virtual Coffee with Mark Hunter in which we talked about the fact that salespeople don’t want to hear the word “no” anymore. In his new book High-Profit Prospecting, Hunter argues that people in sales today have opted for email and social media because they’d rather get an electronic brush-off than a face-to-face one. We have, he suggests, forgotten that selling is still primarily about human contact, and that digital campaigns and CRM are only tools to make sales happen. Sales people, he suggests, need to spend more time hunting and less time socialising.
If there’s an opportunity that’s being missed, in my view, it’s that sales and marketing teams don’t spend enough time working together to formulate a truly branded sales funnel: one that guides customers through the buying process in ways that endorse everything the brand holds dear. Some will argue that’s a contradiction for all the reasons given above. I believe it’s a necessity (and a challenge) that should be intrinsic to customer experience design. Given what it takes to run and remunerate a sales team, you want your sales people to be your most successful brand touchpoints. For that reason alone, I would suggest, they need to sell in ways that people recognise as specific to you.
Note: A version of this post has been published elsewhere under the title Brands Were Born To Sell.