hamster in a wheel

In today’s digitally-driven, increasingly disruptive B2B landscape, creating sustainable advantage is more elusive than ever. In fact, the sheer pace of change has left many B2B marketers feeling like they are in a perpetual state of catch-up (there are entire conferences devoted to this pursuit). And it’s not just the up-starts that are shaking things up. Well-established players in industries across the B2B spectrum are leveraging new technologies and our propensity for all things digital to transform their businesses – not only what they do, but how they sell it.

It’s easy to give in to the pressure to keep up with competitors, especially when it comes to marketing. Afterall, if all of your peers are on Facebook, shouldn’t you be? And what about those apps that your biggest competitors just launched? You probably need one of those too, right?

A recent HBR article provides an interesting perspective on this seemingly chaotic landscape. The article argues that our collective focus on this digital/technological rat race is too narrow. Instead of keeping up with competitors, B2B executives should be focused on keeping up with customers.

“Customers’ expectations are also more liquid and no longer based on industry boundaries. Customers don’t compare your customer service to that of your competitors, but to the best customer service they receive from anywhere. The same is true for their expectations of your web site, branding, and even social responsibility.”

In other words, you’re not just competing with your industry peers – you’re competing with every experience your customers have ever had.

Wait. That doesn’t make you feel better?

“How can I compete with everything?!,” you might be asking yourself. The answer is: you can’t and you shouldn’t try. Instead you should find those opportunities where you can stand-out and connect with customers in a meaningful way. This is where brand can play a critical role.

As the HBR article points out, today “customers want to be empowered, not controlled… It’s not about capturing and converting towards a transaction, but connecting and collaborating around a shared purpose.” In other words, great customer experiences do not come from having the latest and greatest technology, they come from aligning customer needs with your purpose, your belief, your why: your brand. A strong corporate brand can drive a constant promise or experience across product lines and marketing activities, even as a company continually introduces new features and functionality.

Brand can even help in making technology decisions. With ever expanding and evolving options, your corporate brand can provide a useful filter for identifying if a new technology will build upon and improve the experience you are trying to create within the context of what customers want (rather then what competitors are doing).

This should come as a relief to B2B marketers. While it is almost impossible (and unproductive) to compete with everything from a technological perspective, a strong corporate brand can effectively establish a distinctive and compelling position for a firm, capturing customer mind space and providing a platform for a truly engaging experience. Though important, the technology itself should only play a supporting role.

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