There's no room for wallflowers in B2B marketing. Your brand is your face, and unless your audience recognizes those rosy cheeks and dimples, your revenue will be, at best, as flat as a tabletop. That's what makes B2B brand awareness so important in today's crowded and often contentious marketplace – it develops brand recognition and, if you play your cards right, conversions as well.
But very few companies just walk into brand awareness by happenstance. The vast majority of the time, it's something that you must foster and work at. Now that's not to say that developing brand awareness is equivalent to walking on the moon or scaling Kilimanjaro. Creating recognition and awareness, like most aspects of marketing, simply requires a well-organized and informed approach, some best practices to clear the path, and maybe a bit of ingenuity for good measure.
The Value of B2B Brand Awareness
Slip on your customers' shoes for a moment. That's a lot of shoes, right? Some might be ready to buy your space-age widget – or one like it – and others are just getting the lay of the land. The point is, your target audience is spread across your funnel and the buying process like picnickers at the park on Labor Day. Some are at the entrance, looking around for a shady open spot, while others have already grilled the bratwurst, thrown the frisbee, and are preparing to head home.
In a perfect world, there would be a logjam at the bottom of your funnel, and your B2B customers would all have their wallets out, ready to make a purchase. That's most likely not reality, however, so you must be just as aware of those at the beginning of the buying process as those at the end. That, my friends, is why brand awareness is such a valuable commodity – those top-of-the-funnel customers will eventually work their way downward and, as they near the point of purchase, will recognize your brand and expertise from their research.
Remember, the B2B buying process is usually much slower and deliberate than its B2C cousin. Whoever is buying for their company has a responsibility to get the purchase right the first time. Otherwise, plenty of people will look at them sternly as they walk the office hallways. Therefore, their research is most likely lengthy and thorough, meaning you have time and opportunity to get your brand to show up during that research process. Well, that's assuming you follow a few B2B brand awareness tactics, but I'm getting to that.
But What About Lead Generation?
Naturally, lead generation is critical. Leads keep the lights on, provide you with cash flow, and keep your decision-makers happy. The B2B world rightfully obsesses over lead generation because it's critical to success. But for every potential customer that you officially call a sales qualified lead – meaning they're at the tail end of their buying cycle and ready to purchase – several others have yet to reach that point. And that creates quite the conundrum for B2B companies and marketers, where they feel they're forced to choose between lead generation and building brand awareness.
The B2B world rightfully obsesses over lead generation because it's critical to success.
However, leads and your brand aren't a one or the other type of scenario. In fact, just like the discussion on paid media vs. content strategy from a previous blog, the two work hand-in-hand with one another. You shouldn't choose between lead generation and brand awareness because they're two pieces of the same puzzle.
Brand awareness drives leads and leads pay the bills. Sure, maybe using brand awareness to drive leads might seem like a slow play at times, but keep in mind the length and depth of the B2B buying process. If you're only buying leads with clicks and not extending your brand, there are entire audience segments that have no idea who you are but, like it or not, surely know your competitors. The way I see it, it's really a matter of allocating your time and resources between brand awareness and lead generation rather than choosing which one to use.
B2B Brand Awareness Tactics
Now let's get to the meat of the discussion. At this point, I assume you see my way of thinking and agree that brand awareness is essential to your business. It develops recognition and gets your name out there as your customers conduct their research and progress through their buying process. When it comes to different tactics to use in developing brand awareness, there are a few go-to choices that stand out from the rest.
As previously discussed, blogging is awesome. It's easy on the budget and serves as the backbone for other brand awareness tactics. It also allows your brand to show up in multiple channels, never relegated to just your website as people can easily share your blogs across different platforms. Yes, your blogs have to be of sufficient quality and provide enough value for the reader to deem them share-worthy, but that's something that a little elbow grease can help you accomplish. The goal is to provide thought leadership that a reader can't help but want to share. Also, since companies that emphasize blogging are 13x more likely to realize positive ROI, it certainly doesn’t hurt your bottom line, either.
Obviously a tool that works in conjunction with the previous tactic, it's the SEO benefits that truly make blogging a powerful brand awareness tool. Better, more precise SEO leads to higher Google rankings, and those higher rankings put your name in front of the audience. As you're writing your blogs, be sure to integrate the right SEO techniques to ensure you're covering the keywords that your prospective customers are searching for. Even if a customer doesn't click on your blog in their search results, just your name continually showing up in their searches creates brand awareness, establishing you as a company that matters in that particular space.
It's no secret that social media channels are difficult to get an organic following on these days. And while we've discussed the glories of LinkedIn numerous times in the past, it really is the last channel you can still reach your organic following on. But while the platform doesn't make you pay for a ton of ads to engage with the people that follow you, that doesn't necessarily mean that engaging them for B2B purposes is intuitive, either.
Pictures of your new product line or video from Bruce's retirement party last week might be enticing for your employees (or potential employees), but neither create much value for your customers. You want people to follow you on LinkedIn because they're interested in the content you provide, whether it’s helping them with their jobs, career, education, or any other set of goals and interests. I'm not implying that Bruce's moment in the sun shouldn't be on your feed because there's definitely something to be said for the human element. However, the bulk of your content should focus on adding value for your customers and presenting yourself as a thought leader.
Blogging is an easy way to create and maintain that engagement. Assuming your blogging in the most impactful way possible – ranking well for the topics that your customers care about – then putting that content on LinkedIn is yet another way to capture more eyeballs. Customers will be inclined to follow you because they're interested in the topics you blog about and you add value to their time and attention.
Other Social Media Tips
Now, just because I said that obtaining an organic following on most social media channels is difficult doesn't mean you should avoid all paid platforms other than LinkedIn. In fact, it's a good idea to share on all social platforms, particularly LinkedIn, but Twitter and Facebook as well.
Like blogging, gated content gives you authority with the customer. From their perspective, if you know so much about a topic that you create an E-book or infographic about it – even if they don't click through – you're still establishing your company as a thought leader in the space.
The blog can rank to raise awareness while the gated content creates a sense of authority and expertise on the subject.
Also, if you pair that handsome gated content – be it a downloadable guide, case study, webinar, white paper, or something else – with a strong landing page or blog that teases out the content offer's insights, then you're getting the best of both worlds. The blog can rank to raise awareness while the gated content creates a sense of authority and expertise on the subject. And who doesn't like a two-fer, right? Just remember that the gated content, as well as the accompanying blog or landing page, must deliver value. Anything that comes off as just empty words or a thinly veiled sales pitch will ultimately do more harm than good.
Promoting Gated Content on LinkedIn
LinkedIn isn't the most economical of paid media options out there so, as always, be mindful of your budget before jumping into the LinkedIn paid ad pool. But as our previous blog on the topic said, LinkedIn is remarkable for its ability to target your ideal customer segments. Therefore, the trick is to offset the costs with leads. And to that you're hopefully saying duh because that's always the trick.
Aside from stating the obvious, though, pairing your gated content with LinkedIn ads is a great way to get the needed bang for your buck. Of course, lead generation is an integral part of that equation but, from a brand awareness perspective, even when people aren't clicking on your paid ad for a prime piece of gated content, you're getting impressions galore. Every single one of those impressions extends your brand awareness, and the longer your ad runs, the more those impressions pile up.
Paid search can be a great way to target users based on a high-value action or intent. The oceanfront real estate in the paid search world is popular and often expensive, but usually for a very good reason – most of these users have identified a need and are actively looking for a solution. This can be a no-brainer for you and your messaging as long as you make decisions relative to ROI which, by the way, should always be calculated based on the lifetime value of a customer. A secondary benefit is the precise brand awareness you gain by either promoting your website or a piece of content when bidding on these search terms. Once again, whether or not they click on your ad, they still see your company as they scroll through the results, and that's always a good thing.
In all honesty, retargeting is an obvious one that every company should be doing. It targets people that have already visited your website, and you can show them ads based on those on-site actions. And since the vast majority of those visits were for a reason – maybe as part of a person's research in the B2B buying process (wink, wink) – then it only makes sense to stay in front of that person and reinforce your brand awareness.
If you're already writing solid, engaging content, then reaching out to publications to publish that content is a simple way to increase brand awareness. Make sure to have a strategy going in, however, because most publications won’t just accept any submission without a good value proposition. Choose industry publications that your target audience frequents to make the most of your efforts, ideally communicating directly with the editor rather than a general email address. Just be sure to follow the submission guidelines to a tee and, if you start on the right foot, suggest an ongoing relationship where you write content for the publication on an ongoing basis.
Like guest posts in publications, reaching out to a podcast host to be a guest on a show takes little effort and costs you exactly nothing. And with over 25% of the population already listening to podcasts, it can obviously work wonders for your brand awareness under the right circumstances.
Just be sure to express to the host or producer how you will add value to the podcast and what the listeners will gain from your insights. Alternatively, for an investment of a few hundred dollars, you can get a pretty darn good microphone and start your own podcast. Invite your customers on as guests, interview your subject matter experts (SMEs), and present yourself as an authority in your industry. In addition, you can also comb your hair, put on a decent shirt, and use your smartphone's camera to record the conversation for YouTube. Adding a video element can make the content more engaging, but also connects your content to one of the biggest search engines in the world – YouTube. This is yet another opportunity for your content to drive more awareness for your brand.
Community & Social Involvement
Lastly, social involvement is something you should probably be doing anyway. Every company, no matter its location or industry, benefits from being part of the community in some capacity. That said, the next time a volunteering opportunity comes along, try inviting current or prospective customers to join you. Afterward, you can write about the occasion in a blog and share it on your social platforms. As I said earlier, B2B customers want a sense of humanity from their vendors. If community and volunteering is an essential part of your company's culture and vision, then let your audience know.
While I've discussed darn near all of the tactics you can use to build your brand awareness, every company and industry is different. My advice is to sit down and think about your customers, where they are, and what they expect from you. Try to uncover the niche tactics that might not work well in another industry but could be gold for your marketing strategy. And as always, you can give a holler to your Dallas inbound marketing gurus here at Creative Cave if you need a bit more help along the way.