For quite some time, B2B marketing has been focused on bottom-of-the-funnel tactics: using lead generation to in-market buyers. In a climate where leads are relatively plentiful, this is OK. But in recent months, we’ve seen a shift.

While we’re limited to anecdotal observations for now, the B2B marketing pendulum does appear to be swinging back towards brand development.

Some already brand-focused businesses will simply be continuing with their strategies and trying not to gloat. For others, the driving force for changing tack is the spectre of immediate leads drying up. For a significant number of businesses, the bottom of the funnel has literally been removed.

Either way, it’s a healthy reset: ‘brand’ is the new lead gen.

But, for some businesses, changing strategies now may be too little, too late. Those that have focused on the short-term, growth-hacking, hyper-targeted road are going to find that they will be spectacularly ill-equipped for the era we’re about to enter (AKA a prolonged downturn).

That’s because, in a recession, brand becomes far more important in decision making. Companies still buy products and services but sales take longer and customers become more risk averse as cost relative to available budget increases. They need to know who to trust when being bombarded by offers from desperate vendors. As such, brands they’ve heard of may be handed an automatic pass onto their shortlists.

Those companies that have invested in creating a distinctive, customer-focused brand to a broad universe of potential buyers will therefore outperform short-termist competitors both during a recession and as we come out the other side.

But what about those who are late to the party, whose marketing strategies were not, until now, brand-focused? If you’re going to start now, it’s important to get it right, so as not to risk further delay.

It is very easy to make branding incredibly complex: bringing together the sum total of customer experiences with your mission, vision, values, purpose, etc. Often, a better starting place is to radically simplify everything. Think of your brand in terms of ‘who you are and what that means’.

‘Who you are’ means defining the business in a way that a customer would recognise and understand.

‘What that means’ is an exercise in determining the real value you offer customers (not simply what you wish they valued).

Of course, this isn’t the whole picture. But it’s a start.

This then leads to a number of challenges and questions for today’s B2B marketers:

In a recession, brand becomes far more important in buyer decision making (Pic: Diego PH on Unsplash)
  • Do we really understand how the real-world needs of the business and our customers have changed since the pandemic?
  • How can we create and sustain meaningful brand value?
  • How do we measure success when marketing qualified leads have vanished?
  • How can we reconnect senior management with the real business value of marketing?
  • What does an effective strategy look like in the mid- and long-term?
  • How does the tactical mix need to change?

Ultimately, for many B2B marketers, this will mean radically rethinking significant parts of what they do, the partners they work with and how they create and demonstrate value.

The time and investment will pay out in the long-term and, once the bottom funnel is replenished, a healthy brand strategy can exist alongside lead generating tactics.