One of four core issues at the top of many marketing executives’ lists is branding. In a recent survey of marketers by Forrester Research, the need to establish differentiation against competitors and to build awareness in new markets were cited as the top reasons for investing budget dollars, resources and time to branding or rebranding initiatives. The theory is that it starts with the brand promise and the company’s ability to provoke the thinking of its target buyers and influencers.
As part of a company that recently went through a rebranding, I agree. Customers today are more interested in solving business issues than in being guided toward what products to buy. Customers want to have a working, two-way engagement with companies they choose to partner with, and it starts with the brand promise. It’s important to ask ourselves if we are engaging effectively with customers in a way that matters most to them and provides them what they are looking for, and if our brand promise really differentiates us from the competition.
To achieve those objectives, we have to transform the current way we approach the market. Of course, much of that transformation has to do with the recent recession and the impact it has had on all of our businesses. This recession has caused a fundamental shift in the way companies look at how, as well as why, they buy the products and services they need. Personally, I don’t think it’s ever going to revert to the way things were done in the past. As marketers, we have to respond.
Companies today are simply not going to spend money without a great deal of thought and research behind the purchase. I see it in RFPs we respond to and I see it in the day-to-day engagement we have with our customers. What I’m observing is that many B2B customers are quickly moving to one of two camps. There are those that want to be left alone to research, shop and buy over the Web (call them the transactional buyer) and those who want a true, two-way partnership that will help lead their companies to a clear and measurable outcome(call them the solutions buyer). The middle ground that many companies have thrived in over the years seems to be fading.
We are all buyers ourselves, and I know that am not going to buy anything from a company that doesn’t take the time to understand my issues and help me solve them. While I may gain some awareness and do some homework on digital mediums, in the end I want to ensure I am spending my budget dollars with a company that truly understands and fulfills my needs. This is exactly where change management enters the picture for most companies.
The need to get a better understanding of what a customer’s problems are and how to solve them requires a change in the way we market and sell our products and services. It may also require a retraining of our sales force. Those reading this are probably familiar with the term “solution selling.” It is a term that in the past meant a coupling of hardware and software that we thought delivered a total solution. Not so today. Today, solution selling is all about combining products, services and industry expertise to clearly define a business issue a customer is having and then deliver a solution, including ongoing advice that helps solve that issue.
It has been said that a product is made in a factory; a brand is bought by the customer. As a marketing executive at a company that produces many types of products, I know that our customers don’t just buy products from us. They buy the fact that we meet their expectations and deliver on our brand promise. Because promises matter…they matter to us in our personal lives and they matter to us in business. They dictate how we execute every stage of the customer experience. And it is our job to deliver.
Michael Dane is Vice President of Marketing for Ricoh Americas. He has more than 20 years of sales and marketing experience in document management, workflow and publishing technology. At Ricoh, Dane leads channel marketing strategies and programs for the dealer and direct organizations in the U.S., as well as marketing for all products and services, vertical market strategies, marketing promotions and communications.