The New Normal for B2B Brands: Promise Over Plans
For humans in general, and marketers in particular, a plan is a line of protection. Even now, as society is starting to let go of some lines of protection that have been so important over the past 15 months, we crave protection. We crave control over our chaotic environment, control over our ability to be successful. Control is appealing. Plans are comforting. But plans alone will not make you effective in the “new normal.”
That’s because a plan is different from a strategy.
A plan is also different from a promise.
The events of the past 15 months have drawn a stark line between what matters to your customer and what doesn’t. Understanding exactly where this stark line falls is your critical opportunity, and now is the moment to seize it — to promise something that really matters to your market.
... A plan is different from a strategy. A plan is also different from a promise.
It will feel challenging and uncomfortable to be honest about what that promise is, to focus less on your proof points and products and more on your commitment to customers. It will be just as challenging and uncomfortable to hold yourself accountable to it, but (here’s my most sophisticated advice) do it anyway. Decide what matters most and decide not to bend from it. This will give your plans — and pivots — a purpose.
The bravest B2B brands are already embracing this concept. We have a manufacturing client that used to differentiate itself from comparable commodity providers by promising precision-engineered products to builders across the country. The events of 2020 didn’t make precision or efficiency less important, but the most important conversation to have became the one around creating jobs, supporting communities, and bringing back American manufacturing.
We pivoted from a product-focused marketing plan to an advocacy campaign. This shift galvanized the company’s employees and customers and led to the creation of a new coalition in support of making more goods and services right here in the U.S. This umbrella message will influence the product-focused planning going forward and will give every tactical execution a higher purpose.
Promising what matters is an exhilarating and not easy approach to crafting the customer experience. Traditional (tactical) marketing plans are easier to make than a meaningful brand promise. And the plans still matter, just through a different lens. As I like to say: Carve your brand promise in stone. Keep your marketing plans in clay. This approach requires a sincere understanding of your customers’ challenges. It requires honesty about what you can promise to ease their pains and increase their capabilities. It requires tolerance and flexibility as you plan and replan the tactics and tools you need to deliver on your brand promise. And it requires strategic and creative courage to deliver effectively.
Carve your brand promise in stone. Keep your marketing plans in clay.