As B2B marketers, we all want to be more effective in our marketing efforts.
It’s why so many of us have invested in increasingly complicated marketing dashboards and attribution software. Often, this centres around three core desires:
Of course, in reality, this is trickier than the buy-my-course/get-my-hack brigade on LinkedIn and social media would have you believe.
Judging exactly what constitutes effective marketing is rarely as simple as any of us would like.
Our dashboards may show relative campaign performance and even which tactics are doing better than others, but they won’t show how that compares to our competitors or the wider market.
What’s great for us may suck compared to our competitors.
Or we may think we’re tanking but are actually doing well in a tough category.
In fact, this kind of information is incredibly difficult to come by. We should know, we went shopping for it. We thought that someone would be able to sell us some data-backed insights into exactly what works and what doesn’t in B2B across the areas we focus on as an agency — lead generation, demand generation and brand building.
And you know what? We simply couldn’t find it.
So we took a deep breath, scraped together some budget and commissioned our own.
The result is the B2B Effectiveness Engine – a database of over 1,000 senior B2B marketers that directly explores what high performers do differently from everyone else.
The marketers surveyed answered detailed questions covering multiple aspects of what they’re doing in the real-world of day-to-day B2B marketing, including:
The data we’ve amassed delivers an unparalleled insight into precisely what works in B2B marketing today across three core B2B sectors: technology, professional services and manufacturing. (For the data geeks among you, this hits the gold standard of a 95% confidence level with a ±3% on any individual stat.)
The depth of information we’ve collected allows us to cut the data in multiple ways. It means we can look at what factors deliver meaningful differences in performance, such as:
The results were often surprising – even for us with decades of B2B marketing experience.
We plan to release more deep dives into a number of these factors over the coming months. You can also take the B2B Effectiveness Scorecard to see how you compare to a cutdown version of the dataset.
We are fortunate to live at a time when there has finally been some robust research on some of the fundamentals around how marketing really works.
The super-smart people at the Ehrenberg Bass Institute have shown that broadly speaking, brands grow through developing distinctive brand assets that boost mental availability among a broad range of potential category buyers. (Or to simplify this further: you grow if people notice and remember you when it matters.)
While B2B marketing has moved toward more short-term ‘performance marketing’ approaches focused on lead generation, the evidence shows that a failure to invest in memorable brand building has a significant negative impact.
And let’s be clear, a massive amount of B2B marketing is undifferentiated and unmemorable.
For example, research from LinkedIn has found that, in advertising, half of brands are mistaken for a competitor.
The problem is compounded by the tendency of buyers to simply associate any marketing they can’t remember the brand for as coming from the market leader. This means that in a very real sense, smaller brands are paying to boost the results of larger ones.
It gets worse.
According to research from Bain and Google, 90% of B2B purchases go to vendors that buyers already have in mind before they ever do any research (also called the Day One List). This is the raw power of having a strong differentiated brand.
Or to put this into stark relief, if you are not on the Day One list, you are immediately slashing your available market opportunities to a 10th of what they could be.
The TL;DR here is: If there is just one thing you should focus on as a matter of priority, it’s to become meaningfully differentiated from your competitors in the eyes of your customers.
When we look at the data as a whole, those brands that achieve meaningful differentiation are over twice as likely to be in the top-performing groups for lead generation, demand generation and brand building efforts versus the rest.
In short, differentiation delivers a massive positive impact on marketing effectiveness.
It doesn’t end there. Differentiation is a also force multiplier for everything else too.
Differentiated brands see greater effectiveness from 𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗿𝘆 tactic they use — WITHOUT EXCEPTION.
The impact of being strongly differentiated means that, whether you are selecting genuinely high-performing tactics or distinctly meh ones, you’ll see greater value and impact regardless.
Some examples across just a few of the more popular tactics we research:
Importantly, these aren’t even the most effective marketing tactics (far from it).
Take the number one highest performing tactic for lead generation. This is a top performer by any standard. Those brands that are differentiated are over 24% more likely to report that it is very effective at meeting their objectives.
Of course, none of this should really surprise us. Customers in a buying situation tend to make business purchase decisions based on the mental availability of possible solutions.
Put simply, we tend to assign higher value to things we can easily recall than to those we struggle to remember. We’ll also tend to respond more favourably to the marketing efforts from those same memorable brands. It’s just how our brains are wired.
It’s why differentiation and distinctiveness are the cornerstones of effective marketing and long-term growth, whether in B2B or anywhere else.
That’s why getting on the Day One list is so important.
Differentiation matters across all the sectors in the research but one struggles more than the others: professional services.
This is understandable.
In many firms, the services you offer are heavily regulated and have to be virtually identical to competitor offerings. Try selling a new, more ‘creative’ way to audit a business’s accounts and see how far you get.
It’s probably why just 34% of professional services businesses say they are truly differentiated.
But differentiation is possible. It’s just that it tends to centre around how you do business, who you do it for and even why you’re in business to start with (not what you sell).
In a sea of sameness, this is why differentiated firms see a massive advantage over their competitors:
This could also be a sign of a more generalised marketing maturity. Differentiated firms are more likely to have a written marketing strategy in place. They will use brand assets to a greater degree. And they’ll have access to more customer insights.
So it’s clear that differentiation matters. A lot.
However, it’s one thing to think we’re differentiated, it’s another to actually prove it.
In the data, this is a critical distinction.
The gold standard here is to have a positioning that’s been both tested with customers and reviewed against competitors. In fact, anything less is actually detrimental to performance.
If we look at those brands that have only tested their positioning with customers, they are around 40% to 50% less likely to be in the top-performing groups.
It gets worse for those who have only reviewed their position against their competitors – they are around 80% less likely to be leaders.
And those that simply think they’re differentiated but have done no testing at all? They’re around 85% to 90% less likely to be in the top-performing groups for lead gen, demand gen or brand building.
On consideration, this makes perfect sense. If you’ve only tested your differentiation with customers, you may end up with something that’s authentic to the market but which is virtually identical to what everyone else says.
If you only review against competitors, you may get something that different for your market but which is unlikely to land well with category buyers.
And if you’re doing neither, you’re simply placing a bet based on a largely internal perspective. This will always be partial at best and hopelessly biased at worst.
We warned you that this one would go into depth.
So what should you actually do?
There’s a reason so many businesses struggle with differentiation: it’s hard.
It can appear that all the best positions are already taken. It can be difficult to spot opportunities to break from market norms. It can be challenging to take an outside-in view of your brand.
This is why we created Fast-track Positioning.
This accelerated approach avoids a lot of the fluff and nonsense around brand positioning. No spirit animals. No complex canvases. No onions, pyramids and black box mental gymnastics.
Instead, you get a highly pragmatic approach that focuses on what matters when it comes to differentiating your business in the market.
We’ll work with you to show a range of options for how to differentiate your brand. We’ll reverse-engineer the brands of your competitors to help you judge them from a customer’s perspective. And we’ll put the selected options in front of potential buyers to get their input and feedback.
Jason Ball is the founder and managing director at Considered. With a multi-decade career in B2B marketing, he’s worked with world-leading brands such as Adobe, Google, EY and Cisco together with niche specialists in technology, manufacturing and professional services.