Why branding and martech should become BFFs!

With martech reported to "lack humanity", Sue Mizera breaks down why branding could be the solution to this very prominent issue for marketers.

The adoption of martech has become an essential aspect of marketing. Yet, according to a January, 2019 survey, “4 Keys to Getting More from Your Martech,” one study among many others, marketers are unhappy with the business outcomes and ROI of their martech investments: 40% of marketers declare they are “not happy” with their martech; 75% think they are only utilising 60% of their martech potential.

There are many reasons for this, including the complexity and (in)compatibility of martech offerings (reportedly over 7,000 suppliers, with 91 being the average number of tech stack suppliers per large client); a lack of strategic readiness among marketers and their teams to make the most of their martech; and not least, their focusing on technology rather than the human element—people, customers, consumers. The result is a great deal of confusion: Do we have the right data? Are we tracking the right customers? How should we maximise the content we have?

The study concludes: “Marketing must prioritise the human aspect to drive long-term outcomes. To achieve the full potential of what technology can enable, it has to be based on the reality of what customers want and what users can do with it… Marketing must become ‘disruptively human’ and understand the full range of rational and emotional variables as the customer sees and describes them.”

Let's press the pause button here for just a moment.

Enter the brand: “swimming in humanity”

In my opinion: A brand should rouse, startle and shape new thinking, attitudes and behaviours. It should ignite your enterprise internally with the power of your ethos and courage. It should stir new external audiences to sharper, more eager engagement because of your convictions. It should help shape the markets and cultures you operate in and make a statement about the human potential you impact.

Drawn from the aesthetic impact Walter Pater believed art should have on humanity, my belief in the power and beauty of brand is unshakeable. Far more than a logo or graphic identity, brand is aspiration; it begins with ambition, works towards vision and puts purpose and society’s ”greater good” in perpetual motion. Why? Brand is built upon humanity – upon customer insight and deep consumer understanding of motivations; it honors the passions, lifestyles, needs of consumers -–of people -- by putting their motivations, their aspirations, their humanity at the center of all the brand stands for; of all that its brave ambassadors and courageous stewards, over time, do in the brand’s behalf, working across a global stage.

New WIP into what we’re calling “motivational branding”,  based on connections with the behavioural science discipline of Self-determination Theory, will make it even more possible for marketers to identify and define customer motivations; to know before-hand what their audiences want more than they themselves do. (More coming shortly on this; for first take, see:

To date, mirabile dictu, brand and martech connections have not been forged!

It was a pause-inducing moment, when we recently asked a sample of martech practitioners if they ever look to their brand to rationalise their data, design their technology, or “humanise” their results, that we were told, “No, we have not experienced this sequencing.”  Added another: “After 20 years of this tech going on, nobody has a blank piece of paper anymore, although the reality is, people jump to solutions without thinking what it is they want out of it.”

In spite of the fact that brand is entirely built on consumer intimacy, “the reality of what customers want”; in spite of the fact that brand and martech speak exactly the same language of customer journeys, insights, reason and emotion, personalization, content and experience; in spite of the fact that brand and martech aim to uncover the same intimacy and create the same marketing and communications results, obvious connections between brand and mar-tech, to date, have not been forged.

Although both brand and martech aim to honor the passions, the lifestyles, the deeply-felt needs of customers by putting their motivations, their very humanity, at the center of everything; although every marketer aims to identify and define customer motivations in their categories and manage these with surety and confidence, leaving guess-work behind, the opportunity for innovation to emerge from the intersection of brand and mar-tech, both established fields, has sadly, until now, gone missing.

Resolved: Brand and martech must become BFFs!

Let’s resolve to take the complexity and uncertainty out of martech and put the humanity back in! Let’s resolve that from this moment, branding and mar-tech must become BFFs!

How can this work?

Marketers, let your brand be your guide. Let your brand precede, keep pace with, and help direct the creation and evolution of your martech stack and, importantly, your analysis of results. E.g.,

  • Use your brand as a model to better design, refine and create personalised content for your systems. As customers declare they want richer experiences and more personalisation, for example, your brand is the perfect, ready source to get closer and closer to your customer’s wants and needs right from the start.
  • Use the data you collect to loop back and advance your qualitative and quantitative understanding of your customers; use the data as well to provide depth of insights back to your brand and confirm ever-emerging hypotheses. This should be a dynamic, two-way street; there is no finish line.
  • Over time, ensure your brand and martech always work in parallel, in tandem, as mirror images, as straw men and checks for one another, together in on-going dialogue and in counterpoint with each other; in this way, you’ll create more dynamic customer journeys, and keep upping-the-ante for more “natural” customer experiences.
  • Finally, stop relying on tech alone for a human experience! As the buying experience becomes ever more customer-led, be open to the differentiating and business-building power of your brand that puts the human element within your immediate grasp.
  • This is not easy, we know, none of this is. While still a big challenge, however, has moving forward ever been clearer?

A new point of view: pluses and minuses

We conclude with a nod to the B2B Marketing Institute’s point of view on brand vs. activation. In recent writings, echoing the work of Field and Binet, they say that in the last ten years, b2b has waged a war on brand, although they believe the tide is turning as tech will recede in importance. The 2020s, they declare, is the “decade of the Great Rebranding”:

  • Marketers will discover branding is the path to growth, especially as online buying is taken over by buyers themselves managing their own buying process.  Vs. activation and online marketing, branding will assume the “Demand Gen” moniker, and even morph to being known as “Performance Marketing”, while “Demand Gen” itself will become known as “Demand Harvesting.”  

They urge marketers to “switch sides” now, as the “brand will win by 2030”. Their rationales are variegated and multi-dimensional: e.g.,

  • Marketers have been far too in invested in “lead gen” and “demand gen.” Sales activation doesn’t create demand, it just helps businesses capture demand that already exists. Besides, a massive force is already focused on short-term sales, it’s called the sales team, while marketing is long-term and brand-building is what actually generates demand in both the long- and short-term.
  • Vs. activations, brand creative is “sticky”, it builds lasting memory structures in the minds of future buyers as memories will be recalled when they are focusing on buying. Sooner or later all categories die, but brands are like escape pods. They provide optionality: categories are mortal, brands are immortal.
  • The biggest potential return is from increased pricing: a 1% price increase = 10% profitability, this does not come from sales leads. Yet, only 30% of b2b marketers believe marketing has any effect on pricing, which they call a “travesty”, because marketers have become used to misunderstanding and under-representing their impact on business.
  • Brands help you build “competitive moats” because they cannot be copied; they are legally protected with trademarks –as Coke’s red, the bottle and the font. Product benefits are easily copied, “lead gen” is even easier to copy, but brand is an “alligator-filled moat”.  Activation effectiveness is driven by process, not creativity, and process is a shallow moat. Brand is a deep moat, filled with poisonous alligators.
  • Brands increase talent recruitment and talent retention.  Brands get you meetings, weak brands send you straight to voicemail. Broad thinking, brand thinking beats narrow thinking any day when it comes to strategy, creative and distribution.

For sure, we support the power of brand in this decade and all others. It is amazing in a way that this has to be stated at all. Our view of the power of brand is nothing short of omnipotent, all-seeing, all directing. But do relationships, brand and martech, have to be adversarial? Is it brand V. activation? Or brand AND activation? For us, it’s not one or the other, it’s both, in fine and mutually supportive unity and harmony. It’s practically politics!

Thoughts, marketers? Stay tuned.

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