From top dog CMOs to the Twitter hoi polloi, OnBrand '18 had plenty to say about what makes for a winning brand today.

Being opinionated, joining in on conversations about pop culture and societal trends, and being honest about your flaws came up time and time again. But if you had to boil all this down, it all comes back to the importance of brands being human.

Dave Gerhardt, VP of Marketing at conversational marketing platform Drift, got to the heart of the matter in his enlightening talk about why brand is the single best investment you can make in 2018.

We’ve dissected three quotes that we think best define this ongoing shift in branding.

We-dont-get-sold-to

Scott Brinker’s Martech 5000 (technically 6,829) is something every marketer has seen, yet its true scale and significance is often underestimated. The reality is there in all its eye-popping glory: the industry is more crowded than Bloomingdale’s on a Black Friday, and this is the playing field the new B2B seller must contend with. 

Credit: Scott Brinker at chiefmartec.com

The market is full of interchangeable sales pitches and products, and while you may think yours is “the fastest and most cutting-edge solution,” so does everybody else. Too many brands perceive consumers to be uninformed and impressionable; sitting ducks waiting to be converted. When in fact, the new B2B buyer has all the power, knows about your industry and its competitors, and doesn’t want to be marketed to.

why-building-a-brand-is-the-single-best-investment-you-can-make-in-2018-by-dave-gerhardt

This is the fundamental shift in our industry: salespeople are no longer the active agents in making a deal. It’s the consumer. Dave pointed out that 75% of B2B buyers only have limited interaction with salespeople. And that interaction is right at the end of the buyer journey—by then, the customer has already made their decision.

So as marketers, how do we cut through the cacophony and stand out in a market of infinite supply? 

Brand-has-to-be

This quote from Dave summarizes his talk nicely; in fact, it was a major theme of several on the day. Industry experts lauding the power of branding is nothing new to us, but ‘brand’ is such a vague term: you hear it every day, you think about it every day; but what does it actually mean?

A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or organization.

Marty Neumeier, Author & Branding Expert

[Brand is] The intangible sum of a product’s attributes.

David Ogilvy, aka ‘The Father of Advertising'

A brand is a company’s most important asset. A company can’t own its facts. If the company’s facts are superior to the competition, any good competitor will duplicate or improve them.

 Mark Benioff, Salesforce CEO

 Put simply, brand is personality. And what makes for a dull personality? One without an opinion. Consumers have no problem ditching a brand if they don’t agree with its values, or if it has none in the first place. Brands are expected to share human characteristics such as partisanship; it’s perhaps the only distinction that resonates with audiences in saturated markets.

For the likes of Salesforce, Slack, Drift, and Bynder (if we’re to separate ourselves from our fellow Martech 5000ers), our brand needs to be the number one driver of demand. 

But what makes for a stand-out brand? It’s not your logo, it’s not even your product. It’s about creating a personality that people recognize and love, and communicating it across every single customer touchpoint: emails, social media, demos, events, and everything in between. 

Too many brands fall into the trap of trying to please—and sell to—as many people as possible. This isn’t feasible in a market of infinite supply like B2B SaaS.

That’s why it’s not what you’re selling that’s important, but how.

Create-a-damaging

Originally quoted by Dan Kennedy in'The Ultimate Sales Letter'

'Being real' was the tl;dr of not only Dave’s talk, but the majority of OnBrand talks. Like Stefan Fountain of pr.co claimed, consumers aren’t falling for your sugarcoated corporate bullshit anymore. You may not need to go as extreme as Domino’s in admitting your flaws, but by owning up to mistakes and showing the world you’re learning from your harshest critics, then your audience will likely respect you for it.

Dutch eyewear designers and OnBrand’18 speakers, Ace & Tate, delivered some no-nonsense real talk in one of their recent email campaigns, and it was done in such a brazenly ballsy way, that you can’t help but respect the brutal honesty communicated by Founder & CEO Mark de Lange (read his post here.)

Screen Shot 2018-11-07 at 16.10.44

It is that brutal honesty that is so refreshing to hear:

I won’t state that we are a “sustainable” company. We are not. We are, however, a company that will actively and steadily work towards reducing the footprint we leave behind.

This is a brand that doesn’t turn a blind eye from today’s most pressing issues; they’re not shirking responsibility and burying their heads in the sand about the real impact their business has on the environment.

Rather, they are communicating at a personal, human level, and while it may not be all sunshine and roses, it gives their brand personality which the modern consumer can respect and relate to:

It is our collective responsibility, as brands, companies, entrepreneurs, team members, citizens, to get our shit together. Learn with us.

In a world that is more politically, socially, and environmentally conscious than ever before, it’s no surprise that 94% of today’s consumers would be more loyal to a brand if they promoted complete transparency (with 26% stating they’d be willing to pay 11-50% more if brands were open about everything that’s involved in the production of their goods.)

It is that context which partly explains the successes of brands like Drift, Ace & Tate, Patagonia, and most notably from this year, Nike, with their "Dream Crazy" campaign. By adopting a fundamentally human brand voice and ditching the generic one-size-fits-all approach to marketing, they’re able to connect with consumers and foster a level of brand loyalty that differentiates them from the rank-and-file competition.

In these divisive times however, for every Nike there will be a Pepsi (you know the ad we’re talking about.) If there’s one thing you can say about the state of branding today: it’s certainly not boring.

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