This is a B2B branding case study. But let’s start with a short discussion about a very personal desire.
We all want to be famous. (Well, some of us do). It starts when we’re young, easily impressed, and gently and often bouncing between reality and fantasy. As teenagers, many dream of being recognised for some specific accomplishment – perhaps being in a band, a movie, a sports achievement.
And as adults, who doesn’t enjoy being welcomed back to a favourite restaurant or shop? Maybe those few who are genuinely famous crave anonymity, but most of us mortals enjoy some form of recognition. At least a little.
We want the same for our businesses. Fame, or at least recognition.
But how? What do we do? And what exactly do we want to be famous? Our name, our team, our product, our logo?
Are our marks ever going to be famous? Think about well recognised brands like Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, McDonalds, Sony, Disney. These words are famous for sure, but what about their logos? What is famous? The name or the logo?
Or is brand something bigger than these typical ‘devices’? Allow me to use this b2b branding case study to argue that brand is not about symbols – and then to contradict that with a story about a symbol that matters to me.
What is a brand?
Let’s start with defining brand in a B2B context. Then I want to discuss logos and other symbols as a part of B2B branding before telling you the story of the cheesy funnel – a ‘mark’ that matters a great deal. I’ll end with a short rant about positioning vs branding.
A few steps in defining a brand:
- Determine your promise. What do you really want the universe to believe it should expect from you in the future?
- Who’s your audience? Who do you really need to believe this promise?
- What tactics? What tactics will most effectively tell this story with that audience?
- What devices? What words or images will hint at this brand? Stand in for it? Remind or reinforce this brand for that audience?
- What’s important? How important are those words or symbols compared with the services you offer or the way you email your clients/conduct meetings/handle issues when they arise?
In B2B, it’s rare for the logo to emerge as terribly important when viewed through this lens, so we’d not want to over-invest. However, at align.me we care about a little logo known as ‘the cheesy funnel’ and would spend decent money to protect that symbol were someone to use it without permission. Why? We’ll answer that a little later.
Our own brand is defined by the promises we make (and hope to keep) through the combination of:
- Our purpose
- Our values
- Our audience
- The tone of voice we have chosen to adopt in support of these
Brand example: align.me
To help B2B businesses to earn more business by aligning sales and marketing to the way businesses buy.
We can unpack this purpose with a handful of key points:
- Earning more business (from new logos or from existing customers)
- Aligning the efforts of Sales and Marketing functions
- Aligning these to the way businesses buy, rather than to each other
- Eager and honest attitude to learning
- Understanding so complete, it can be shared easily with those who have no understanding
- Sharing this understanding widely
For our clients:
- Integrity beyond any challenge
- Blisteringly clear insights
- No fear of stating the obvious when that is the better view
- High actionable recommendations
We serve predominantly B2B companies, large and small. The challenge that all our audience faces is a complex selling process.
Australian and New Zealand SME’s
Located in Australia, this audience is small to medium sized B2B companies with revenues between $2m and $50m. Big enough to need ‘grown up’ marketing, but small enough to not be able to staff up a proper marketing function.
These are typically industrial, technology and service businesses that need fully outsourced marketing services to lift their under-performing sales and marketing engine. And we typically serve:
- Founders/Business Owners
- Advisors/Board members
- Head of Sales
They typically engage us because either:
- Their Sales and Marketing Engine is under-performing, or
- They don’t have in-house resources to execute on all the marketing activities they need at the point of growth inflection
Our international audience consists of enterprise-level companies with large teams that are looking for go-to-market planning. With distinct sales and marketing teams, they often suffer from a disconnect between Sales and Marketing, inconsistent execution, and lack a clear go-to-market plan. While we serve a growing number of these businesses with B2B our marketing services, this execution role is typically an outgrowth of planning work.
For these enterprises, we are typically engaged by:
- Founders/Business Owners
- Divisional Heads
- Heads of Sales
- Heads of Marketing
They typically engage us because either:
- Their Sales and Marketing Engine is under-performing
- Sales and Marketing are not aligned
How do we convey our brand?
The services we perform, how and when we perform them, the people we hire, how we train them, the systems we use and what we measure all communicate our brand to that audience. Or at least they should.
Tone of voice
When we write and when we design, we try to convey a deliberate voice that is:
- Logical – align.me at its core, speaks with logic to communicate in a calculated, clear and consistent manner.
- Measured – align.me takes a measured, calculated approach to business. Every move is deliberate, calculated, and illustrates carefulness and control.
- Resolved – align.me is determined to get to the essence of any issue and making it clear and understandable.
- Learning – We’re passionate about learning, align.me never supposes to know all that we must know eventually. We are constantly taking on new learnings (sometimes by stubbing our toe) to constantly share and provide value to others.
The word marks we use play a lesser role. Word marks for us are:
- align.me – the whole business and the team
- Funnel Camp™ – our planning workshops
- Funnel Academy™ – marketing training
- Funnel Coach™ – the lead consultants who build plans (some of them work Inside corporates and some are independent consultants)
- Funnel Logic™ – the methodology we use
- Funnel Plan™ – the go-to-market planning software we use to build, communicate, and drive execution of plans
And each of them has a visual representation.
One of the elements is what we have come to call ‘the cheesy funnel’ and it’s that little guy that triggered this B2B branding case study.
The cheesy funnel
In 2000, align.me was known as MathMarketing, a name chosen to indicate our strong mathematical focus on predicting, prioritising and measuring the effect of marketing. We changed the name to align.me in 2017 to reflect our increasing focus on Sales and Marketing alignment.
Back in 2003, when we sought to evolve our early attempts at the visual representation of the name, Paul Miles was project manager in the business, and he pulled me aside with a pen in hand. The conversation went something like this.
Paul: What are we known for?
Hugh: The sales funnel
Paul: What else?
Hugh: Our funnel velocity modelling – the math, the numbers
Paul: What do we know about the funnel that’s unique?
Hugh: It leaks (I was finalising my book ‘The Leaky Funnel’ at the time)
Paul: Want a symbol that talks about the funnel, the math, and the leakage?
And that’s when Paul drew on my wall a triangle with circles depicting a percent symbol and the leakage I’d been writing about. It was a ‘moment’ – Paul had visually depicted most everything we did in a wonderful little symbol.
We added it to the wordmark.
It’s evolved since then
– a little rounding…
…and then some recolouring
but that cheesy funnel still works.
When we de-emphasized the math and emphasized the alignment, the angles and the circles can now be said to be Sales and Marketing functions. So, our little cheesy funnel is an evolved amalgam of the funnel, the math, and the functions we seek to align.
We append the cheesy funnel to our word marks like this:
In its present form, our logo is distinct enough to be uniquely ours. Even Google’s reverse image search couldn’t find anything quite like our cheesy funnel.
Is a brand an emotion?
Consumer marketers tell us that a brand is an emotion and as a teacher and leader I have rallied against that as an unhelpful description.
But while a B2B brand is not an emotion, perhaps it can be an emotional connection.
I have a photo of my kids on my bedside table. They’re adults now and they’ve not looked like they do in that photo for 25 years. But a glance at the photo makes me smile. It’s a connection with a long and wonderful story and that glance at those young faces makes me think of my now-adult kids. It is, of course, an emotional connection.
Does or should a business brand evoke emotional connections in the same way that a personal icon like a baby photo does? Not to the same extent I hope, but is the ability of a simple symbol able to evoke a connection to a bigger story in the same way that a baby photo can be a proxy for a whole human?
I still hold that a B2B brand is not an emotion but a promise of future value. Our logo – including our ‘cheesy funnel’ – does conjure emotions, but mostly only for those of us who call this place our home Monday to Friday.
How connected do you and your team feel to your brand and its symbols?
Brand, branding, position, positioning
Let me end with an argument about brand vs. positioning (and nouns vs. verbs).
If a brand is a promise of future value, and branding is the work you do to make that promise, what is positioning?
It doesn’t matter what businesses think about your brand if they don’t think about your brand.
We could ask your market what they think about you, and we’d get useful answers if you are at least a little bit recognisable. But if we asked that same market “who would you talk to if you were looking for [insert product/service category]?”, would they mention your business?
If your name would not come up often, then you are not positioned. You might have a brand, but that brand is not positioned. And if it’s not positioned, then it doesn’t matter what they think about you. Because they are not. They are thinking about someone else. Your positioning has not (yet) worked.
This blog is a B2B branding case study and is not so much about positioning so I’ll leave it here for now, but you might enjoy these two video blogs: