Creating Your Brand on a Foundation of Trust

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December 7, 2022

8 mins read

creating brand with trust

Creating Your Brand on a Foundation of Trust

Most demand generation marketers tend not to think much about branding. But your brand can have a massive impact on the success of all aspects of your go-to-market (GTM).

Put simply, without good brand support, even the greatest GTM programs will struggle to hit their goals.

That’s why a Smarter GTM™ strategy begins with the smartest thinking about brand generation, not just demand generation. And as we’ll see, for B2B companies that means creating your brand on a foundation of trust.

Brands work on emotions

B2B buyers are still people. People are emotional. And emotions impact economic decision-making.

We know B2B buyers are overwhelmed with choices (not only which vendor to work with, but also what content to read, what events to attend, and what campaigns to respond to). And the fact that B2B buyers have emotions means that no matter how disciplined a buying process is, they will use emotionally driven heuristics to simplify these complex decisions — often choosing the vendor that seems “safest.” 

In fact, whether the buyer realizes it or not, the decision is often made long before the buying process is completed. And when this happens, even subconsciously, much of the buying process ends up being an effort to justify the initial emotional decision.

B2B marketers can and should tap into this by appealing to the emotional side of their prospects, as well as their rational side. This is where branding comes in, because brands inherently operate on an emotional level by stimulating the amygdala portion of the brain (part of the reptilian limbic system).

The power of negative emotions

When looking to buy something, we balance the pleasure of the prospective possession with the pain of acquiring it.

In B2C marketing, marketers often capitalize on the anticipation of positive emotion by appealing to aspirational feelings such as desire. In contrast, the strongest B2B brands capitalize on the avoidance of negative emotions. This is because there is an asymmetry between the upside and downside of B2B purchases. 

The buyer does not experience the full benefit of the solution directly and may not be rewarded for making a good purchase, but a bad purchase can destroy the buyer’s reputation and damage job security.

B2B brands can tap into this by building trust in the buyer’s mind. The classic example is “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” One way to achieve trust is by being a dominant leader in your category (or being seen as such). Having a strong company purpose and values helps as well, as long as you always act authentically and in a consistent manner.

Building trust with thought leadership

A great way to build a brand of trust is to become a trusted advisor via thought leadership.

Applying all this is straightforward, and yet so many companies don’t follow these basic principles in their content marketing:

  1. Quality over quantity. Remember those buyers who are overwhelmed with too much content? Thought leadership isn’t about cranking out more blog posts or pushing yet another generic webinar, hoping to generate more leads. It’s about creating genuinely useful, valuable content that customers and prospects value — knowing the opportunities will come. Personally, I’d rather create one Clear and Complete Guide than a dozen lower quality ebooks.
  2. True expert advice. Buyers need help to see possibilities and issues they wouldn’t think about on their own. (This is why the Challenger Sale approach is so effective.) If you can frame the discussion and help customers reconcile conflicting sources of information, then you will reduce skepticism and increase trust. This is harder than creating Top 10 listicles, but it works.
  3. Long-term view. If an SDR calls me in the middle of my day, I feel interrupted. If a good friend calls me, I pay attention to what she has to say. The difference is trust, built over time. This requires a long-term view of your marketing investments, and it requires matching your message — and medium — to where the buyer is in their journey.
  4. Make it easy for buyers. Potential customers want to use your website for research on their own terms. If you don’t have the information they need, or if you make it too hard to access, they’ll simply do their research elsewhere — and you’ll miss out on valuable clues about when they move into a new stage of the buying journey.

Social proof

Jeff Bezos said: “Your brand is what other people say about you when you are not in the room.”

When we are uncertain about how to act, we look to others for signals. If it feels like everyone is choosing one vendor, then we feel pressure to jump on the bandwagon — even if it’s not the right choice for our business.

Combine that with snap decisions based on heuristics, and it’s no surprise that a lot of B2B decision-making ends up looking opaque — the buyer may have already decided (perhaps subconsciously) for or against you before you even started the process.

This is why social proof is so important. The term was coined by Robert Cialdini as part of the six key principles of persuasion in his (awesome) 1984 book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, namely: reciprocity, scarcity, authority, commitment, liking, and consensus (social proof). 

The main categories of B2B social proof are:

  • Experts / influencers
    • Soft: associating themselves with your brand (e.g., speaking at one of your events)
    • Hard: recommendations and rankings (e.g., analyst reports)
  • Customer advocacy
    • Visible: public reviews and social media mentions
    • Invisible: private conversations (aka “dark social”)

Driving social proof with advocacy and community

Conversations about your products and your industry are happening, online and offline, both visibly and beyond your view. Your customers, prospects, partners, and other influencers are sharing their opinions and recommendations, and as my old boss used to say, “They’re either for you or against you.”

So how can we ensure our community is for us? How can we nurture these conversations to generate the social proof our brand needs?

The number one thing is to deliver a great customer experience. Have a good product that solves a real problem and is easy to use. Make it painless to do business with you. Provide great service. If you truly deliver a great experience, positive conversations will follow.

But there’s much more to word of mouth than just “create a great experience” and wait. Go-to-market teams can also amplify word of mouth! One of the best examples of this comes from my old company, Marketo (now Adobe) and their Marketing Nation program.

  • Put emotion into your brand. B2B doesn’t have to be boring, and buyers are people first. When an experience evokes an emotion, people will want to share it with others. The Marketing Nation tapped into this by giving people a feeling of belonging and support.
  • Identify and mobilize your advocates. Create a formal advocate program and give it a name. At Demandbase, we call our advocates DemandAces. When you get a positive NPS review, ask the person to join the program. Incent your customer-facing employees to drive their best customers to the program. This group will become your go-to whenever you need a reference, review, case study, etc. But be sure to give more than you get. Engage with the advocates (personally), ask for their advice (they want to be involved), track what they have done to help you, and reward them in ways they will appreciate (a bottle of wine, a meeting with a product manager, a charitable gift, etc.).
  • Engage online. Create an online community and actively engage with customers (and possibly prospects, partners, etc.). But don’t stop there — engage anywhere people are talking about your industry or products. Be a part of the conversation.
  • Manage ratings and reviews. Review sites like G2 and TrustRadius are an important way to codify your word of mouth. But you can’t just hope advocates will submit reviews — you need to ask them to, in the right way at the right time. A personal request asking engaged users to share their experience at three and six months after they complete onboarding can go a long way.
  • Nurture super-users. Create an elite group of your most advanced users and brand ambassadors and put them on a pedestal. Each year, the Marketo Champions program selects 50 certified experts who actively shared their knowledge and expertise and rewards them with exclusive content, swag, access, and opportunities. Marketers proudly displayed being selected as a Champion on their LinkedIn profiles and saw significant career progression as a result.
  • Go beyond customers. A great component of the Marketo Marketing Nation was that it included partners and influencers. They participated in the online community, in events, and on social—which helped them feel more connected and more likely to talk about their favorite brands, providing a positive halo effect for the brand.

Get your copy of my book, The Definitive Guide to Smarter GTM™ with Account Intelligence and ABM/ABX. You can download it here.

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Jon Miller

Former CMO, Demandbase

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