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Beyond the product pipeline: how BTB marketers can focus on what matters

New technologies, consumer preferences and industry trends booms and bursts with greater speed than ever. Further on product life cycles are shortening, sales cycles are prolonging and the customers purchasing process is increasingly digitalizing. But marketing departments in many BTB companies continue to follow 3-5 year plans based on product launches and lofty sales goals.

This basic schism is challenging marketing and the rest of the demand chain - as they are finding it increasingly difficult to align with the customers purchasing process and the dynamics of the market.

Written by: 
Nils Koch Jensen, Partner

The traditional approach to BTB marketing planning

The traditional approach to marketing is often driven by internal events such as product launches. The determining factor is the pipeline. This approach is both misaligned, and inefficient. Misaligned because it is based on predefined and long term objectives and not necessarily connected to the mindset and purchasing process of the customer. Inefficient as it relies upon few peaks in terms of campaigns, making it difficult to cover the high number of potential customers that is in the market outside the given campaign period.

To sum-up this approach lags a connection to the customers: Their needs, their purchasing patterns and the changing tides of markets. To address those shortcomings of the current model they should instead adopt a theme-centric approach to marketing.

The 90/10 rule and Theme-driven marketing

When we are conducting search analysis, social listening and qualitative research for some of Europe’s largest BTB companies, we usually see is an interesting pattern.

The amount of search traffic, social mentions and mental energy that the customers put into more need & trend based topics largely outnumber the product related ones with a factor of 9 to 1. At face value it might seem as an opportunity from a search engine perspective, but I believe it signals more than that. I believe it provides a huge – often-untapped – potential that requires that you rethink your marketing system.

And why so?

As the customer journey continue to digitalize and industries getting more dynamic and easily disrupted, customers are educating and equipping themselves to face this reality. And this upper-funnel behavior is a huge opportunity for marketers, as it allows companies to enter the purchasing process as early as possible. 

For companies to adapt their marketing planning to make it more theme-centric does not only require a change of mindset but also a change in the practical and organizational factors.

What is a theme?

Themes are typically connected to something more than the product and are usually relevant before the exact need has materialized and the solution has been specified. As examples of such themes are:

  • As an example the oil & gas industry has seen a change from stellar oil prices, that rendered all investments in exploration and production facilities economic viable, to a sharp drop in oil prices. Hit by this new reality, much of the technology might be the same, but the challenges that the industry players are facing are completely different. Suppliers that adopts a theme-based approach would adapt to these change an reconfigure the whole marketing system – product-based marketers would carry on executing their 4 year plan
  • Another category is driven more by technological change than external events. They can be short or last a decade. Some can be buzz and some can substantially change the industry. In this category falls technological movements such as Mobile, cloud, analytics, social and internet-of-things etc. They are not necessarily product-specific, but they are high on the customer agenda

These are just examples, but I have sketched up three areas that companies should rethink by applying this approach:

Theme identification: To identify trending themes companies should apply social media listening tools, analysis of search patterns, website visits, forum eavesdropping, review trade press articles as well as interview industry thought leaders and customer service reps. The key notion is also to thoroughly understand your company’s role in respect to each theme:

  • Why do you have special authority and offer perspectives on this matter?
  • Does it support your brand promise?
  • Can you actually deliver any insights and or products that are relevant to these themes?

Companies should connect the dots between their brand story and the themes to understand which themes to work with and which to leave untouched.

Governance and execution: As companies moves into a theme-based approach they should also rethink their organization and governance. Typically marketing and communication organizations are organized around industry, market, segment or product lines. But theme identification and the related content production and distribution need to be “owned” by entities that go across these segments & products. This entity should identify the themes and produce content without product or segment bias and short-term commercial agendas. Activating those themes should happen across the channel landscape – not just within SEO.

Process and planning: As the curve of trending topics and themes are often out of the control of the company, understanding and reacting to these also requires a more flexible approach to planning and content creation. The consequence is that planning cycles should be shorter and the process more flexible, leaving little space for six months stakeholder review rounds and strategy sessions.

The caveat is  that sometimes big-bang product launches can definitely be useful as they can help companies break through clutter and be recognized for something truly fantastic. But as big-bang campaigns getting increasingly inefficient and breakthrough innovations less frequent, companies should re-balance their marketing & communication planning and start connecting their brand to the market – not just their pipeline.



Beyond the product pipeline

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