Marketers’ Guide to B2C Brand Strategy

October 1, 2020

Contributor: Patrick Lewis

Successful B2C brand strategy boosts your brand messaging and drives overall strategic execution, but it takes deliberate attention.

A definitive B2C brand strategy helps the organization to build consistent messaging, economic scale and a differentiating competitive position as well as improve consumer perceptions of the brand. But marketing leaders often undervalue brand strategy. 

Gartner advisors sat down with clients to discuss the key components of a successful B2C brand strategy, how to identify common gaps and opportunities to close them.

This article recaps the transcribed key points, edited for brevity and clarity. 

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Where does brand strategy fit into marketing strategy?

According to the results of the Gartner 2020 CMO Spend Survey, 37% of CMOs cited brand strategy as vital to delivering a successful marketing strategy overall, an increase of 20 percentage points year over year. 

This shift reflects the need for CMOs to base tactical execution on a strong overarching agenda, rather than focusing on specific operational and diagnostic levers. This makes sense given the rapid rise of digital commerce, continued complexities from shifting market conditions and the need to address growing consumer generational differences.

Businesses can become easily distracted from their true focus if they don't have a clear, actionable and dominant brand strategy. Kudos to marketers for bringing strategy back to the top of the food chain. Through the Gartner CMO Spend Survey, Gartner also found that 79% of CMOs see the way forward to fuel growth is with existing markets.

How you connect your brand with existing customers and prospects is an important driver of buying behavior. In the Gartner CMO Spend Survey, 65% of marketers indicated that brand is a critical driver of buying behavior within existing customers (and 58% said the same of prospects). How do you connect brands with existing customers and prospects within these markets? That connection is made through the execution of the roadmap defined in the brand strategy, but if you make a wrong turn, the connection will be lost.

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B2C brand strategy defined

Gartner defines brand strategy as the practice of establishing and promoting a company's purpose, vision and/or identity along with its products or services. Brand strategy lays the groundwork for brand communications and go-to-market strategies by articulating target audience, brand promise, brand perception, brand values, brand voice and positioning.

Simply put, your B2C brand strategy is the outward persona that your customers and prospects see as they interact and engage with your company. It is also the framework upon which your marketing team bases all campaign details. Brand strategy fuels the brand story by which a deeper customer story can then be developed to create truly relevant connections with consumers.

Everything ladders up to the foundation set in your brand strategy. The CMO Spend Survey shows many of the ways in which CMOs took action as a result of COVID-19. Organizations that were able to jump off from a strong brand foundation fared much better than those that didn't have a brand strategy in place. It enabled them to be faster and more agile in adapting to the new circumstance. 

Building and maintaining a cohesive B2C brand strategy, and aligning it to your target audiences, values, beliefs and needs, is essential to maintaining your company's true purpose and for building customer loyalty.

What are the risks of not having a definitive B2C brand strategy?

Lack of a definitive brand strategy may lead to business risks including:

All of these elements are vital to the success of your marketing strategy. However, key executive stakeholders often view brand strategy as the softer side of marketing, dismissing its important intangible contribution to the long-term fiscal health of the company.

CMOs often fail to place a high-enough value on key elements of marketing strategy such as advertising, consumer experience research, and talent and skill development. The ability to uphold your brand strategy all the way through execution is vital to the success of your overall marketing strategy.

Solve the advertising and media placement conundrum

Advertising and media placement isn’t a simple thing to execute well. As the old adage states: When times are good, you should advertise; when times are bad, you must advertise. Right now, brand awareness and relevance in times of stress are more important than ever. 

Advertising is a means to generate demand for a brand at scale no matter what phase of marketing maturity an organization is in. Without advertising, B2C brands are mainly speaking to themselves when considering the current reality of a crowded and complex media environment.

Comprehensive audience identification and sufficiency are key to an advertising campaign’s success, yet only 13% of CMOs place advertising media buying and placement as vital to marketing success. For a media buyer to do its job in delivering expected customer demand, an organization's relevant prospecting pool must be of significant size and achieve sufficiency, frequency and reach. Further, a realistic calculation of media contribution must be applied to the overall go-to-market strategy. A lack of detail in any of these areas will result in a derailment of your B2C brand strategy.

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Move beyond just identifying your target audience

When developing your B2C brand strategy, your target audience is one of the first items to define — an exercise typically backed up by market research that identifies an entire prospecting pool. However, it's not enough to simply have a defined target audience. That target audience must convert into a media buying audience as you develop a media strategy and approach. 

To address the intended reach of your media strategy, you'll have to add adjacent audiences to your originally defined target pool. However, every adjacent audience that you add moves your prospecting pool farther from the sweet spot for which your B2C brand strategy was developed. This newly expanded audience will likely have different motivations and triggers for why your company's service or product makes sense for them.

Because your advertising creative is developed using your initial target audience, it now becomes less effective and misses the mark with the newly adopted media buying audience. Creative based on brand, promise, and value and positioning can run amok if not planned for appropriately. Other times, audience nuances can be more subtle, but the small nuances, if not addressed in your communications, may also result in missed opportunities.

Don’t dilute your brand messaging

To avoid diluting your brand's advertising message, engage your strategic media planning team to validate the prospecting pool. This work is required to develop a media approach and will save time later when formalizing campaign details. Make sure that you are all aligned and, if you do need to delve into adjacent audiences, you can cover everything within your B2C brand strategy to make your communications cohesive.

Introduced in the 1970s, and still widely used today, is the concept of media sufficiency, which marketers use to determine the balance of reach and frequency for a campaign. Media sufficiency suggests that there's an optimal number of advertising exposures before an ad is deemed effective (that is, before a member of your target audience takes a desired action from the ad). Anything below that optimal number of exposures will have no or little effect on your target audience and anything above will result in waste due to diminishing returns. 

Optimal exposure can vary widely based on a variety of factors, including:

  • Channel
  • Creative type
  • Product launch (informing) versus existing product (reminding) 
  • Seasonality
  • Consumer needs
  • Competitive pressure

Through media implementations, marketers can come to know their optimal reach and frequency and apply them to overall media buy.

Bring together budgeting and marketing strategy planning

At the end of the day, marketing budget is a facilitator of an optimal reach and frequency plan. If the marketing budget is too small, choices then have to be made either to cut reach to allow for a greater frequency, or risk little to no effect by suboptimal frequencies across a significant prospecting pool. It is recommended to bring budget planning and overall marketing strategy planning together to achieve optimal reach and frequency. Collaborate with your CFO on budgets so you can avoid an underperforming media campaign. 

It is important to note that media is a powerful tool to draw attention to a product or service, but it isn't only a contributing factor to influence a sale. It should be considered just one stop along a journey. Media impact can also differ by category, and even within a category. Understanding those differences is important to understand how your media can contribute to the bottom line. Depending too heavily on media to deliver sales often proves to be detrimental. Instead, understand what proportion of your media dollars can be attributed to a sale.

If the B2C brand strategy doesn’t allow for other channel influences, and its construct and media contribution aren’t factored in, there's little chance the go-to-market approach will be successful. Work with your media agency to leverage different attribution models, and with your finance team to settle on a model to leverage in your planning.

Look forward to improve the consumer experience

In the 2020 CMO Spend Survey, market analytics was listed by 35% of CMOs as most vital to marketing success. In many cases, marketing analytics look backward. While it is important to understand what was done well in your marketing strategy to hopefully avoid making mistakes in the future, now is a great time to look forward and take a very close look at consumer needs. That's why it was so surprising to see consumer user experience research listed near the bottom of the most vital marketing strategy components in our survey, with only 11% of CMOs valuing it as vital.

Although consumer-centricity may feel like a marketing buzzword, it is one that won’t go away anytime soon because being laser-focused on the consumer always proves right.

Four often-subpar areas of B2C brand strategy

Most marketers lack in-depth insight across a wide number of critical brand areas, such as:

  • Understanding critical moments within the customer experience
  • Media and channel preferences
  • Customer value drivers
  • Current perceptions of their brand

The current marketing premise is that a deeper understanding of customer priorities, psychology and behavior can lead to more effective brand experiences. Marketing leaders are continuously making brand strategy, positioning and messaging decisions that require deep, detailed and comprehensive insight. Without in-depth insights, they have an extremely limited view of their environment. 

Making many of these decisions without the underlying insights is at best less effective and at worst dramatically out of alignment with customers in the marketplace. Many organizations view their ability to obtain and apply deeper insight into customers and markets as a powerful, competitive advantage. The CMO Spend Survey shows that marketing technology is the largest segment of investment within the marketing budget at 26%, and 68% of CMOs expect to see a growth in marketing technology budgets in the next fiscal year.

Achieve authenticity in your brand perception

Trust is the cornerstone of any relationship, and trust among U.S. consumers is declining in big brands and corporate America. Authenticity isn’t just a feel-good idea; it has an important impact on measurable business drivers. 

In the CMO Brand Trust survey, results showed brands that achieved an above-average median authenticity score. The perception of those brands was that they are true to their word, come across transparently and speak to customer needs in a true way, and the survey also shows a 19% lift in loyalty, 33% increase in trust and a 39% shift in preference. 

Brand authenticity makes a huge difference to your ability to be successful, and our research indicates that 83% of customers will refuse to do business with brands they don't trust. Brand trust isn’t just a fluffy, feel-good concept. How you determine the pivotal moments of where to set up that trust, fulfill your promise and live up to the brand values as described in your B2C brand strategy is critical.

The only way to truly understand what those pivotal moments are, and where barriers may exist, is to conduct consumer user experience research. Study your consumers, and use that information to inform your way forward and fulfill your brand strategy. Prioritizing the consumer and the insights required to establish that connection is never wasted and is truly vital to success.

Support B2C brand strategy with talent investment

Success is only achievable if those who must manage and execute against a deliverable are able to do it with excellence. However, in the Gartner Marketing Excellence Survey, we saw that talent gaps exist:

  • 70% of marketers don’t have a formal marketing background.
  • 47% of marketers cite the mismatch of staff skill sets and emerging needs as an urgent problem for 2020.
  • 72% of hiring managers believe that this mismatch will increase in the next three years. 

In fact, the mismatch of skills was named as the second most urgent problem for marketers in the next two years. And the demands on the skills marketers require to do their current job has been increasing. 

Don’t ignore foundational competencies in your talent, such as writing, strategy development and storytelling. These competencies are all key to the success of your marketing strategy and are cited as most important by hiring managers. 

When we talk about having a lack of consumer insight, it may not necessarily be a lack of available data, but the lack of talent to decipher it. Marketers love the shiny new objects that promise business effectiveness, and we see that in the growth of martech as part of the budget. However, on average, marketing leaders are only using 58% of their marketing stack potential, down from 61% in 2018. When asked what the impediment to success was, marketing leaders report skills gap as a major cause.

Opportunities to upskill marketing talent

Investing in the skills required to maximize your marketing strategy should be a top priority, but you need to identify which skills you hire for and which you can upskill with your current talent. 

Skills to hire

If you break up the skills across the spectrum of time and training needed to master them, you can identify skills to hire for, such as:

  • Customer user experience research 
  • Research and methodology expertise
  • Data analysis
  • Strategy development
  • UI and UX design
  • Media attribution or media mix modeling

Skills to upskill by training and coaching

When you identify skills that are easier to train, internally or through a third party, and can be mastered in less time, you see skills such as:

  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Data management
  • Creativity
  • Recommendation development
  • Some consumer research

Skills to upskill by organized training process

When you identify skills that are harder to train, but take less time to master, you see skills that you do not necessarily need to hire for, such as:

  • Design thinking
  • Statistical knowledge
  • Root cause analysis
  • Customer data prioritization

The bottom line is that investing in your team and upskilling will save you time and money, and hiring where needed will eliminate the waste on investments such as marketing technology. The ability of a team to execute B2C brand strategy with excellence is critical for success and should be a top priority and focus.


Close the gaps to achieving B2C marketing success

An organization can have the greatest B2C brand strategy in the world, but without an equal focus on excellence, and all factors that contribute to carrying it out, the effort to develop a cohesive and long-lasting brand strategy is wasted. 

To close the gaps in your B2C brand strategy and enable it to be fulfilled as intended, focus on the details that may not be receiving as much attention. 

Validate advertising/media buying and placement

  • Validate your target audience. Check assumptions against media buying audiences and, if you have adjacent audiences needed to achieve your reach, that you have provided for that in your strategies.
  • Align P&L for media sufficiency. Align budget planning and marketing strategy to allow for media sufficiency to make sure that you can attain your optimal reach. 
  • Be realistic about your media contribution. Understand how far media will take you and apply media contribution scenarios to ensure that you've allowed enough in your construct and your marketing strategy to reach consumers. 

Prioritize consumer/user experience research 

  • Prioritize customer-centric data. Consumer user experience research should be prioritized to inform the key points of your brand strategy.
  • Ensure that research touches all areas of the business. It is important that your research touches all areas of your business, not just specific channels.
  • Identify and remove barriers to trust. Every moment that you touch a consumer has the potential to influence a decision, so identify and then remove the barriers of trust. 

Focus on marketing talent and skill development

  • Don't underestimate the need for exceptional skills. You need your talent to have exceptional skills to see your brand strategy to fruition.
  • Balance hiring and upskilling priorities. Be sure to strike the right balance between hiring talent and upskilling your current talent.

Don't overlook the basics for continued learning. Focus on basic skills, such as writing, because they are a really important aspect of communicating your brand messaging.

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