With complicated B2B buying cycles, one thing is for certain: if your target buyer hasn’t heard of you, you’re going to have a harder time selling. Let’s face it—it’s hard to generate demand if you don’t even make a prospect’s shortlist, which is why B2B marketers need to focus on building brand awareness within their organizations.
In a recent Renegade Thinkers Unite interview, CMO Kevin Sellers of Ping Identity showed us the true value of B2B brand awareness. With a keen understanding of the value of brand development, Kevin and his team undertook a massive brand identity initiative. They launched it to the world via a unique brand awareness campaign that included a series of ads with Terry Crews, Ping Identity’s new Chief Identity Champion.
To learn how they did it, check out the Q&A below, where Kevin walks us through the steps the cybersecurity brand took to make a splash in a big way.
Why is brand awareness so important in B2B?
I don’t think people appreciate what awareness does. It’s not a vanity play, especially in a B2B world where awareness actually gets you into the shortlist. You can’t win business if you don’t even get a chance to bid on the deal. Initially, it plays into the demand that way, but it also does so much as a multiplier to your demand gen efforts. It’s not just about being more known, it’s about making that funnel bigger and ensuring that your demand activities are more effective as a result.
What’s the first step in building B2B brand awareness?
A great brand is not about a clever catchphrase or a really creative position. It really is a process of discovery of the soul. To be genuine and really authentic is the place you have to be, and to get there takes a lot of work. We came into Ping and we said it’s not so much that it needs a rebrand, it just needs clarity, and it needs that authentic, unique position.
So, you go through the process of discovery and it’s a really gut-wrenching, painful process, but a fun process. There’s a whole lot of things you do, but it leads you to a place that answers, “What’s really true, authentic, and unique about this company is this” and then that’s when the art comes in as you do the artful workaround how to position and message that brand position.
Did you involve employees in the brand development process?
Marketing is an interesting animal. It can’t be too participatory because everyone’s an expert on marketing, right? But in this case, when you’re doing this kind of work, you want it to be participatory because, again, you’re discovering something, and they’re helping you discover what that soul really is. Our work was to get the language right, but once we did that work, we started rolling it out to the employees in larger groups and getting feedback.
There was such positive reception and a lot of very important top-down support from the board to the CEO on down. Of course, the CEO was involved every step of the way, and that’s one of the important learnings when you’re doing this kind of work. Don’t do the work and then present it. Obviously, the light bulbs turning on was really, really gratifying, so we kind of knew we had it.
How did you introduce Ping Identity’s new brand identity to the market?
We went off and created some content that really focuses on championing identity and demonstrating what it means to have a really great experience. We did it through all different types of assets. The best, most gratifying part was when we put this whole idea into a manifesto video as a kickoff for our sales kickoff and got a spontaneous standing ovation. Again, it was because we tapped into that emotional connection.
We just told that story and we showed how identity can come to life and it was a powerful thing. Then we built a campaign and what was great about it is, because it was so distinctively different than the tone and language that our competition was using, the performance was outstanding. Our engagement rate was 2x and 3x industry benchmarks across all asset types. We felt really, really good about that first round of creative yet, in my head, I knew that we were still missing something.
What was missing?
We loved what we were getting out of it, but I just needed a little more media push to really get the reach and frequency that I needed, and I wasn’t going to do it with my budget. You can take the Geico route where you just buy eyeballs everywhere so that your message is just constantly streamed in front of those eyeballs. Most can’t afford the Geico approach, so when you’re in a smaller budget situation like we’re in, the content had better really work and it had better travel.
What was missing is, how do I really activate this to be a much more earned, media-friendly type of a campaign, which is obviously all marketers’ Nirvana and is obviously easy to talk about but really hard to execute. That’s where we went into phase two of this.
So, what tactic did you ultimately pursue to boost brand awareness?
Influencer marketing done well can be exceptionally powerful and it’s all based on science. People generally respond more favorably when they hear someone they know and trust talk about a brand than when they hear a brand talk about their own brand. We started off talking about our own brand, and we did well with it, but I knew that we weren’t going to get the reach we needed, so we looked at this influencer concept.
It’s all based on science. The brain lights up differently when an influencer gifts the message that you have rather than you, but the key is that you have to find an influencer that really fits you, fits your brand, and has the personality, credibility, and authenticity that fits with what you stand for in the marketplace. When that alignment is really good, that’s a magical place to be.
Which influencer did you land on?
We came to this idea of a Chief Identity Champion as a member of the management team. We created a character, and we went and cast Terry Crews in that character and created a whole mass of content around him and it’s performing exceptionally well. Terry specifically is this infectiously optimistic and very positive person. High energy, but he’s a champion himself. He’s a Super Bowl champion, but he also champions a number of very important causes. He’s a very vocal supporter of a number of important issues, and that alignment just felt so good.
Wow! A bit unexpected for a brand in the cybersecurity space.
You go and you look at the content that exists in that industry, it’s pretty staid. It’s pretty technical, it’s pretty product-centric. No one’s actually trying to tell a story and bring something to life like this. This is a space that focuses on safety so, by definition, the marketing tends to be safe. Safe is easy to sell into your management team, but it’s also not something that’s going to really differentiate you in a way that’s going to create attention.
At the end of the day, what are we trying to do as marketers anyway? What we’re really trying to do with advertising specifically is to rent a little space in the mind of your buyer. Ultimately, you’re trying to get them to know you and remember you, and you can’t do that by being really safe, especially when they’re bombarded with messages every day. That’s all of those pieces coming together and then just the great performance of Terry. It’s very memorable.
How are you measuring Ping Identity’s marketing?
The investments we make in awareness are not about making us feel good and not about having a good time and not even about hiring some famous person—we’re trying to expand awareness to drive new customer acquisition. Initially, we measure our marketing ROI across the whole funnel and that is something we take to the board on a regular basis. We track our MROI very, very closely.
We have specific impression targets; we have specific engagement rates and click-through rates and traffic to the website. We look at all those indicators, we benchmark them. That starts to tell you, okay, I can’t prove ROI yet, but I can start to prove if I’m on to something or not. What’s great for us is we’ve seen really high engagement rates. Our traffic to the website directly attributable to this campaign is up over 1,000%.
Do you think those metrics are directly related to your brand awareness campaigns?
What I always tell people—and this is really important—awareness investments are like the R&D arm of marketing. They tend to pay off, but over a longer period of time. Now, I’m still accountable for every dollar I spend, and I don’t shy away from that, but I have parsed those dollars off and the CFO is comfortable knowing that we’re going to measure this not in-year for in-year, we’re going to let this have a two to three year horizon where we invest in this, but we should start to see 2021 and 2022 really kicking in the increased effectiveness for all of our demand gen efforts and I have no doubt that that’s going to take place.