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Measuring, Mastering Brand Performance: Quantifying The Art of B2B Branding

By Ray Baird

Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, Oracle and SAP, all formidable brands in the B2B IT space, address complex business challenges and are known for financial strength and strong and capable management. They are known, too, as innovators that deliver business value to customers. But just how different is one from another?

Well, not very, according to their customers and prospects. While these brands are perceived as leaders in developing and delivering powerful Cloud and big-data capabilities, they face a challenge: brand commoditization. Like many B2B companies, it’s hard for these players to communicate how they’re different from rivals in a marketplace filled with viable companies and offerings tied to the cloud and big data.

Research conducted using our company’s new Brand Performance Platform™ (BPP), a proprietary research methodology we announced this week, underscores just how similarly these IT giants are perceived among clients and prospects: They rate comparably on Reputation, Leadership and Market Vision—reflecting a common circumstance in the B2B space: a multitude of brands with marginal differences.

But, looking a little closer, a couple of these brands shine more brightly than others. In the BPP ranking, Microsoft comes out on top in Character and Impact, while tying with IBM in Customer Relationships. SAP consistently shows the weakest attribute performance, with an aggregate BPP score of 41 compared to 56, 57, 58 and 60 for Oracle, Cisco, IBM and Microsoft, respectively. (Results were based on quantitative surveys of 100 U.S.-based business decision makers in industries outside of IT; all respondents either had sole or shared responsibility for technology-purchasing decisions.)

Leveraging the power of data and analytics to quantify a brand’s strength within a dynamic competitive landscape relative to peer brands, BPP measures performance based on three key dimensions: Character (reputation and perceived market leadership), Customer Relationship (customer advocacy and ability of a brand to be a problem-solving partner) and Impact (differentiation, satisfaction and impact of the existing brand experience).

The BPP grew out of our work for B2B companies that, like these big brands in the B2B data space, need to focus simultaneously on brand differentiation, business innovation and building strong relationships with customers. With their organizations being held to a higher standard of transparency and accountability by multiple groups of stakeholders, CMOs face pressure to quantify the impact of their decisions. Not using rigorously derived data to optimize brand positioning is to put a brand at risk of becoming commoditized.

The BPP offers both a measurement system to capture critical components of brand performance and a framework for expanding growth frontiers by defining and prioritizing activities to operationalize new brand positioning. We use quantitative surveys among key constituencies to evaluate brand perception, awareness and equity, and then visually locate ideal positions relative to competitors. Based on this discovery research, we develop a definitive brand narrative summarizing the overarching opportunity in terms of drivers of brand preference in key market segments, with an assessment of how the brand needs to be perceived to capitalize on the opportunity.

The BPP effectively distinguishes between Preference Drivers (attributes that are both important to customers and highly differentiated from the competition) and Fool’s Gold (attributes that are distinctive but don’t drive customer preference), while also enabling executives to test, monitor and adjust brand performance on an ongoing basis.

Another plus: insights into B2B purchasing decisions. As brand perceptions have come to be influenced by a proliferation of touch points — everything from social media, emails and webinars to event sponsorships, trade shows and ads — weighing the factors driving such decisions has become increasingly tricky. BPP’s Touchpoint Analytics, a component of the Impact dimension, is a scorecard for helping to evaluate and prioritize brand investments.

How did the IT giants we measured rate? Reflecting its outstanding visibility in the IT market, Microsoft racked up a Touchpoint Score of 29% — five percentage points ahead of its next closest competitor, Oracle (with 24%), and more than double SAP’s score of 14%.

As branding partners, we must think strategically and creatively to produce evocative and engaging brand experiences that translate, in an integrated way, across a range of touch points. While achieving success, in this regard, will always involve an element of art, there’s no denying that our livelihood—and our clients’—increasingly depends on quantifying the impact of brand investments and pinpointing differentiation opportunities via a rigorous, data-driven methodology.

Hence the Brand Performance Platform™ — a potent new weapon in the fight against brand commodification.