Strategy| Brand| Tactics

How To Turn Your Brand Strategy Into Tactics with Margie Agin, Founder at Centerboard Marketing

Sep 7, 2021 Edward FordEdward Ford

Last updated 08 September, 2021.

In this Growth Hub Podcast episode, I had an insightful conversation gravitating around marketing tactics with Margie Agin, Founder & Chief Strategist at Centerboard Marketing.

โ€”Everyone: โ€œOf course, Edward, this is your podcast; you have to say that.โ€

Yes. But let me give you a bit of a nugget to prove my point.

Early on in the conversation (04:43), Margie said something (quoting Ann Handley) thatโ€™s worth printing on a T-shirt to send to every marketer out there: โ€œSay you took the logo off of your content, would you know that it was yours? Would your customers know?โ€

This quote alone sums up why we were having a chat in the first place; how can marketers turn a brand strategy into relevant marketing tactics that actually support the strategy and convey their brand effectively?

โ€”

Donโ€™t have time to listen to the whole 30-minute episode? Jump to the section that makes the most sense for you:

๐Ÿš€ [04:25] How to accurately and consistently reflect a company's strategic brand positioning and voice

๐Ÿš€[07:13] How to get your company bought in and aligned on brand

๐Ÿš€[16:34] How to turn brand strategy into demand gen campaigns

๐Ÿš€[26:17] How to modify your brand strategy as your company grows

๐Ÿš€[28:13] Examples of B2B SaaS companies that do a great job of reflecting and amplifying their brand (and which companies miss the mark)

----

Links:

Centerboard Marketing >> centerboard-marketing.com/
Brand Breakthrough >> centerboard-marketing.com/brand-breakthrough/
Winning The Story Wars >> https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13088627-winning-the-story-wars

---

Advance B2B >> www.advanceb2b.com
Follow The Growth Hub on Twitter >> twitter.com/SaaSGrowthHub
Follow Edward on Twitter >> twitter.com/NordicEdward

---

๐Ÿ‘‹ PS. If this theme excites you, I recommend you to take a moment and read this blog post: Brand โ€” the forgotten ingredient in B2B SaaS growth. โญ๏ธ

---

Episode transcript

Edward Ford:

Welcome to another episode of The Growth Hub Podcast, and it's my pleasure to welcome Margie Agin to the show, who is the founder and chief strategist at Centerboard Marketing. So Margie, thank you so much for joining us today here on The Growth Hub Podcast.

Margie Agin:

Hi, thanks for having me.

Edward:

Yeah, I have been looking forward to this episode. Ever since we agreed to this, since we're talking about a topic I think all marketers will relate to, and that's how to turn your brand strategy into tangible marketing tactics. Now, we hear all the time about how important it is to build a brand in B2B SaaS nowadays, but to kick things off, I thought, I'd just love to ask, what does brand actually mean to you?

Margie:

Well, it's much more than sort of the look and feel and the brand identity. That's important too, the visual elements, your logo, your colors, right? All of that. But I look at brand as much sort of broader as more of an umbrella of brand personality, right? So sort of imagine your brand as a character in a story, right? So let's say there are two main characters, right? Your customer is your hero, but your brand is also there in the story. So what role does that character play in the life of the customer or the hero? How do they speak? How do they make the hero feel? How do they help the hero of the story, the customer, move along their journey and achieve their goals, right? So, that's sort of an overarching kind of way to think about brand.

Margie:

And one of the, I'd say the most important aspect for a B2B SaaS brand, when it comes to turning this sort of very high level, almost sort of airy-fairy kind of idea into tangible action is really brand positioning. And where do we sit in the market compared with other options and alternatives that the buyer has? What makes your company really unique and memorable, because we all know markets are increasingly crowded and so important to differentiate. So, when you're not in the room, if a customer or your partner or even an employee says, "Oh, this company does this. This is what they're like." They should have a ready answer. They say it with consistency. And that's really what makes your brand differentiated and also memorable over time.

Edward:

Yeah, I love this analogy of characters in a story and understanding that brand is more than just your logos, your visuals. So following from this, why is it important for all your marketing campaigns and collateral to accurately and consistently reflect a company's strategic brand positioning and voice?

Margie:

So let's say you took, I'm not the first person to say this, I think it was Ann Handley, I think who I'm quoting, but let's say you took the logo off your content, would you know that it was yours? Would your customers know? So it's that consistency that really builds trust over time and also helps really busy, distracted people remember you because they easily forget. And we all know people don't travel on their buyer journey in a straight line. They dip in and out. They're on different platforms, different experiences. So we want to be telling the same story across the board. We might change our tone a little bit depending on whether we're on social media or we're in a customer service call, but ultimately we don't really change our fundamental personality just like you don't change your fundamental personality, right?

Margie:

So most likely your buyers are going to encounter your brand before they ever get a chance to meet your salespeople or their executives in person. So, you want the feeling that they get when they're interacting, say with your website or any of your touchpoints or your content to be the same or close to what they would get if they were actually interacting with the people on their team, right? And it's really about how well you build that connection with customers because what attracts people to your company is the value that you provide. And also how you make people feel, you're earning that trust and consistency builds trust so that you then, once you earn that trust, you can kind of get people's attention to sort of talk about your product and your services.

Margie:

So, another part you mentioned, accuracy. If people get a certain impression, let's say, from your social media or your website, and then they interact with your people or your product and it's a different story altogether, that's actually worse, right? That's a great way to shoot yourself in the foot and destroy trust because you weren't accurately authentically reflecting the true culture or the personality of the company. So you don't want to bait and switch where you pretend to be one thing and then it turns that you're not.

Edward:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think that is a super important point on consistency and another challenge with brand marketing can be internal buy-in since it's a bit harder to measure and prove the value of competitor, something like performance marketing. So how would you get an organization on the same page about a company's brand positioning and voice? And can you talk us through the steps that help to gain buy-in and enable people to convey the brand effectively so that there is this consistency and that marketing isn't saying one thing and all the other departments are saying something completely different.

Margie:

Yeah, sure. So before I started Centerboard Marketing, I was an in-house marketer for about 15 years and I ran digital marketing and demand gen teams. And I would often sort of be the recipient of the brand, right? So the CMO or maybe the executives or maybe an agency would sort of go in a room, in a silo, and work on the brand or they go off on a retreat somewhere or something and then they bring that to the rest of the organization and sort of lay it at your feet. And I always found that really frustrating as sort of the doer in the team, because I then had to kind of interpret these very high-level brand statements into, well, okay, what am I actually going to write on the website? How do I sound in an email? Or even what kind of content or campaigns do I produce?

Margie:

So I think it starts from that very, very beginning of bringing kind of different voices and inputs into the room when you're working on a brand and defining your brand personality, right? So there are three pillars, I'd say, right? There's the internal folks, customers, and even competitors, right? And sort of cross-referencing and triangulating those three pillars is how you kind of come up with something that is culturally authentic to your company, right? Something your customers really actually care about and then something that stands out, that's different from your competitors. So, in my book, I include different questions to ask and activities and frameworks to kind of draw out information from these three stakeholder groups and audiences.

Margie:

So for example, internally, there's a lot of workshops and surveys and kind of questionnaires and facilitated discussions, but again, really getting different people from different departments, the product management team should have a strong voice there, but same with sales and customer service, because those folks are really sort of boots on the ground interacting with customers every day, right? And if you gain their buy-in and often there's kind of an influencer, a loud voice within those groups, right? So if you gain sort of their buy-in early on, they also help to bring along sort of the rest of their organization when it comes time to then roll out the band because they feel like they had input and they understand the process. That's the internal part.

Margie:

And then the customer piece is, again, what do they say about you when you're not in the room? And are you actually talking about the things you want to talk about or are you talking about the things that they really care about most? And if you can kind of find an intersection between those things. So in an ideal situation, you sort of have a customer advisory board or you can kind of pressure test some of your early ideas against some customers, any kind of a trusted group of customers. Those are your friendlies so ideally you can kind of test it with people that don't know you. And then finally competitors, is looking at other sites, asking customers about alternatives and really finding out is your message and voice really unique? How does it position you against the competition and thinking of competition even more broadly, which is sort of share a wallet, what else are people spending money on instead of spending money on you and can you actually stand out?

Margie:

So I think saying that you've sort of looked at all these three things and going sort of presenting all of that back to the folks internally helps from the very beginning. And then in terms of getting sort of the rollout of the brand, so once you sort of have something that you want to present and you have the imagery and the definition of sort of the style and the brand values and, it's very important and more meaningful to people if you can kind of bring that down to assets and sort of artifacts that they would actually use in their day to day lives, right?

Margie:

So you sort of not just a list of brand attributes, but show how those brand attributes come to life in the way you use words, right? The language choice, how you might write an email, what you might put on the website, down to sort of a presentation. It needs to sort of feel like something people would really use and make it super easy and relevant to people's jobs. Otherwise, they sort of go back to whatever they have hidden in folders and in their desk drawers, and they just use what they've always been using. So if you're trying to get an organization to change, to sort of reflect in a brand refresh and kind of reflect the new brand, you have to really help them sort of along the way by making it super easy for them.

Edward:

Yeah, I think this is so, so important since building a strong brand requires a lot of internal buy-in alignment and stakeholder management. And I think this piece is often overlooked, so it was great you emphasized the importance of that. And I think moving to the external view, let's talk more about customers. So B2B purchases typically include many decision-makers often in a buying committee. So how can we consider these different audiences in our marketing tactics and use marketing programs to bring them together while still maintaining a consistent brand?

Margie:

Yeah, there's a big challenge for B2B companies, is this kind of buying committee because you have multiple personas, different audiences, and sometimes it's challenging to know when they come in and out of the process. I think often you have say the most successful relationships is possibly where there's one person who's a champion. Often it might be, and let's say you're selling marketing software, it's the marketing person, or a privacy software, it's the legal and the privacy team. And then they have to sort of go to the IT department and kind of carry your message to them, right? That's often a common path unless you're selling directly to IT.

Margie:

There's some business unit and kind of business decision maker that cares about the ROI and gets really super excited about this new tool and then IT can often be a blocker in that process, right? So, if you can kind of work with that, like that business team, the marketing team to kind of get the ball rolling, that marketing person is at a tough spot too, because they often, they don't know, they're not technical experts, right? So they don't always know the technical side of things well enough to communicate internally and you can't always be in those meetings behind the doors.

Margie:

So you're relying on, again, on them to kind of carry your message. So, one of the tactics I've seen be really successful is a champion's kit, right? You sort of give the marketer or the business decision-maker a package of materials that they can understand. So it's sort of written, they're part of it, at least it's written at their level, but also that they can present to the IT team so they can be your advocate and they can also be included in that process and it doesn't happen without them in the room.

Margie:

And that's, in a perfect world, getting all those stakeholders in say one meeting or at least looking at the same kind of information. This is again why consistency is so important in this process, it's tricky and that's why B2B sales takes so long, but that's an important part of the process. And I think the more you can do to really like make that champion truly your advocate and again, make it so easy for them to do so they're not making things up on their own without your input. That's a good key.

Edward:

Yeah, absolutely. And one thing I'd love to dig into is that you said earlier you worked in-house in demand gen and were basically given the brand strategy handed to you. So while this wasn't the most ideal workflow, how did you as an in-the-trenches marketer take that strategy and turn it into concrete demand plans and campaigns?

Margie:

Yeah, so I've played both a content role and where I'm constantly trying to think of new sort of thought leadership and top of funnel type of content campaigns. And kind down in the trenches demand gen where you live and die by the number and the quality of the leads that you produce, right? So, I guess top of funnel, some examples that they kind of come to mind that also reflect the brand, we kind of choose, this is where brand positioning is so important because we choose really carefully what issues we raise, right? What kind of, maybe there are controversial issues or thought leadership topics that we want to take on that need to align with their brand values and our brand positioning.

Margie:

So at a high level, so let's say your brand value is you're curious, right? You're always learning and it could be one of your brand values, right? So maybe this is the type of company that loves to do original research, right? And you, that's what you choose to invest in because you want to do thought leadership and you want to contribute back to the industry. Let's say one of your brand values is transparency, openness, which we hear a lot. So at one company they were more a services company than a software company, but they had a running total of sort of like their help desk tickets front and center on their website and you had their customer satisfaction and their customer feedback right up there on the website for anybody who wanted to see a live feed, like that's backing up, putting your money where your mouth is in terms of saying you're a transparent brand and then acting on it.

Margie:

But that's sort of some top of funnel kind of content ideas, and those are, they get people to notice you in terms of brand awareness. But then from there, we need to really start creating a red thread to the product because that's really converting those people from having interest or coming in off an SEO search to then saying, "Well, this is what the company does and this is how I can solve the problem." So, ideally giving people a little taste of your product, giving a little bit of a way for free is a really strong demand gen tactic, right? So, I'd say some of the most effective types of content in terms of conversion and driving pipeline, I've really seen are free tools.

Margie:

So one example, I worked with a cybersecurity company on a series of kind of free discovery tools. Discovery is actually a feature that's baked into their full paid product but for the free tools we gave that piece away for free and then discovery raises all sorts of issues, right? What kind of vulnerabilities you have? Your passwords are in multiple places, all kind of dangerous stuff that makes you vulnerable to cyber attack. So, we provided something of value to the user, which is a brand, supporting the brand value and visibility they didn't have before. And we built that brand connection, but then we've also raised issues that can be solved and can only be solved with a full product. So there's sort of this natural next step and kind of an enticement to learn more, and that's when you're starting to really drive people into the pipeline.

Edward:

Yeah, this is really good to hear and great to hear those examples from the past of how brand turns into demand gen. So coming back to brand-specific and brand-relevant content, it isn't just things like blog posts, podcasts, or videos, there's a lot you can do with brand marketing, but how can you provide enough value to get buyers attached to your brand but also so that they'll be interested in your actual product?

Margie:

Yeah, so that's where I think those kinds of ideas, like the free tools and even the free trials, is when you sort of, you take that top of funnel kind of blog posts and podcasts and thought leadership papers, and then you've raised a lot of issues through that. Now, we've kind of ratcheted up sort of the awareness and the pain and built some empathy to show people we understand what they're going through. Then we need to kind of provide the antidote and that's where kind of the most effective type of content in terms of driving pipeline could be something like a free tool where you're still showing the values of the brand possibly by giving something away for free and providing value and visibility and insight, let's say if it's a discovery tool as I talked about, but then you're also immediately giving people a little taste to show how the product backs up what you're saying.

Edward:

Yeah, absolutely. And some companies worry that emphasizing the risk of not using their products makes them appear too negative and they want that brand to be positive and aspirational yet we know that loss of version is actually a pretty effective technique to drive urgency. So how can you strike the right balance in your marketing? What do you need to consider?

Margie:

Yeah, I was talking about sort of ratcheting up the pain, which is sort of like the, we know people are, I think they're twice as likely to act or avoid pain as they are for the pleasure of gain, right? So this idea of, I think the loss of version, I think psychologists call it, I'm an amateur psychologist, but like these sort of triggers that we as marketers like to use to drive action. And we're really what we're trying to do is get people to change the status quo, which it's following the biggest enemy of most B2B sales is actually no action at all, all right? So if people can put action off, they will. So that we use sort of this common structure for like a sales presentation or any book or something, which is show the risk if you don't act and then like turn the screw and make it really hurt.

Margie:

And then, you come in with your product or your solution, you take the pain away. And it's funny that you mentioned like some brands just like they don't want to be the negative person in the room and sometimes when I talk about that with some kind of companies where their brand values are positivity and they want to stay positive. They want to be the one presenting the inspiring vision of the future and not hop on the negative. So, you do definitely need to consider balance. You can present some of the pain, but then you have to quickly provide the medicine to address it. And also if you're talking about pain and like the risk of getting it wrong, you want to be really careful that you aren't making your customers feel too badly about what they're doing today.

Margie:

It's sort of like nobody wants to call, you don't want to call their baby ugly. Your goal is not to like grind them down. It's to uplift them. So it's possible to sort of put it in terms of they have opportunities for change they can capitalize on, right? Or looking at what others are doing to inspire them. And they get it. They can look internally and say, "Am I doing this or not doing this?" So you don't need to sort of make them feel like dirt.

Margie:

I guess, the last thing to consider is don't overuse this power. Maybe it's a more of a B2C example, but we just had 4th of July sales here in the US, so on the 4th, you get all these emails that say, "It's your last chance for 30% off." And then lo and behold on the 5th, you get a message that says, "Great news. Our 4th of July sale is extended." So it was like the boy who cried wolf. I know it's going to be extended so I don't feel that urgency. There's no loss if I don't act on the 4th, because you're going to send me another email on the 5th, and I know this because you always do this every holiday. So, sparingly using it actually might get you farther than when you're overusing it and then you don't back it up.

Edward:

Yeah. You definitely don't want to go over the top with this, but I think this is awesome and I love the point about being an amateur psychologist. I think we as marketers, all marketers are amateur psychologist at the end of the day, but one thing marketers are all obsessed with is growth and growing their businesses. So how have you seen brand strategy change as companies themselves mature and grow and how do you manage this process across an organization?

Margie:

Yeah, the brands, whether it's personality or more detailed positioning, it's never static. It's always living and growing and you're learning as you go. You can't be perfect right out the gate. So even when you launch say a new brand or crystallize your brand, setting the expectation that this is living and breathing and growing is important, and ultimately some of it is not up to you. The market changes, your customers change, or maybe your own, over time, your own company changes, you sort of go from like an upstart rebel, the newbie in the market and a few years later, suddenly you're the market leader. So, you can't rely anymore on that sort of rebellious David versus Goliath kind of messaging if suddenly you're the Goliath, right? So we have to sort of take a look back every so often and depending on how fast your market is moving it could be quarterly, but it should be, I think, at least a once a year. These kind of fresh eyes are so important.

Edward:

Yeah, I think this is super, super important because the story and the brand you're building at one million ARR as a SaaS company, it's going to look very different when you're at 10 million. And again, when you're 2050, you need to be constantly re-thinking and re-inventing so I think this is great piece to consider. And remember, and I was thinking before we move to the fast five closing questions, let's finish up with some examples. So which B2B SaaS companies do a great job of reflecting and amplifying their brand and which companies have missed the mark?

Margie:

Well, Slack, it does a great job of reflecting and amplifying brand of their brand, the voice. When you interact kind of with their chatbot or Slack bot, that really kind of reflects their language as well as the look and feel. And I think they've really focused in on trying to make sure that they're consistent across different touchpoints even when they've been acquired and they're still kind of trying to retain that identity. And actually Salesforce, back to an example of a company that's really changed over time. If you, I don't know, 15 years ago maybe, when they used to talk about how it was no software, they had sort of that like Ghostbusters kind of like logo thing where it was like software, no software, but that almost seems like so antiquated and kind of ridiculous now because we're all SaaS companies.

Margie:

And now that feels out of date, and I think they just, maybe a year ago or so, went from a tagline that we bring companies and customers together and even a huge company like that, but that's literally what they do. They become this hub. So I think they did a great job of really kind of reflecting that we're not at all what we used to be, that doesn't resonate anymore. It makes sense. And now this is the role we play in the market.

Margie:

Gosh, the ones that missed the mark. If I could think of them off of my head, that wouldn't be their problem, right? But it's the ones that sounds like, "We are a leading provider of seamless, scalable solutions that power business outcomes." Those are the ones that are totally forgettable. There's a whole bunch of those sort of, that all sound the same.

Edward:

Yeah, exactly. There's the overload of corporate jargon when there's a lot of words strung together and then when you try to figure out what does this mean? You have absolutely no idea what they do. So don't be one of those businesses that's for sure. So, Margie, this is super good, and we can now move to our closing questions and our fast five challenge. So to wrap things up, I'll ask five questions, and all you need to do is answer as quickly as possible. So are you ready?

Margie:

I'm ready. Yes.

Edward:

All right, first question. What is the one book you would recommend others to read?

Margie:

Story Wars. It's a few years old now but, by Jonah Sachs and talks about storytelling, lots of examples of both B2C and B2B.

Edward:

Awesome. Sounds like a great follow-up to this episode. Second question, a SaaS company you love and why?

Margie:

So I'm going to give a shout-out to GatherContent. They're in the UK. So they solved a very specific problem I had, which was managing content for a website revamp, and then getting it into the actual website. But they produce a ton of helpful, really thoughtful content that's more strategic, tactical and strategic and not just about their own products but really sort of helping the market that they serve.

Edward:

Cool. Third question. Favorite place to learn about marketing online?

Margie:

I really like MarketingExperiments. I think their site is marketingexperiments.com and they run a lot of tests. They have access to a lot of research, which I don't always have because I see things in smaller amounts so I can't always run a test of 10,000 people, but I love seeing the data and the findings from all the types of digital tests that they run.

Edward:

Awesome. Fourth question, most important growth metric?

Margie:

It has to be revenue, because ultimately that's the common metric that affects everything in the company and that everybody cares about. If revenue is growing, you have a lot more flexibility to sort of look at all the other metrics that matter like engagement and retention and you get to spend time talking about brand and storytelling and things that don't always provide immediate ROI and take time. But you have to start with revenue so that you sort of have the space to do those things.

Edward:

Yup, absolutely. And then fifth and final question, best piece of advice for fellow marketers?

Margie:

Just keep listening. Get out of your own bubble. Talk to the other people in the company, talk to the customers, find out what you can about competitors, and just continually listen.

Edward:

Awesome. Love it. Well, Margie, I have to say this was absolutely fantastic, and thank you so much for coming on The Growth Hub podcast.

Margie:

Yeah, it was really fun. Thanks for the great conversation.