How difficult is it to create a B2B brand from scratch in our ever-changing world? Jenny Sagström is CEO and founder of Sköna, a B2B creative agency based in San Francisco and Stockholm. She discusses all things B2B branding and how her company manages to differentiate itself from other agencies.
When do you think is the right time for B2B companies to start investing in branding?
Well, there is the ideal answer and the most pragmatic answer. In an ideal world, the answer is right from the start. But in the more pragmatic world of Silicon Valley, I think a more realistic answer is post-Series B funding. Until then, the focus is on proof of concept. It’s about pivoting (sometimes daily) and growing the pipeline. Don’t get me wrong, the pipeline still matters, but in these early days when it’s hard to measure anything else, pipeline growth is key.
After Series B, it becomes more important to bring new Eyeballs into the ecosystem. To be blunt, performance marketing is mostly about getting people who were always going to buy our services or products to do so sooner. True sustainable growth comes from expanding to new audiences, broadening our targets and the only way to achieve this is through brand advertising.
Now I realize my answer is very focused on the tech world, because that’s where we spend most of our time. In more traditional and industrial B2B contexts, I think the response is even faster. For all businesses, brand thinking is growth thinking.
How would you build a B2B brand from scratch?
Snowflake, when we started, was fresh out of stealth and competing with established solutions like Oracle and Teradata. Consistency of messaging was paramount, along with a consistent visual branding system. You only have a limited number of prints, so ensuring a consistent look and feel is the least you can do.
This past year we also worked on brand extensions for Alteryx and Rollbar. We also launched new brands for Unsupervised, Findity and Rollworks. Each of these engagements starts with digging into branding, what sets these brands apart from their competitors and how can we take that and present it to their markets.
One of our differentiators is that we always start by thinking about the target audience first. Much of B2B starts with the product or service, explaining it. Technical details. All the things you’re proud of and worked hard for. But that’s not what your customers need or want. They just want to know how you solve their business problems – and to do that, we need to understand what those business problems are.
Has Sköna adopted a new strategy when working with B2B brands after the pandemic, or is the environment much the same?
During the pandemic, we had to quickly switch to virtual events. Much of the pipeline in the B2B tech world has always been event-driven, but in the pandemic, the first thing was events. We quickly learned how to create immersive and engaging digital experiences. We also looked at direct mail campaigns, blurring the distinction between private and professional worlds. We’ve helped our clients develop swag that was as useful to them as it was to their kids. We’ve created coloring books, branded socks and, of course, sweatpants. Everything to make their days more comfortable and our customers more memorable.
The post-pandemic world has continued with the same intensity for us. Most of our clients are companies that help other companies in their digital transformation. This is something that has accelerated during the pandemic. Digital transformation projects before the pandemic had timelines of three years, today we are looking at three months. In other words, as creative partners, we had to evolve even faster than before.
Post-pandemic, the trend we see persisting is the decline in business travel. This is something that very few of us actually miss! Today, we are more efficient with our time and that of our customers, which is a huge bonus for everyone.
Your agency also specializes in marketing. Do you believe there is a tension between traditional advertising and brand building? And how does this dynamic evolve over the years with customers?
In the B2B world, we think of it more as the tension between performance marketing and brand marketing. In B2B, branding has traditionally been looked down upon and seen as somewhat frivolous. Today we see a huge shift in that way of thinking. Branding is no longer considered “dirty”. I would go to a member and say that branding in B2B is becoming all the rage and we’re just at the forefront of that wave. It’s exciting to lead the way!