Friday, November 20, 2015

The Science of Swag: 5 Guiding Principles for B2B Gift-Giving

A special preview of this post appeared on October 23rd on LinkedIn.

If you're reading this now ... Congratulations!

You are thinking ahead and setting the groundwork for a successful gift-giving program in the months ahead. You see, we often don't hear from companies about gift-giving until it's almost too late -- and we get it. There's never enough time to get a jump on projects like this.

But, whether you're well-prepared months in advance, or scrambling to launch your customer gift-giving before it's too late, the basics are the same. These are the five principles we emphasize that will help ensure your gift-giving plans are meaningful and effective.

#1 - To Gift or Not to Gift.

It is better to give, than to cheap out. Because, simply put, you either appreciate your customers or you don't. When budget is a serious constraint or you're really stumped for a meaningful gift, send an [old-fashioned] greeting card that is:
Relevant to your brand (vs. over-branded -- more on that later),
Signed by at least one human, and
Expresses your honest sentiments in words that sound a little bit like you.

#2 - There's no rule that requires every client/customer receive exactly the same gift.

You might consider giving long-term, reliable customers and major accounts something more appropriate to their relationship with your firm. Think of it like you do your own friends and acquaintances. You probably exchange actual gifts with your closer friends and send cards to most of the others, right? The same can apply to your customer list. And don't be put off by pundits who insist they might talk to each other and compare what you gave them. The reality is that, unless you gave a few of your favorite customers new cars, it probably won't be top-of-mind.

#3 - The Most Common No-No: "Over-branding."

Nobody wants to eat, drink, wear or carry around somebody else's billboard in lieu of a gift -- unless it's the t-shirt you autographed for them at your last sold-out concert. Wine that is private-labeled with your company logo, apparel in your corporate color pallet boldly emblazoned with your logo, mouse pads in the shape of your logo, and food items wrapped in your logo and bearing your tagline are fine for getting your name in front of prospects at trade shows and conferences, but none of these tchotchkes take the customer into account when it comes to gift giving.

#4 - When Is a Gift Not a Gift?

When it's a discount. Or a BOGO. Or a coupon.

Let's face it, nobody is fooled by this. In fact, if you think about it, it's a little crass. By giving a discount instead of a gift, you are actually telling your customer that they don't get a present unless they spend more money with you.

The only time a discount or coupon is acceptable is if it accompanies something that conveys your appreciation with no strings attached. An example would be enclosing or attaching a discount code or coupon with an old-fashioned,well-selected card (see above) or other unpretentious memento that in some way conveys your sentiment of appreciation -- vs. your tagline -- and will be enjoyed by the customer.

#5 - This is important: Know your customers and apply that knowledge to your gift-giving.

Think about what your customer(s) would really enjoy or appreciate when you select your gift. It's not about advertising, it's about gratitude and giving.

Be sensitive to customers who do not observe the same holidays you do. While most would understand, some might take offense at your disregard of their beliefs and customs. There will be many other times you can flex your gift-giving muscles and show your appreciation for these customers, including company milestones such as anniversaries, promotions, and opening a new office.

It is essential that you are aware of any restrictions your customers may have on accepting gifts from vendors and service providers. The most obvious examples of these customers are state, local and federal government employees. Your well-meaning gesture of appreciation could end up putting him/her in an extremely uncomfortable position, and that's the last thing you want.

We love new ideas, so here's something to think about: What was the coolest, most enjoyable gift you have ever received from a vendor or service provider? Let us know in the comments and happy gifting!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

It's #TipTuesday -- The 8 Things Necessary to Creating a Strategic Marketing Plan That Delivers


Whether you bring in extra help with your strategic planning or tackle it internally, winning strategies require homework on the front end. Skip the homework and it's like building a house on Jell-O. You'll have some wiggling, you'll have some jiggling, it may be a little sticky, some people will even enjoy it; but, in the end, the house will collapse and you're gonna have a mess to clean up.

So, whether you go outside for help or take it on in-house, here are your assignments:

#1 - Look at last year's numbers.

  • Analyze the previous year's Sales and revenue numbers for trends.
  • Identify and analyze marketing trends (online, offline results, leads, conversion, rate of return).

#2 - Define your vision and goals for the coming year. 

[This will be your hardest, most contentious, and time-consuming homework assignment -- in the spirit of #TipTuesday I have two words for you:  GET HELP!]

  • Align your vision with the organization's mission.
  • Describe what your organization will look like at the end of the year.
  • What do you need to accomplish to realize the vision?
  • What are the obstacles?
  • How will you know how your results are tracking to your goals?
  • Document it.

#3 - Review & Revise Customer Profiles

  • Who needs to buy from you to ensure your vision, goals and objectives are met?
  • Who are your best customers and why?
  • What are your segments?
  • Create detailed personas for each segment.

#4 - What's up with those pesky competitors?

  • Do your differentiators hold up? Why or why not? Adjust strategy accordingly.
  • Review and analyze their strategy and tactics -- don't emulate it, just learn from it.
[#TipTuesday: Avoid "Me-Too Marketing" at all costs.]

#5 - Review and analyze your past year's marketing and materials

  • Make sure everything is aligned to a target market segment -- adjust for gaps.
  • This means everything from your Style Guide, to collateral, to content, slideshows, to website, to social postings and platforms.
  • Update accordingly.

#6 - Analyze your Sales and CRM processes.

  • Review and document.
  • Align marketing to Sales milestones.
  • Make careful note of any gaps in alignment.

#7 - Plan and Document.

  • Review the results of your homework and identify gaps, changing trends, and new challenges.
  • Prioritize issues identified.
  • Build your plan around two things: keeping what works and developing new tactics to address the gaps, changes and new areas.
  • Document the tactical and logistical elements required in a logical, operational fashion -- including how you will track, measure and analyze results against clear, reasonable criteria.

#8 - Make it a team effort.

  • Make your team part of process -- don't leave anyone out and make sure they all have an assignment that fits with their areas of interest and expertise.
  • Include colleagues from other functional areas (especially Sales, but don't leave Finance, IT, R&D, and HR out).
  • Publish and present the strategic plan to the company in functional groups to address their roles, relationships and input to its success.
  • Solicit, document, and acknowledge feedback and input.
[#TipTuesday:  Be prepared for what you hear. Everyone is an armchair marketer, and a minimum of 50% are sure they can do it better than you and your team.]

It never ceases to amaze me how many younger, smaller companies are out there making it up as they go along. No research. No measurement. No plan at all -- strategic, operational or otherwise. But I guess that's what accounts for the staggering fail rate among entrepreneurs and small businesses.

I, personally and professionally, hate to see innovation go belly up. Hope you take these tips to heart and, if you need help, ask for it.

Have more tips? Leave your best advice and personal experience in our comments.

Have a great #TipTuesday.


Today's blogger is Melissa Macaulay Federico, holding forth on a topic that is near and dear to her heart. Founder and CEO of The B2B Branding Company, Melissa is never happier than when she is working with business-to-business innovators to build strong, relevant, well-differentiated brands; or helping entrepreneurs stuck in start-up mode realize their long-delayed vision. A force majeure in the brand marketing industry, she is an entertaining and compelling teacher, mentor and advisor -- probably because she absolutely loves what she does for a living.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The 8 Characteristics of a Winning Brand Champion

(Who are some of the most visible and effective brand champions in recent years? Check out our featured quiz, "NAME THAT BRAND" at the end of this article).

First, let's be clear:  There can be only one.

(And no, that is not a reference to the "Highlander" movie franchise).

There can be only one champion of any given brand at any one time. There may be gazillions of "brand ambassadors" spreading the joy and wonder of your organization, product or service all over the place. But only one Brand Champion. Please.

One Brand Champion per brand means one voice, one face, one personality, and one go-to person for influencers, media, customers, and investors. The value of a single, powerful voice is potentially enormous. The reality is you'll be lucky to find even one person who has what it takes to be that voice.

It's not something we like to talk about it, but many organizations are not blessed with a leader who fully "gets" branding, and loves to talk about their company with anyone, anywhere, anytime -- let alone do so with enthusiasm, obvious pride, and total credibility.

The insiders' secret is that Brand Champions are not born. They are made. Often by people like us.

So, what do we look for in a prospective Brand Champion? It boils down to eight characteristics:

1 - C-level role in the organization -- the CEO is always our first draft pick.

2 - Deep knowledge of and pride in the organization, from end to end.

3 - Understands marketing and the bottom line value of the brand.

4 -  Knows the customers -- in every segment.

5 - Intuitive and empathetic, with the ability to read and reach his/her audience

6 - Excellent storyteller, able to communicate complex topics understandably.

7 - Genuinely likes people and enjoys talking with them (vs. at them).

8 - He/she is the Big Picture person with a vision that is based on an ability to read patterns in both the macro- and immediate market environments.

Tall order. Even among the best, very few can lay claim to total mastery of all eight qualities out-of-the-box. This explains why some organizations contract with a celebrity whose image (a.k.a. personal brand) mirrors that of its product, service and business. Even at that, however, the celebrity can only become the "face of the brand," not its champion and certainly not its guardian.

The good news is that, given a willing and savvy CEO, any organization can develop a brand champion with an investment in media, communication, public speaking, and image development training. It works, and some the finest brand champions in recent history are the proof.

As you think further about the advantages of developing a bona fide Brand Champion, it's likely a few iconic champions will come to mind. Want to test your knowledge? Then it's time to play ...

N A M E    T H A T    B R A N D

Can you name the organization for which each of the following have served as its Brand Champion?

Give it a try and let us know how you score.

1.  ……………………………………

Image result for arianna huffington

2.  ……………………………………

Image result for bill gates

3.  ……………………………………


4.  ……………………………………

Image result for lee iacocca

5.  ……………………………………

Image result for meg whitman pcmag

6.  ……………………………………

Image result for warren buffett

7.  ……………………………………

Image result for indra nooyi

8.  ……………………………………

Image result for larry ellison

9.  ……………………………………

Image result for ginni rometty

10.  ……………………………………

What was your score? Is there anyone you would add to this quiz? Why?

Let us know -- we'd love to hear from you!

ANSWERS:  1-Jack Welch (GE); 2-Arianna Huffington (AOL/Time Warner, Huffington Post); 3-Bill Gates (Microsoft); 4-Christine Lagarde (IMF); 5-Lee Iacocca (General Motors) 6-Meg Whitman (hp); 7-Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway); 8-Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo); 9-Larry Ellison (Oracle); 10-Ginni Rometty (IBM)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

#ThrowbackThursday - What is This Strange Power Paper Holds for Writers?

Admittedly, we write a lot around here. In fact, we write more than a lot -- by some standards we write to excess. From ebooks and ads to strategic plans and articles undertaken for ecotech and high tech clients, we live and die by our writing. 

Conserve, Save a Tree, Reduce, The Proverbial Paperless Office 

Our industry focus has grafted these phrases and concepts onto our DNA. Usually. The other day, however, when someone in the office casually commented "... you know, for an office full of tree hugging techies, we sure use a sh**load of paper ... ," I was a little taken by surprise.

Surveying our work space, sure enough, everybody has his or her stash of notebooks. The wastebaskets are half-full of discarded brilliance in hardcopy. Some of us even have semi-sacred journals that are referred to variously as "My Brain," "The Magic Moleskine" and "Her Grimoire." (The latter is an unfortunate third-party reference to my own journal of drafts, ideas, inspirations and diabolical plans).

Our special journals are either Moleskine(tm) products or some other fancy schmancy, paper-filled tomes -- and we genuinely treasure them. For me, writing in my "special" notebook somehow gives texture and substance to abstractions. It also corrals information for me, keeping it in-hand, under control, literally at my finger tips and holds the words still if I need to edit or rewrite any of them. I know my laptop can do all that, yet somehow it just doesn't do it as well.

Is it me?

Maybe it's a generational thing. What about my hipper, cooler, younger associates? So I asked. And you know what? Same thing. Some of the comments were:

     "The feel of the cover and paper helps me think."
     "If I'm writing something that's important to me, it needs a more permanent medium."
     "I write better when I can -- I don't know -- 'touch' the words. Is that weird?"

Okay. Not logical, but consistent.

Then I began to wonder if this was an isolated, creative culture phenomenon. So, I cast a wider net and started researching. What I found was that our attitudes toward paper are, in fact, pandemic. The use of paper among writers is experiencing a dramatic resurgence (if it ever experienced a decline), to the extent that it recently caught the attention of several NPR commentators who have covered it several time in the past few months.

The Eureka Moment

Even more interesting, however, is the evidence that writing on paper is actually good for us, or at least our cognitive performance. A recent study, conducted by Pam Mueller of Princeton and Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA, examined the effects of taking notes in longhand versus note taking on a digital device (i.e., laptop). The results clearly indicated that "... students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand ..." Mueller and Oppenheimer report that longhand note taking appears to require a higher level of cognitive engagement with the subject matter than the act of transcribing content digitally.

I find it comforting to know there's a sort of business case for the attachment we feel toward our notebooks and journals. Right Brain and left brain are in harmony, and all is right with the world.

You're wondering how do we justify writing longhand on paper with the notion of a paperless office, right? I like to think of it as a yin and yang relationship

"Don't Write Off Paper Just Yet," Morning Edition, NPR, May 2015,

"The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard:  Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking," Psychological Science, January 16, 2014,

"In A Digital Chapter, Paper Notebooks Are As Relevant As Ever," Morning Edition, NPR, May 2015,

"The Perfect Writing Surface," Marketplace Morning Report, Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Monday, June 29, 2015

Three Reasons to Love LinkedIn This Summer


We're really into LinkedIn this Summer -- call it our Summer romance. We're launching our LinkedIn page, sharing our favorite content like crazy, and reaching out to more connections with smart, creative, b2b professionals worldwide.

We also love trying out new things. So, we've kicked off a little "social media experiment" of our own, and we're calling it the "Lovin' LinkedIn Giveaway." But we digress.

The three reasons to love LinkedIn this Summer are:

3 - Access to a smorgasbord of content. Pick and choose what you want to learn about, whether its productivity tips or getting up to speed on a new tech sector.

2 - Forge winning connections. LinkedIn is the most effective social media platform for developing your business network. You may be looking for a new position or a new customer -- either way, use to LinkedIn.

1 - You can Win a $100, $50 or $25 Amazon Gift Card with One Easy ClickJust follow us, The B2B Branding Company, on LinkedIn between now and August 31, 2015 and you will automatically be entered in our drawing to receive a $100, $50 or $25 Amazon gift card. It's our Lovin' LinkedIn Giveaway and we want you to win.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How 1 Click Can Put $100 in Your Hand

1. Are you a B2B Executive? Entrepreneur? Communicator? Content provider? Market strategist?

2. Do you read? Watch videos? Shop?

If you answered "Yes" to both questions, this is your kind of promo.

Just follow us, The B2B Branding Company, on LinkedIn between now and August 31, 2015 and you will automatically be entered in our drawing to receive a $100, $50 or $25 Amazon gift card.
  • No purchase necessary. 
  • No strings attached.
  • No small print.
Just follow our company -- you don't even have to read our posts if you don't want to. (Although they're pretty hard to resist).

It's a win/win:
   - WE want to step up our LinkedIn presence, and reach more like-minded professionals.
   - YOU want great free stuff with no strings attached.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"7 Golden Rules for Corporate Bloggers"

Read this great post by Dynamic Search the other day, really liked it, and hope you do too.

Based largely on a study done at the University of Twente (the Netherlands), the findings and recommendations are excellent, timeless and worth reading.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

#TipTuesday -- 6 Ways to Find Your Business' Pot O' Gold on St. Patrick's Day

[No Leprechauns Required]

We love Saint Patrick's Day.  And not just for the green beer and Irish Whiskey (like we need an excuse). We love it because it's tailor-made for marketing.

Every element associated with St. Patty's Day reminds us of "Best Practices." Here are our top eight:

6 - It's so Social. Friendship, camaraderie, shared good times -- how can we not think of social media on a day like today?

The first requirement for a effective Social Media Strategy is a carefully developed content calendar and execution plan. As we near the end of Q1, this would be an excellent time to revisit your calendar and examine how your social media outlets are performing for you, tweak as necessary, and continue on course.

5 - The Inclusive Spirit. "Everyone's Irish on Saint Patrick's Day!"

Every time I hear that phrase, believe it or not, it reminds me of Market Expansion. One day in mid-March a short time ago, we were looking at new geographic markets for a client in IT consulting. Not only was it a good idea for their business, but it was a great experience. International market research and due diligence across macro-environmental factors was fascinating, informative and ultimately very lucrative for our client. Few companies can say "Everyone" is a good customer for their business, but most companies can benefit from a careful analysis of new markets

4 - A Great Excuse to Entertain. When was the last time you demonstrated your appreciation for your customers with a genuine gesture or event?

Whether live, virtual, or [ideally] both, customer's take notice when they are recognized and rewarded for their business. Whether it's as elaborate as a conference or as simple as a one-to-one lunch, your customers will remember your gestures and respond.

3 - Those Iconic Visuals.  Shamrocks, rainbows, leprechauns and that gloriously green color pallet create instant recognition and emotional appeal.

Is there ever any doubt about the occasion when we see the familiar visual elements associated with St. Patrick's Day? Can you say the same about the visual elements of your brand identity? It's as good a time as any to find out. Take some time to survey your stakeholders, consult an expert and compare your brand identity against other enterprises in your sector to ensure you stand out from the crowd for the right reasons.

2 - Four-Leaf Clovers.  Any old clover leaf can have three leaves, but only the rarest and most valued have four.

That's differentiation. And differentiation helps turn lack luster brands into pots o' gold. Perhaps when your first wrote and designed the key components of your brand identity they were one-of-a-kind. But, like so many other enterprises, that may have been over two years ago. Time to revisit! Begin with your visuals (because that's where recognition and recall begin). Then, read your own content -- carefully. Is it unmistakably yours, or could it apply to anybody in your sector? Does it still describe your unique value prop?  If the answer is "no," you know what to do.

1 - The Pot O' Gold 
Saint Patrick's Day is grand a day to celebrate Irish heritage and the contributions of generations of immigrants to society.

It's also a standout reminder to begin looking at the brand marketing of your organization at regular intervals throughout the year, beginning in Q1. You'll find that (A) it's easier to tweak quarterly, than to fully restrategize at the end of the year; and (B) positive results will begin building sooner, steadier and faster if you make iterative course adjustments as the fiscal year progresses.

The result? Marketing will become a "Pot O' Gold" for your business. No leprechauns required.

When does your company begin assessing its brand marketing efforts each year? Three months? Six months? Weekly? Daily? We'd love to hear from you

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

#TipTuesday - Baking Resilience into the Brand

(Photo: Florian Blumm/

If you occasionally feel like your brand is under siege, you're not alone -- and you're not being paranoid.

Data breaches, social media gaffs and criticism, evolving technologies, email hacking, regulatory compliance, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are capable of generating confusion, disruption, uncertainty and brand impact at rates that are faster than ever before.

Under market conditions like these, how can today's brands retain their integrity and standing in the eyes of their customers? By building brands on more than jargon, messages, and tweets.

The fundamental qualities of value, trust, and relevance are necessary to resilient branding. Surprisingly, by harnessing disruptive factors we can also achieve resilience. 

Here are some ways that today's most resilient brands are doing just that:

Building Brand Ecosystems: Largely enabled by IoT, major brands are integrating and inter-operating to create added value for customers. App-based Uber's recent partnerships with Disney and Spotify are examples -- as well as a clear case of the sum being greater than its parts.

The Other 50%: By acknowledging and empowering women in branding, we not only stand for something bigger than simply selling product, we become humanized and relevant to the largest and most powerful segment of decision makers. (That's women, by the way).

Curated Connection: Brands can use social media apps and platforms to bring people together through common interests and/or by invitation. Just being customers of the same brand does not create a strong connection between people on its own. Brands who recognize that and create dialogues based on what is more meaningful to their consumers will develop more and better touch points, while achieving genuine relevance and connections. When thoughtfully tended, the outcomes include more authentic dialogue and high levels of trust. Take it beyond the Facebook and Twitter free-for-all. Create your own online community and make it worth joining.

360 Degree Product Lifecycle Management: When brands plan beyond product obsolescence, everyone wins -- and it isn't lost on the customers. By planning and managing how products will reused, re-purposed and recycled, brands not only build in an additional touch point with their customers at a time when those customers may be thinking "replacement," but associate their brand with a greater purpose.

In "Resilient Brands," Jonathan Copulsky talks about the power of the "ubiquitous brand," a brand whose worth and standing extend far beyond the products or services it sells. Once resilience is achieved, the resilient [and ubiquitous] brand is able to generate value and customers on the basis of its earned respect.

The resilient brand is:
  • Humanized
  • Communicates authenticity
  • Stand for more than products and service

It forms deeper connections with its market and, above all, it is well-positioned for long term success.

Are you baking resilience into your brand strategy? Any advice to share? Challenges?

How Social Media Enables Brand Resilience, by Walter Adamson
Brand Resilience and the New Art of Playing Defense, by Herb Shaffner
Surviving the Toxic Tweet:  Deloitte's Strategies for Protecting a Brand, by Tim Parker