Author: Alanah Author Alanah
Published: 1 November 2023
4 Minute Read

Did you know that at any one time, 95% of your business prospects are not in the market for your goods or services? It sounds like a worrying statistic, but actually, if you’re a B2B technology company with a long sales cycle, it probably won’t come as *that* much of a shock - albeit it still makes uncomfortable reading when we think about what we spend on paid media each month. 

A recent study by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science found that only 20% of business buyers are in the market over the course of a year and just 5% are in market per quarter. Now this figure is heuristic, it could be a little more or less in any given industry/quarter/product category. However, recognising it and understanding its implications will have a huge impact on any marketing efforts your team are undertaking. 

What doesn’t work

Now, speaking of those marketing efforts. The same study found that 96% of B2B marketers run “in-market” campaigns and expect results in 2 weeks. How could this ever work if 95% of the market aren’t actually in market at all?! 

There are many companies and marketers out there who believe that good marketing will move buyers down the sales funnel straight away. The example being, someone who didn’t want your B2B product, will see one advert/blog/email from your company and immediately realise your product or service is a ‘must have’ for them before giving you a large amount of money. Is this starting to sound unrealistic yet? 

Mind share = market share

So then what on earth do you do?! This is where you have to be both realistic and strategic. Your marketing, most of the time, will be hitting people who aren’t ready to buy anything yet. With this in mind, you want to design your marketing strategy to ensure that when that person *is* ready to buy, your brand is the first that comes to mind. You need to focus on building mental availability and set your targets and performance reporting accordingly.

The hard truth is, if customers don’t already know who you are when they’re ready to buy, it is already too late. Buyers don’t evaluate nearly as much as brands think that they do. Buyers buy what is mentally available to them when they’re ready to make a purchase. Even with high involvement and high-value purchases, most B2B buyers will already have a keen idea of the market and who they trust within it. 

We know that lesser-known brands have lower rates of consideration (Rowe, Whittaker, & Agop, 2018; Terui, Ban, & Allenby, 2011). And, clickthrough rates for unfamiliar brands are quite a lot lower than for familiar brands (e.g. Dahlen, 2001). Unfortunately, what this tells us is - if this mental shortlist doesn’t include your brand then it’s extremely difficult even with great marketing to make the shortlist within the prospects current purchase cycle.

Easy to mind, easy to find 

With this in mind, it comes as a surprise that the majority of B2B marketers don’t prioritise brand awareness as part of their marketing strategies. Only 16% of B2B marketers in a recent study listed brand awareness as a marketing objective, yet some of the biggest brands in the world have tackled serious brand awareness problems on their road to success. Brand awareness isn’t a ‘nice to have’ in our opinion, it’s a must-have for any brand serious about growth. 

Brand awareness can be explained as the way that consumers recognise and remember your company. The greater the brand awareness you have, the more audiences will be familiar with your logo, messaging, and products. Brand awareness fosters trust, creates association, and builds brand equity. Brand awareness aims to build mental availability in your potential customers so that you can be their first thought in their time of need.

If your aim is to build mental availability, then one of the first questions you need to ask is how do you measure mental availability? The Ehrenberg-Bass study we mentioned earlier determines this to be the number of prospects who link your brand to a category entry point, or CEP. A CEP is a situation in which the category could be brought or used. To set your expectations of success well established brands rarely have more than 20-30% of respondents link them to a CEP and market leaders seldom achieve greater than 50%. 
Ultimately, this means your efforts to address brand awareness also need to be targeted. Think about all of your different products and services and consider how your potential and current customers align them to buying scenarios (CEPs). Defining the scenarios you want to build brand awareness around and mapping this to your Ideal Customer Profile will accelerate your success. These questions will help you build a successful brand awareness strategy and indeed dictate how much resource you will need to dedicate to your campaign. 

The magic (or lack thereof) of marketing 

A second hard truth (the last one for this blog, I promise) is that when it comes to high-value B2B purchases, marketers don’t magically put buyers in market. And unfortunately, any marketer that tells you differently is setting you up for disappointment down the line! Buyers put themselves in market. The real job of successful marketing is to ensure that your company is a customer’s very first thought when they come into market. The brand that springs to mind first is more often than not the brand that is bought from. 

With this in mind, it becomes clear that a slow and steady burn when it comes to marketing is ultimately better than those (often, unsurprisingly, unsuccessful) 2-week campaigns we touched upon earlier. If you are consistent in your marketing and building brand awareness, customers will come to you when they are in market for your product or service. If you pool all of your resources into short burst campaigns, you may be lucky enough to snap up one or two prospects who happened to already be in market during that particular period of time, but that won’t sustain your targets year-round. 

How Account-Based Marketing can help

One of the most successful ways to build mental availability is to use Account-Based Marketing (ABM). The reason that it works is that it starts and ends with a target account list and this list doesn’t change. Everything you do is focused on building relationships with great-fit prospects. It’s all about consistency and the ‘slow burn’ approach, many ABM campaigns for high-value B2B accounts can take 12-18 months to show real results. 

This can sometimes take people by surprise, given that ABM is such a targeted form of marketing. However, any good ABM campaign follows the same principles as building brand awareness and mental availability. ABM aims to educate your prospects on what your product or service can do to help their business and helps your sales team start to build relationships with buying committees so that when they decide they are ready to buy, your business is already on the shortlist. 

If you’d like to hear more about the kind of results we see with our clients (which are rather impressive, if we do say so ourselves) then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


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