Building communications

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Why comms needs to be factored into your business transformation plans, right from the start

There can be few large businesses around the UK and beyond that have not already been through, or are currently going through large scale business transformation programmes. But how many have developed their transformation plans with communications factored in from the start? And how many add it as an afterthought when they are already some way down the line, having realised that change can’t happen without employee engagement? Communication is critical to any form of organisational change. Embedding clear processes around how and when you should communicate from the start will help get your transformation off to a flying start. 

There are two key areas where effective comms can make a real difference to the success of a transformation programme. The obvious one is when it comes to communicating out to the rest of the business and getting employees to change behaviours. But comms can also help in bringing together cross-functional teams and getting them working more effectively towards the same goal. 

Engaging your employees 

Communication plays a vital role when it comes to engaging employees around a large-scale business change. If you fail to communicate your goals and how you plan to achieve them, how can you expect employees to support and adopt the changes you are implementing? Many a digital transformation program has been viewed as unsuccessful because employees have failed to fully adopt new tools and technology or processes. 

So how do you engage employees? Firstly, it is vital that you understand your internal audiences. In a large organisation there will be different types of employees with their own challenges and requirements, so you will need to tailor your communications to different employees. There isn’t always a one size fits all solution.  

Avoid over reliance on email and make use of existing business collaboration tools. You should always make sure you are communicating via different channels to ensure that your message has reached everyone in your organisation. 

Two-way communication is crucial when it comes to engaging employees. Give your employees the opportunity to ask questions and to share their thoughts and feedback where possible. Face-to-face communication is always the best way to engage.

Louise Fisk, Communications and Marketing Director at BAE Systems suggests,

When that’s not possible you need to think about how you can use tools like video conferencing to bring people into the room.

Helping cross-functional teams work effectively 

During large scale business transformation, it is often the case that teams which don’t usually work together, will have to come together and form cross-functional teams. Open and transparent communication between both leadership and team members is crucial here.  

Hannah Bamberger, IT Communications Lead at Boston Consulting Group comments,

Where teams are cross-functional and often working remotely, it’s important to have transparent communications from the beginning to avoid any misunderstanding which may arise from not being able to see each other face-to-face each day and ask questions.

Matt Perry, Director at Transition15 suggests that,

Cross-functional team communications need to be built into the ways of working from the start. The mechanisms for regular communication should be agreed by the team so that they feel they are owning this process, rather than being told how they should do something.

It’s also important that leadership are clear in their goals and communicate them to their teams from the start so that they unite to achieve the same goal. A lack of communication coupled with an unwillingness to come together to work as a cross-functional team, can happen when leadership hasn’t communicated well around what is needed, and what the goals are from the beginning.

Hannah Bamberger comments, 

You often end up with the wrong thing being delivered or half way through a big transformation programme you realise it isn’t going in the direction it should be. At that point it’s much harder to recommunicate and get people to change direction.

There’s a high likelihood that change will fail if you do not communicate from the start. Employees need to feel part of the change as its happening and you will need to support people through the change curve, which can take time. If you get this right, then any future change is likely to run more smoothly and be successful. 

If communicating around change sounds like something you are currently struggling with, get in touch to arrange an employee engagement workshop, or a planning session for how to support cross-functional teams in working together more effectively. 

Sian HeaphyBuilding communications
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Taking time for inspiration…

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One of the hardest things about running a business is finding the time to explore. When you think about taking some time out to just listen or read you have to battle the little voice in your head that tells you that you should be doing something ‘more productive’. There is new business to be secured, finances to angst over and a million other operational things that you can’t help but feel you ought to be doing. The thing is if you are not occasionally taking the time out to discover new things then you are depriving the business of the very things that will ensure your customers keep coming back for more.

Last Friday I took a day out to attend the inaugural ‘Confluence.’ This was an event that was all about stories and the many and varied ways in which they can be told. At the heart of it, the marketing and communications business is all about stories. Whether it’s building compelling narratives that will attract and retain customers or engaging employees to make sure they come with you on your transformation journey, everything is built around stories and our ability to tell them.

There were some exceptional speakers but my three favourites (in no particular order) were Candide Kirk, Founder and Head of Product Design at Novellic, Director, and writer Nosa Eke and Adipat Virdi, Digital Strategist and interactive storyteller. From Candide, I learnt a huge amount about increasing discoverability; Nosa was all about the power of a multi-platform approach while Adipat was inspirational around the power of storytelling to do good.

So in the name of paying things forward, here are the five most useful things I learnt from my Friday at the almost too funky Google HQ in Victoria:

1.

Sometimes what you don’t like is more important than what you like: Apparently, Tinder takes more from your swipes to the left than it does from your swipes to the right and uses what you dismiss to build a picture of what you might like. This approach is being adopted more and more because…

2.

Your statements about what you like are often different from reality. This is why smart platforms online are far more interested in your actions rather than your words. Candide used the example of Novellic where she compared the types of books that people chose when asked to select their ‘type’ and compared it to what they actually searched for. Apparently, a lot of people who claim to be into 20th Century literary classics and really into whodunnits and trashy romance…

3.

People will generally pay what something is worth. There was an interesting talk by Katie Vanneck Smith and Dominic Young about different approaches to selling content on the web. Traditional subscription models essentially mean you are paying for a whole pie when you might only want a slice. Micropayments allow you to pay for the slice while a more traditional membership approach brings the added benefit of bringing you into a like-minded community

4.

What you see depends on who you are – even if you are looking at the same thing. I was surprised to learn that Netflix will show you a different image to promote a programme or film depending on your profile. If you took the movie Titanic for example; if your profile suggests you like action adventure you might see an image of the ship sinking but if romance is more your thing then its Jack and Rose all the way. This might not surprise some people but to me, it was a reminder of just how clever and sophisticated these platforms have become

5.

Completeness is often the key to discoverability. It is very tempting when you are completing the profile forms to set up on a platform just to focus on the compulsory stuff and ignore the optional. This is a mistake apparently. The more a platform knows about you the greater the value you hold. Also, platforms value different pieces of information differently so you need to maximise your chances of giving it the bit of information that it cares about.

Emma SindenTaking time for inspiration…
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Smoothing the change curve

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Benjamin Franklin said nothing is certain but death and taxes, but if he were alive today, then he would probably include “change” on his list. At home and work, our lives are being transformed primarily through technology; the Internet of Things, new phone upgrades, smart electric meters, hackers, phishing, the cloud, artificial intelligence…

Is it any wonder that with all this change, people are fatigued? Is it a surprise that employees don’t understand the business need for change, they worry about their job security or just feel overwhelmed? Technology is inarguably driving such a rapid pace of change and such potentially transformative outcomes in all industries, that it is essential employees understand the benefits to the business and to them personally, and are engaged with the change journey.

Any change programme must lead employees through the change curve and explain why the change is taking place, create alignment across the business and make the most of the crucial part that employees play in any transformation. In other words, communication is vital. It can make the difference between success the first time, or a costly and underwhelming outcome that undermines the credibility of your leadership, your team and the change programme.

Time and again, in our work with clients, we see four stages in any change or transformation programme: status quo, disruption, exploration and rebuilding. They correspond with common emotions: shock and denial, frustration and depression, acceptance and finally, with commitment, the change becomes normalised. Expert communications can help to smooth the proverbial rollercoaster ride.

Every organisation has its status quo, a legacy system that everyone understands, but that badly needs upgrading. There are undoubtedly potential opportunities for many organisations to embrace the digital revolution or fully integrate disparate parts of the business. Early communication and honesty are imperative at this stage to bring employees on board from the start, calm unnecessary fears and, most importantly explain why the change needs to happen. Employees need to catch up with the leaders, who have been preparing for this change for much longer and are much further along the curve than they are, potentially creating a disconnect that will only grow the longer it goes unaddressed. This stage is also an excellent point to identify those who are excited about the change or early adopters to ask them to be project or change ambassadors in the next stages.

The disruption stage marks the point that everyone knows change is coming, the implementation plan is in progress and employees could feel vulnerable, frustrated and potentially distant from the new direction of the business. Throughout this phase, it is more important than ever to have a clear message and defined next steps. Maintain regular communications, even if it’s just to confirm when there will be an update. Start a training programme and have two-way feedback channels. People must feel a part of the change.

Once the software or structure is in place or the new way of working is in its final stages, there is the opportunity to embed the new normal into the workforce. The communications plan must help employees accept the change through demonstrating the benefits that were just theoretical before. Utilising ambassadors to model behaviours and provide peer-to-peer support, sharing successes, as well as addressing any feedback, should also form part of any comms plan.

Finally, the change becomes business as usual and accepted. There will be some on-going support needed, including any upgrades if it is an IT system, and continuous improvement, as well as onboarding new employees into the company’s culture. For some time afterwards, when planning new projects, it is essential to bear in mind that everyone just went through a significant change and it could affect employees’ appetite for more.

Of course, the scenario described here is the ideal. Things can, and do, go wrong from a technical or business perspective. However, with proper communication, and working with an experienced change communication specialist from the start, it is easier to engage employees and keep them engaged, smoothing the way to a successful endpoint and the next stage in the business’ evolution.

For more information on how change communication experts can help your business, contact Emma Sinden.

Sian HeaphySmoothing the change curve
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Communicating in Times of Uncertainty

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Success comes not from certainty but being able to live with uncertainty.

Jeffrey Fry, Author

Life is rarely certain but at the same time for many of us, life has never been quite as uncertain as it is right now. We live in an era in which many of the accepted political norms have been turned on their heads and the pace with which technology is progressing means most of us are still catching up with what we can do today, let alone thinking about the possibilities that tomorrow might bring.

For those of us working in the internal communications sector deciding what, when and how to communicate in this age of uncertainty is difficult. On the one hand we feel some responsibility to reassure and to try to help bring some stability. On the other hand, we are uncertain ourselves, as are the leadership within the organisations we work for, so the reality is, right now we may find we have little we can communicate about with any great certainty.

The question arises because as any good internal comms practitioner knows – the role of internal communications is not just relaying information from one part of the business to the other. Good internal comms is about creating buy-in and confidence in the organisation, its goals and its leadership. It plays a crucial role in driving and embedding change, creating a satisfied, loyal and productive workforce and resolving conflict. It also provides a very useful tool in countering the types of threat that uncertainty brings.

For many organisations right now the thing that is causing the most uncertainty and anxiety is of course Brexit. With less than 6 months to go and still no clear idea of what the post Brexit world will look like, there is a real sense of unease especially for those working for UK based organisations. There is a sense of a communal holding of breath as we all await the outcome of the negotiations. For workers from the EU there is of course the uncertainty around their ability to remain here and anecdotal evidence indicates many are considering their options. The uncertainty is not just restricted to those from the EU however. We are all constantly bombarded with warnings about the consequences of the wrong deal or no deal. Car manufacturers shutting up shop, banks moving to the continent, house prices plummeting, food shortages, huge lines at customs etc. etc.

The tendency is to feel that if you don’t have anything definite to communicate then you shouldn’t communicate at all. In fact, this is probably the worst thing you can do. Silence creates even greater uncertainly and enables gossip and rumour to fill the vacuum.

So, what should your communications strategy be? There is no single answer to this as the situation for each organisation will be unique however here are a few tips to help your thinking:

Want to hear how LCY and ECS Digital are managing their internal communications? Bright is hosting an event on 30th October entitled “Bringing employees on your digital transformation journey” and featuring first-hand insight from Information Age Business Leader of the Year, Alison Fitzgerald. If you are interested in attending please contact sophie.grufferty@brightinnovation.co.uk.

Emma SindenCommunicating in Times of Uncertainty
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8 Tips for Creating (Lots of) Great Content

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We’ve all been there, you hit the publish button in the morning and then spend the rest of the day waiting for likes, shares, leads and further accolades to come rolling in….and nothing.

Content is the cornerstone of any successful marketing campaign or program and it’s the fundamental way to educate your audience on your product or service.

However, creating noteworthy, memorable content can be daunting, even for the most experienced pro. 94% of B2B marketers say they use content in their marketing, do you know how many believe it’s effective? 42%…

Thankfully, we’ve got 8 easy tips anybody can use to create great, engaging and exciting content.

An editorial position will help to shape your name, tone of voice, visual identity and choice of content.

Over time, your audience will come to recognise your editorial position, and come to anticipate content with a certain approach or attitude, making it easier to trial new forms of content.  As competitors in your industry start to create quality content, it becomes harder to stand-out and stay present in your audiences’ head for a period of time. So it’s important that your editorial positioning is driven by the distinctive quality of your brand and a category or a specific genre.

When it comes to any form of content or copywriting, defining a tone of voice should be the first step in the process. But where do you start? First, it’s important to understand the difference between your channel tone and your overall voice. Still with me? Think of the example of singing – you only have one singing voice, but you can sing in a variety of different tones to deliver a different sound. Content creation is no different to this, your copy tone helps you define how you want your voice to be heard on each individual channel or platform.

While your content should have a cohesive and targeted message, it should also be adapted to its medium. Twitter is character-limited, for example, so the message you provide must be shorter and more concise. However, it can still carry the same type of message and information as your content used elsewhere. Keep your message consistent, and adapt as needed.

The successful implementation of any content strategy, or individual written piece, depends upon a crucial (and often overlooked) group of people – your content team. In the past, this team would either consist of a single person, or rigidly consist of account managers and creative copywriters. However, in order to create strategic and valuable content, you need a strategic and valuable team.

There are as many ways to structure a content team as there are teams themselves, so you need to build one that suits your business needs, whether that be a one-man show or a team of 20. But before you start hiring your ideal combination of strategists, writers, editors and coordinators, you first need to consider the possibilities you already have within your company, what they can share and how to engage them as part of your team.

Possibly the most adept framework for how you should think about your approach to content is the PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned) model, developed and championed by author and PR industry leader Gini Dietrich.

The method serves as a means of segmenting all the marketing channels at your disposal into discrete groups, looking if there are opportunities to integrate additional channels or sources into new or existing programs, highlighting any opportunities to re-purpose content you may already have. By re-purposing content, or freshening it up, you give yourself the opportunity to expand something that may have been a single idea, into a several new pieces, each tailored to a different audience.

There’s also no reason, if it’s of a high quality, that you shouldn’t take inspiration from your competitors and their content. It’s often hard to consistently come up with appealing articles or topics, and you can often find yourself repeating pieces – but not re-purposing them. Of course, it’s unwise to simply visit your competitor’s blog and start copying their strategy from the ground up. Instead, use their content strategy merely as inspiration or direction for your own. Find a way to put new twists on topics they’ve already covered, and think about what topics they haven’t covered.

Creating a publishing content can be time consuming and stressful work, so you need to be able to keep organised and be on top of every step in the process. The simplest way of doing this – create a content diary or plan. When you have a visible schedule you can commit to, the content process becomes a lot less daunting.

Creating a plan, calendar or diary allows you to keep track of everything you’re doing, and makes all the necessary information easily available to stakeholders.

It’s easy to get lost in detail when you’re in the heads-down process of content creation, so having a larger visioning session to create the calendar plus taking regular peeks at the calendar once it’s made can help bring your work into context.  And by planning your content in advance, you can prep and organise around any key dates that could influence your content. An effective diary or plan will also help with keeping your audience engaged by preventing your content from stagnating, or getting overly repetitive and random.

There’s no better way to drive sales leads and expand your brand visibility than by producing thoughtful original content. Yet as more and more companies start to hop on the content marketing bandwagon, it’s getting harder than ever to ensure that your brand stands out.

Producing reactive marketing content is a great way to ensure that your company’s thought leadership is generating interest. The idea itself is relatively simple: by capitalising on a newsworthy event, your content instantly becomes more clickable. There are a few drawbacks to an over-reliance on reactive marketing content – namely, the relevance of your posts inevitably withering with time – but, if used correctly, reactive content can achieve staggering results for your brand, chiefly in the following areas:

  • It helps your brand stay relevant
  • It helps you connect with customers
  • It extends the longevity of your other content

Is your content often delivered late?  Do you have trouble getting it signed-off? If so, then it sounds like you could benefit from defining a content workflow; a set of tasks that determine how content is requested, sourced, reviewed, approved and delivered. Trying to get by without such a process will lead to you running the risk of projects getting stuck and people being unsure or unaware of their responsibilities and the amount of time that it may take to complete a task.

A defined content workflow tells people in all roles where the content is in the process when their turn comes, and it clarifies what they must do to deliver what’s needed when it’s needed. The workflow will also help the project manager recognise bottlenecks so that he or she can take measures to keep content moving toward production and ensure that sign-off matches required deadlines.

If you don’t know your audience and what they want, then no form of marketing (content included) is going to work for you. Take the time to listen to your audience (perhaps building personas) and what they’re telling you based on how they interact/ engage with your content. This kind of information is a goldmine, and who wouldn’t want to dig into a goldmine when they find one.

This kind of analysis is key to any content strategy, it allows you to discover gaps, identify new opportunities, adapt to the needs and desires of your market and discover if your content is truly addressing those needs.

Even if you follow all these tips, it’s still crucial to remember that content marketing isn’t a short-term investment. One you get it right, it will really pay-off, you just need to be willing to put the time and effort into it.

If you’d like any more advice about creating content, the type that will build revenue and drive relationships, then simply contact a member of the Bright team and we can get started an approach that works for you and your audience.

Sian Heaphy8 Tips for Creating (Lots of) Great Content
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Assemble your Communication to succeed

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Primary school assemblies used to be a forum where you were seen, but not heard; where you were told what you needed to know according to the doctrines of whomever was hosting the assembly.

Primary school methodology

Primary school assemblies today are demonstrations of what has been learnt, they are demonstrations of how enjoyable learning and discovering are and they also demonstrate that some lessons have not been learnt fully – perhaps mistaking continents for countries. But it’s from mistakes we learn.

Today’s primary school assembly is a far better model than that which we children of Thatcher grew up with. I write this guest column enthused by what my youngest and her peers have learnt, I write this knowing what my child has been studying for the last six weeks (despite asking every day – the standard response is “stuff”), but now I know. More than that I know she enjoyed it, does understand it and that as a result her understanding of science, history, geography, mathematics and most importantly communications has been successful and enjoyable.

Assembling and communication

Assembling and communicating as a community is vital not only to a primary school on the North Downs, but also to the modern CIO and CTO. This term’s theme incorporated as I state above science, history, geography, mathematics as well as English and the arts. Any technology project in a business covers all the core subject matters of the business term – profit and loss; order and deliver; payroll, human resources, recruitment, supply chain, marketing; research and development and many more. Many of the UK’s leading CIOs have made it clear to me that there are no such things as technology projects, only business projects.

So with technology and in particular technology change touching all the departments and all the staff, regular assembly and communications are essential. Over the last nine years of daily dealing with CIOs and CTOs face to face I have seen how those that employ communications have succeeded in delivering major change in organisations. No matter the vertical market, communicating and discussing the change ensure it succeeds, whether you lead technology in an airline, NHS trust, automotive giant, retailer, charity or government body.

Methodology and delivery

We humans have developed a plethora of ways to communicate and thanks to technology continue to develop new ways to communicate. All methods are right, it is the context of your organisation and its culture that matters. Whether it is sitting in the staff canteen, having a major innovation event, using social media, bookmarking Friday afternoon as a chance for anyone in the business to visit your team and share cake, coffee or perhaps even a stronger beverage. All of these methods work.

For a transformation project to work; for a business to be able to continually adapt to the needs of its customers technology leaders must continually engage in communications. Effective communications takes time and effort. A continual slew of lists telling people the best things, the worries etc will eventually lead to the channel losing impact. For communications to be successful it must reflect the community it seeks to communicate with.

Good communications cannot exist alone – delivery is critical too. If an organisation is diverse in its services and markets or geographically dispersed then the methods from the world of marketing are essential to ensure the message lands on every desk and device in an engaging manner that triggers a response.

Sian HeaphyAssemble your Communication to succeed
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Why Effective Communication Is Vital In Any Change Programme

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In today’s fast moving world, where the latest trends in technology are transforming everyday lives for both consumers and businesses, many forward-thinking organisations are already fully on-board with implementing digital transformation programmes aimed at encouraging more collaborative and digital ways of working.

However, some of these organisations will have invested significantly in new technology, such as business collaboration tools or video enabled conferencing, but found that adoption levels can be lower than anticipated. That is why many organisations are discovering that working with communications specialists can help ensure that the change is properly communicated to their employees. If people understand why the change is being introduced and how it will benefit them in the long run, the rate of adoption can improve.

Change in traditional organisations

But what about more traditional organisations which are slower to see the value in digital transformation and are more apprehensive towards change generally? Of course, traditional organisations are going to be slower to adopt this type of change programme. Some may be about to embark on a smaller digital project, or could be in the early stages of considering what an enterprise wide digital transformation programme might look like for them.

If the organisation has a strong concern around the privacy and security of its data, it can make the pace of change even slower. Many social collaboration tools such as Yammer and Chatter are cloud-based and have been deemed by some to be vulnerable to hackers. However, there are solutions that can be hosted on-premises which can allay some of these concerns.

Change doesn’t have to be digital

Others may be looking to make changes to their organisation that aren’t necessarily digital. Of course, change doesn’t always have to be digital – it can be related to a change in company strategy, relocation, company restructure or even (in the worst case) redundancy.

Communicating any type of change effectively is important, particularly in situations such as the above. If the majority of a workforce fails to embrace a strategic business change it could potentially have a damaging impact on the organisation’s profitability. It is crucial that you engage your workforce and ensure everyone is working towards the same goals and communication is the key to this.

The same rules apply

Communications should always play a key role in any large-scale change programme. Firstly, it is vital that you understand the mindset of the audience you are communicating to. In a large organisation you will need to tailor your communications to different employees as there isn’t always a one size fits all solution. Give your employees the opportunity to ask questions and to share their thoughts and feedback where possible. When communicating to your employees it is important to demonstrate that you have listened to them i.e. ‘you said x so we did y’.

As in our day-to-day lives, in today’s business environment it is likely that different people have a preference for using different channels. Some may like to communicate face-to-face rather than over email, others may prefer to avoid email and make use of business collaboration tools. In an ideal (albeit time consuming) scenario, you should make sure you are communicating via different channels to ensure that your message has reached everyone in your organisation.

Talk to the experts

Whether it is a digital transformation programme, or a change of strategy which your organisation is embarking on, working with communications experts can add real value in helping to shape your change communications. An effective communications strategy can mean the difference between an employee making a positive decision to adopt that change, adopt it half-heartedly or in some cases reject it entirely.

Sian HeaphyWhy Effective Communication Is Vital In Any Change Programme
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The B2B Brand: The Great Forgotten

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First things first, you might be wondering why you should bother spending your time reading this pretty long piece on the importance of brand value for B2B companies. And to be fair, that’s a pretty good question!

I am not an academic, and we all know that there are already tonnes of articles and white papers on the subject. That being said, I have mostly worked with B2B companies from the very start of my career, and I would like to use this opportunity to address a point that I think a lot of B2B businesses keep on missing.

Over the past 40 years, we have seen the continued introduction of new definitions for the concept of the ‘brand’; each one another attempt to best capture its essence. Sometimes we connect to a definition intuitively, and immediately identify with their ethos. Other times we’d like to give whoever coined it a short sharp shake. Either way, they all are ultimately useful in keeping us on our toes – and encouraging a healthy level of debate.

We instantly recognise the brand concept when we think about huge B2C companies like Nike or Apple – but can we do the same with B2B companies? B2B brands have not yet all reached the same level of maturity in marketing terms. Whilst some have a strong reputation, thanks to some serious investment in strong communication campaigns, others are struggling to break away and create their own space. Niche market specialists are often all together too silent, or their efforts are not targeted, which is like herding cats.

Whilst the Marketing and Communications function has long since been considered a highly standardised and essential cog in the B2C world, this couldn’t be further from the truth for B2B companies.

Imagine for a second that someone asked you for your definition of a B2B brand and you answered: “something that captures a sense of brand identity, reputation and value in a business to business relationship”. You would probably be met with a blank look or a sorry smile. If we are being totally honest, most of us would most likely reply with something like: “ something to do with a product in a trade exchange between two companies?” and leave it at that. Communication is still often seen purely as a cost, whilst marketing is virtually non-existent, and far too unprofessional when it comes to anything that isn’t product related. At a time when traditional economic patterns are being challenged, B2B companies need to start seeing their brand as a key asset for success. They should constantly be on the look out for new, more effective, creative and measurable tools to help push their brands.

Today’s customer has changed drastically. They are increasingly demanding, critical and disloyal. They juggle between smartphones, tablets and laptops and have access to a lot more information than we had 10 years ago. Nowadays, it is the customer who calls the shots and decides wh