What the focus?!

Posted in Reporting on 18 March 2015 By David Hunt, Creative Director

Focus. It’s another of those words used by companies in all sorts of sectors to describe who they are, what they do or how they do it.

You know the sort of thing;

Generico is a focused provider of….

Madeup PLC is a global producer of widgets, focused on key markets in…

ImaginaryCorp has a relentless focus on…

It’s the sort of stuff that graces the covers or introductions to countless Annual Report and corporate websites. And that’s no bad thing. Focus is great.

At least, it is if you're focused on the right thing, so the question is: are we?

Let’s find out

An interesting piece of paper handed to me by a colleague recently is what got me thinking about this topic. On it: the results of a study that sought to find a correlation between what B2B brands focused-on in their communication and what their customers thought was important to them.

In it, a number of themes were scored against a company's “stated affiliation with theme” versus that theme’s “contribution to perceived brand strength” by their customers.

Before you nod off to sleep, let me tell you that the results genuinely surprised me. In fact, shocked is probably a better description. Here’s why.

Top of the pops

The top five results on the business/seller side include CSR, Sustainability, Diversity and Global Reach. So far, so unsurprising. What is surprising, however, is that these themes effectively scored as zero importance with customers (or “not statistically significant” to be exact).
If we look at it from the other way round, we find a similar mismatch between what a B2B brand is talking about and what customers want to hear.

For example, at number one in the importance chart, customers wanted a brand that “cares about honest, open dialogue with its customers”. You’ve probably guessed this already, but this theme scored zero importance with supplier brands.

The story was pretty much the same throughout the top-five most important customer themes with three of them scoring zero and only one (“high level of specialist expertise”) registering even remotely similar-ish levels from both sides.

Have a look for yourself.

What you see, in a nutshell, is that B2B brands are focusing on things that don’t matter to their customers.

Listen to this

There is a lesson to be learned and it’s an obvious one: find out what your customers want (or even better: what they need) and give it to them.

And remember that ‘customers’ doesn’t have to mean consumers. This thinking can be applied to any sort of stakeholder or ‘communication customer’.

If potential investors are saying that they don’t get your story, improve the explanation of the business model in your annual report and corporate website.

If your employees tell you that they don’t understand how your company values impact their day-to-day work, then it’s time to engage with them, get them on-board and let them discover how.

To get these ‘customer’ insights, you just need to start a dialogue. How to do that is a topic for another day.

It’s not all bad news

It is worth remembering that this study was carried out from nearly 1,500 executives of the top 90 companies across six sectors, so the truth is: they must be doing something right.

Of course, now you know that you start to wonder what they could achieve not just with a focus, but the right focus.

Source: 2012 McKinsey B2B Branding survey of 1,408 global Executives. McKinsey analysis.

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