I didn’t think that SLG Agency would ever employ someone like Thanos, but then along came Josh Heaton.

He’s not like the megalomaniac Marvel villain on account of his desire to control the galaxy with a click of his fingers (or it didn’t come up in his interview), but he is determined to restore balance to the universe – or at least in construction and marketing comms.

In the latest version of our ‘Ask the Experts’ feature, Josh offers his advice on the one thing that senior marketers should have in mind, as plans and budgets are submitted to face the dreaded red pen in 2023.

If the battle between marketing and finance feels a little like an Avengers’ movie, then this one is for you.

If you could convince your clients to try one new thing, what would it be and why?

It would be to take a balanced approach between brand and activation.

We’re now almost mid-way through Q4 and for most agencies that means only one thing – planning!

Some clients come to us with a clear set of marketing objectives for the year and we work with them to develop a plan to meet those objectives. For others, goal setting can be more fluid and is often about exploring the commercial aims of the business and developing a marketing strategy to deliver on those aims.

The one thing that comes up in conversation time and again is brand vs. activation.

By activation (or sales activation), I mean anything that aims to drive an immediate response or action, connecting marketing activity with a business’s sales cycle by generating leads and then working to convert those leads into paying customers. It’s short-term and tactical but return on investment can be high.

By contrast, brand building is about awareness and perception. Is the customer aware of our brand and what existing perceptions do they hold? Our role as marketers is to understand those perceptions and then shape them, to better align with the ambitions and commercial objectives of the business. It’s long-term and the effects compound over time – it won’t drive immediate sales but in the it is the main driver of future growth and profit.

In B2B, many sales-driven organisations compel their marketing teams to focus purely on activation, whilst ignoring the important role that brand plays.

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to be in a planning workshop with me then you’ll recognise this figure below. It illustrates how businesses need both kinds of marketing activity – they need brand building to create awareness and preference, and they need activation to convert that awareness efficiently into revenue. When the balance is right, each enhances the other.

So how do we approach that balance? Well, research indicates that the ideal split for B2B marketing investment should be skewed slightly more towards activation, whilst in the consumer world, brand does more of the heavy lifting and the split is instead 60/40 in favour of brand.

Ultimately this is because sales are often more nuanced in B2B, involving a lot of moving parts, multiple decision makers, and longer sales cycles with many touch points.

There’s mounting pressure on marketers to demonstrate the financial value they bring to their business. And this is only set to become more difficult in the coming year with numerous macro-economic factors adding strain to businesses – but no matter what the Sales Director or CFO says, balance is the key to success.

If you remember one thing? from this blog, then remember this simple takeaway – if you’re ever in doubt about where your spend needs to go then balance your marketing budget between brand and activation with a 50/50 split.

Josh being Josh, there’s some further reading on the subject for anyone looking for a deeper dive: The 5 Principles of Growth In B2B Marketing: Empirical Observations on B2B Effectiveness by The B2B Institute – https://business.linkedin.com/content/dam/me/business/en-us/amp/marketing-solutions/images/lms-b2b-institute/pdf/LIN_B2B-Marketing-Report-Digital-v02.pdf 

Managing Director