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Rolands Puhovs: We’ve Never Had a B2B Company Request Marketing

Two years since our last chat with Rolands, we caught up again to launch our new feature on the key people in business-to-business (The B2B Profile). B2B brand strategy firm White Label CEO Rolands has been in this industry for nearly 20 years. He has worked with 80+ B2B and B2C brands in sectors such as finance, fast consuming, retail, telecommunications and automotive and been awarded with a bronze lion at the Cannes Lions and a Grand Prix at Adwards Festival. 

What's the biggest difference between B2B and B2C?

The biggest difference is the price of a decision. For example, if you're buying a cookie, how much does it cost? Two euros. If you don't like the cookie, you lose two euros. In B2B, the price is much higher, hence it's a bigger decision. In business-to-business, if you make a wrong decision, it will cost you far more. If brand strategies are considered standard for B2C brands, then they are even more essential for B2B brands.

I'm surprised that there are still companies that think B2B is very rational – you just send the price list for your products along with a short pitch and you’re done. This is not the case.

B2B companies often succeed not because of marketing, but despite marketing.

As an example, we worked with a Latvian company run by engineers with a doctor's degree, who used to say they will never spend a penny on marketing because when the product is good, it will be obvious to everyone. One day, they came to us not asking for marketing (or their idea of marketing), but something that would make them stand out at exhibitions where they were side by side with Chinese companies claiming to offer the same product for half the price. We worked together around this brief and it was a success.

All rational products need emotions and conversation starters. B2B companies often succeed not because of marketing, but despite marketing.

Still, the majority are quite conservative and don’t feel the need for a fancy new website.  

Well, it should start from a need. An obstacle in attracting Western European clients or competing with cheaper products, etc. 

Strategically, the marketing issue should be fixed by default, before the problems arise, because it might be too late for changes. It takes time to build a brand. 

Recently, we rebranded the visual identity of a company that could be considered almost a monopoly in its market. Why would a well-established company, dominating the market in a very specific B2B industry, need to be rebranded, you may ask? Now, they have set a new quality standard among their competition, and the entire industry is talking about them. They've even secured more deals.

It’s relatively easy to become famous in small countries like Latvia by featuring in some cool PR or investing in impressive outdoor advertising, but it can be tricky to build trust in developed markets like Germany. Are there any shortcuts? 

The fastest route to awareness is courage. Be brave, be loud, be different. But this is the hardest thing to do for a B2B company because if you fail – you pay big-time. This is why you need a proper brand strategy where you assess all the risks and come out with a bulletproof message. A great brand strategy can instil a sense of courage in all employees within the company.

Branding has existed.. forever. What’s new here? You go to an advertising agency and they all basically have the same methodologies.

Branding is not a science. It’s about expressing your truth in an interesting manner. That’s not hard. What makes it hard is the hierarchy which complicates making right decisions. 

White Label was recently involved in Omniva's rebranding

Companies are packed with managers who all have different surviving strategies. A brand strategist has to convince managers across all levels to take action. We, as consultants, try to hold their hand throughout this process. 

You have the people buying B2B services or goods who are cautious of risks and then you have very bold brand communication – doesn’t seem like a good mix. 

It should be bold enough for their audience, which comes back to understanding your customer. A clear and bold message decreases caution and builds trust.

Our agency combines data and interviews with past, existing and potential clients. We are quite careful with data sourced via external research because people tend to lie in surveys and we have to translate their answers in order to make real sense of them. The interviews with clients (conducted in a relaxed setting) add a human layer to the mix. And then we find the element that connects them. 

White Label partners with SSE Riga and regularly awards the best young talent

What happens if you need an interview with a prospective client from Germany? 

Obviously, you need some local connections and creativity in finding them. 

Speaking of foreign markets, why do we keep hearing that a Latvian agency is unable to serve an Estonian company because they don’t know the market?

We conduct quite a bit of market research on the Baltic countries. Sometimes, we delegate market research about the Baltics to people who were not born here. For example, we had a brand strategist from the UK who knew nothing about Latvia. She conducted marvellous market research, and the client in Denmark was very happy. Moreover, they notice things that locals don’t, making it more objective.

You need a specific skill set, not always local insight. Similarly, we from Riga conduct research on Poland, Saudi Arabia, Germany, or Luxembourg. Clients in these countries are always impressed by how deeply we can capture their local market.

One of the biggest fights in B2B is salespeople blaming marketing people for the quality of leads. There is little understanding between the two. How do you function under such conditions? 

We like working with salespeople because they are very result driven. We help them achieve their goals by coming up with a better brand story. We demonstrate to salespeople that investing in the brand equals better sales.

Actually, I think we have almost never received a request from a B2B company stating that they need marketing or brand strategy. They don't think in those terms. 

Rolands was the highest rated speaker at one of our seminars in Riga

For example, we worked with an insurance company and everybody knows that insurance salespeople get a lot of hate. There is rarely good news about insurance companies. Nobody goes public and praises them on receiving good compensation. It's the opposite. And many people do not want to buy insurance or even think about it. The company needed a strong story to facilitate sales and help salespeople be more confident. In this case both sales and marketing people benefited greatly.

Actually, I think we have almost never received a request from a B2B company stating that they need marketing or brand strategy. They don't think in those terms. Instead, they request items such as a brochure for a trade show in the Philippines, text for the website, or new sales presentations. However, while working with us, they discover the benefits of a brand strategy, which addresses all their communication needs.

I also understand that many B2B companies with small-scale or non-existent marketing specialists do not know whom to approach with their needs. Creative advertising agencies might seem too 'creative.' Digital agencies will advise to focus only on digital communication. PR agencies will emphasise media relations. Only in brand strategy firms clients get an objective answer regarding the most efficient investment in their brand. Brand strategists are rational people with a creative twist.

Interviewed by Hando Sinisalu

Penned by Ann-Kristin Kruuk

Featured image by Aiga Redmane


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