Brand and Product Marketing: How to Solve the Split-Personality Problem

Brand and product marketers might seem like opposites – particularly in the feature-packed, spec-filled world of B2B technology. Yet truly effective content relies on both disciplines working in harmony.

Listen to CCO consulting editor Jonathan Crossfield’s interview with Noah Brier

In the 1960s, at the California Institute of Technology, neuropsychologist and professor Roger Wolcott Sperry conducted a series of unconventional brain experiments with cats, monkeys, and humans. In research that would earn him the Nobel Prize for medicine, Sperry proved that the right and left hemispheres of mammal brains process information separately. This work became essential to understanding how we make decisions.

Meanwhile, up the coast in Palo Alto, the Hewlett-Packard corporation was working on what Wired magazine would later call “the machine that made Silicon Valley.” Released in 1968, the HP 9100A personal computer began the technology revolution that defines our world and work today.

HP treated each product as its own mini-company, with a product manager or product marketer at the helm of the decision-making hierarchy. Based on HP’s decades-long streak of 20% growth, marketing by product became the de facto strategy for technology companies up to the present day.

Brand and product marketers are not always in sync

However, marketers face something today that HP could not have fully planned for. Communication channels are now far more diverse, and content is the grist that keeps marketing mills churning. This can create friction between brand marketers and product marketers.

On the brand side, even fact-based messaging appealing to that logical, rational side of our brains also needs to generate an emotional response to ensure the message is both noticed and remembered. Brand marketers are experts at emphasizing the humanity of what their organizations contribute to the marketplace and at crafting a memorable story to sway hearts.

To these brand marketers, the detailed, technical content that B2B technology product marketers generate can feel too “down in the weeds.” Product marketing content caters so specifically to the technical questions of individual buyers that it can fall out of step with the overarching brand message, leading some brand marketers to speak derisively about this content as mere “speeds and feeds.”

Oh, but the frustration goes both ways. According to product marketers, buyers are making complex decisions on critical tools that impact the success of their organizations, and the content produced by the brand team can be totally out of touch with the marketplace. “Buyers don’t care about your corporate messaging,” they say. “They just want to know if the product meets their needs or not.”

If brand & product marketers don’t collaborate, the content library will have a split personality, says @heyitsnoah. Click To Tweet

The result of these divergent marketing styles is often a split personality in an organization’s content library. On the one side it feels like it’s the high level, emotional message that really holds the power to influence, and on the other side it seems that the detailed technical content is what these organizations need to deliver results.

Who’s right – brand marketers or product marketers?

The answer to that question is, of course … yes. And the reason why brings us back to Pasadena, Sperry, and brain lateralization.

Sperry’s research confirmed that our right and left brains each have specialized missions. The right brain is dominant in matters of imagination, holistic thought, and sensory input, while the left brain holds sway on language, logic, and rational analysis.

What’s less commonly understood is that we truly need both hemispheres working in tandem to make decisions. In his book Descartes’ Error, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio profiled Elliot, a successful businessman and dutiful husband whose tumor-induced brain damage affected his emotional abilities. After the tumor, Elliott retained his original IQ but lost the ability to feel emotion – and this impacted his ability to make decisions. Consequently, he became unable to complete work assignments (even deciding which color pen to use to complete a form became a chore), and ended up divorced, bankrupt, and alienated from his former life.

Without both logical analysis and emotional stimulation, humans struggle to make decisions. It’s not just that less information results in incrementally poorer choices – without both brain hemispheres working together, we become paralyzed.

“Without both logical analysis and emotional stimulation, humans struggle to make decisions,” writes @heyitsnoah Click To Tweet

B2B technology marketing requires the best of both marketing worlds

For marketers, this really does mean that high level, emotional brand messaging and factual, rational product details are equally vital to influencing buyers.

Whereas the 30,000-foot view approach associated with brand marketing may be enough for consumer products, marketing to B2B tech buyers requires leveling up your communications to the technical decision makers’ line of sight. In an interview conducted by Percolate, Joel Conover, senior director, product and solutions marketing at Keysight said it well: “In technology sales, ultimately, it’s the product marketers who create the value prop.” This is work that most brand marketers can’t do. That’s why product marketers were put so close to the customer in the first place.

But product marketing content can’t go it alone either. There’s a cognitive bias that makes brand marketing especially potent. This is something I call the “overconfident buyer effect.” The stronger a customer’s knowledge base, the less open he or she is to consciously consider new information. As a result, product marketing content can easily be dismissed by overconfident buyers who are ultimately only persuaded by – you guessed it – emotional brand content.

Integrate, strategize, and communicate

Reconciling brand and product marketing content is a challenge well worth marketers’ attention. To avoid split-personality problems in your content repository, here are a few proactive measures to consider:

1. Integrate: Product marketers often report to sales or product management, and not to the CMO. You must therefore be mindful not only about divergent content philosophy, but also about departmental rivalries. Find a way to align the goals and incentives of marketers from different teams. If a single chain of command is not possible, product and brand marketers at least should have alternate forms of common accountability, so that politics don’t get in the way of best practice.

2. Strategize: Strategy is a set of choices that ultimately informs the choices of others. Having basic organizing principles for how your teams behave is vital to making product and brand marketing work together. For example, Sirius Decisions describes how marketing programs fall into four “families”: reputation, demand creation, sales enablement, and market intelligence. To make sure your teams cooperate well, determine up front who is responsible for what, and where authority lies for any particular type of work. It’s amazing how few marketing organizations even take this step.

3. Communicate: Studies at the University College London and Carnegie Mellon on the collective intelligence of teams confirmed communication as a key indicator of high performance in teams made up of members with differing perspectives. Brand and product teams must get together early and often to synchronize content priorities, and to agree on the role of each piece in the customer journey. Sharing the motivations behind content decisions will lead to much smoother cooperation.

Product marketing and brand marketing may not always have the same approaches, but both are vital. Organizations with emotional and rational content in their arsenals, and a process optimized for team intelligence can avoid misunderstandings, eliminate politics, and maximize customer influence.


Author: Noah Brier

Noah Brier is co-founder of content marketing platform Percolate. A veteran marketing strategist, creative director, and copywriter, he also co-founded likemind, a monthly coffee meetup in over 50 cities. Named amongst the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company, Noah sits on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on social media. He graduated from New York University.


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