Branding vs. Lead Generation

As we emerge from the long winter recession, once more the debate is underway about whether marketers should spend any of their budget on branding or focus entirely on lead generation. I, for one, believe that this is not an either/or decision. The best marketers, those who have created growth during this downturn, continue to rely on a marketing mix that includes both. Amazon (AMZN) has seen dramatic growth since they introduced their Prime membership program, which included free shipping. There were many skeptics, but this innovative approach fueled their recent growth at the expense of their major competitors, Borders (BGP) and Barnes & Noble (BKS). In the case of Amazon, they also regularly communicate by email with their large, established customer base. They also gained market share in the consumer electronics category when Circuit City committed so many missteps that they found themselves forced to declare bankruptcy and close their doors. Once again Amazon has innovated with the Kindle 2 and has been rewarded. Mary Claire and I each have one and love the flexibility they provide when we travel.

Apple (APPL) is another example of a company that has continued to successfully invest in branding. Apple has one of the strongest consumer brands, one that stands for innovation and style. They have taken this strong brand and turned the smartphone market on its head. Apple and AT&T (ATT), their distribution partner in the U.S., both reported strong earnings last week because of the iPhone, which continues to eclipse all of its competitors.

As B2B marketers, we need to offer our clients opportunities for both brand building and measurable lead generation opportunities. We must do this across multiple platforms, both online and offline, through opportunities like live events. I hear more and more clients asking for "thought leadership opportunities" tied to whitepapers and conferences. Those among us that are most responsive to the unique marketing needs of our client base will emerge from the downturn stronger and with increased market share. Stephen Moylan, who joined us at Asset International a short time ago as Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing, is one of the best marketers I have had the pleasure of working with over the years. He listens to customer and client needs and is then able to respond with creative programs tailored to help them meet their specific goals. In many ways, in this weekend of the NFL draft, Stephen is my go-to guy, the person I can depend upon to make certain that our customer base is receiving the attention and creative programs they deserve.

On Saturday, the first day of the NFL draft, we drove up to Hafner Vineyard,, just north of Healdsburg in Sonoma County. The Hafner family has an annual luncheon for their best customers to show their appreciation. They have 120+ people to their home, which has magnificent views out over the valley and their 1,000+ acres. They have never used the retail channel, because they found it too impersonal. They only sell to a small select group of restaurants and individuals by direct marketing. Their client base is very loyal (we have been customers since 1992, when we moved to the Bay Area) and is appreciative of the number of ways that the Hafner family has found to say thank you. A long time ago I attended a lecture by Peter Drucker and came away with one memory, which I will paraphrase: the primary objective of a business is to create a customer. As we work our way out of this deep recession, we would all do well to celebrate and recognize the unique contributions of our customers.