The much-anticipated IPOs of Arm Holdings, Instacart and Klaviyo in September quickly turned into a wet blanket for investors, who have since decided to hold back in an already frugal year. VC funding is now at its lowest since 2018 and the time between funding rounds is increasing.
With exits hitting a wall, B2B brands looking to raise Series B and beyond need to be more convincing than ever that they have long-term potential. Earlier stages were all about being scrappy and finding product-market fit, but now is the time to invest in building a brand that stands for something and sets the foundation for growth.
In doing so, you need to play to the demands of three key audiences: customers, investors and potential employees. But as they’ve got wildly different expectations, you have to strategically shift your messaging while always keeping your branding consistent.
Here’s how you can ensure that your later-stage branding is sending the right signals to the right people.
Customer acquisition: Bring value by getting emotional
Late-stage companies are all about scaling. But because B2B purchases are large and consequential, customers are savvy and skeptical. They’re also probably not aware of you — 95% of B2B buyers are not in-market at any given moment. Get on their radar by focusing on the emotional value you’re providing.
B2B companies often think impressive product descriptions will catch audience attention. They don’t. Explore how your solution will make customers feel once they’ve used it: “Relieved to not have to fill in forms? Proud to present more organized data?” Those associated emotions are what will lead to memory recall when they’re finally in-market.
Reach potential customers by sponsoring their favorite podcasts, experimenting with out-of-home campaigns (like billboards), and investing in ads and syndicated content. For the bottom of the funnel, retargeting, webinars and case studies can boast those product specifics that customers are ready for.
Investors: Content remains king, but only if they see it
To demonstrate you’re on track for an exit, you need to show investors you’re on a strong forward trajectory.
My team and I recently helped a client get on the radar of the investment community with outdoor campaigns at airports and newstands across San Francisco. Tongue-in-cheek allusions to hot-button topics in the cultural zeitgeist commanded their attention. Not shying away from risk demonstrated the confidence the brand had in itself and its unstoppable momentum.
The goal is to pique investor interest — so you can then point them toward resources that prove your growth. These could be data reports and growth metrics on your blog or socials. It may also include media coverage through targeted PR work. Ideally, it’s all of the above.
Employees: Step away from the cult of personality
Startup early days are all about survival, usually with a charismatic founder keeping folks motivated. But by Series B, you have to mature into a more sustainable company culture so you have something enticing to offer the talent you need to scale.
Make sure your mission, vision and values are being practiced in every aspect of your company, then broadcast it.
Recently, Zendesk put on a drone show featuring a paper airplane alongside the phrase “break free.” Imagine looking up at the sky, scanning the airborne QR code and learning about their digital-first work policy. Not a bad recruitment tool. No drone budget? Showcase your values on LinkedIn — praise employees who exemplify them and include them in job listings.
No one knows what the future IPO market holds, but effective and strategic brand marketing is crucial in your pursuit of that clanging bell.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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