The pandemic has forced the hand of several industries to speed up their development and move forward with digitalization. But how has this move impacted the “marketing DNA” of these organizations? Here to dissect the topic is Jonathan Copulsky. Jonathan is a Professor at Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management, serving as the academic director for business marketing strategy as part of their executive education program, and has been in the marketing industry for over 40 years. In this chat with Victoria Meyer, Jonathan explains the impact of the pandemic on the internal processes of sales and marketing within the chemical industry. He tackles the growing need for executive marketing roles and the use of technology to drive growth in the digital sphere. Jonathan also breaks down five iconic archetypes of ways that companies are great B2B marketers. Tune in to learn more and get valuable insight to propel your business forward.

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Understanding Your B2B Marketing DNA With Jonathan Copulsky

In this episode, I am delighted to have Jonathan Copulsky, who is a Professor at Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management. Jonathan is going to be sharing insights from his decades of experience helping B2B companies boost their customer value through marketing. His experience comes from a number of leading companies including Deloitte. Jonathan teaches B2B Marketing at Northwestern at the Kellogg School of Management. In fact, that’s where Jonathan and I got introduced, serving on a panel for a Kellogg Alumni group. He is coaching the next generation of executives on marketing, business transformation, and more. Jonathan, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Victoria. I’m delighted to be here and thanks for the warm welcome.

Share a brief overview of you and your origin story. How did you get into this wonderful world of marketing?

Like many people who are in B2B marketing, I would call myself an accidental marketer. After I finished business school back in 1980, I spent some time in technology, finance, and corporate development. At some point I was fascinated by the issues that customers have around how they choose the suppliers that they work with. Somehow that led me to marketing and here I am 40 years later, having served as a chief marketing officer for Deloitte Consulting, a chief marketing officer for a company called CCH, which is now part of Wolters Kluwer, and advised a number of companies. One of the things is I serve as the academic director for a business marketing strategy program that we run at Kellogg as part of our executive education program.

Our topic here is around marketing DNA. We’ll get to that, but when did you first realize that B2B companies need to think about marketing differently?

Like many people who have gone to school and studied business and marketing, most of the examples were always B2C. We talked about these great brands and things that consumers love and adore. You’d see these marketing efforts, many of which were these wonderful commercials and so forth. As I started working on my first stint in consulting with a number of B2B companies, including a chemical company or two, what I discovered was that the process of marketing for B2B was completely different and had a completely different set of issues.

Many of us who wound up being in B2B didn’t start out as marketers. We didn’t necessarily go to a school like Kellogg and study all these wonderful things about marketing. Even if we did, we were woefully unequipped in terms of being able to think about, “What do I do as a B2B marketer?” More than likely, all these wonderful promotions, commercials, and activities that we did in B2C had no relevance whatsoever to B2B.

I went to Kellogg myself and did my MBA there, and studied marketing and strategy. There was one B2B marketing class, and it didn’t fit the chemical market. It didn’t fit the B2B industrial businesses that I know. A lot of this becomes on-the-job training and figuring it out, and figuring out how to make it happen. Let’s talk about marketing DNA. What is it? Can you describe it for us?

It’s probably helpful, Victoria, to give you a little bit of an origin story. I was working for a large commercial bank. This goes back a number of years. The bank was one of these companies which had done a terrific job of going through the risk crisis back in late 2008 to 2009. The CEO felt very good about what they’ve done relative to risk. He went to a woman who at that time was sort of the CMO. I say “sort of the CMO” because they didn’t have a CMO. He said, “What do we need to do to be a great marketing company?”

Fortunately, she reached out to us at that point as a senior partner at Deloitte. We did a project called the Great Marketing Company. The big takeaway from that Great Marketing Company project is there are lots of ways that B2B companies can be great in marketing. Where you are in terms of marketing depends very much on your industry, competitive positioning, history, legacy, strengths and skills.

We came up with this metaphor of DNA to say that we all have the same number of chromosomes and so forth, but the way that it manifests itself for individuals is very different. What we said is that the way that great marketing manifests itself for B2B companies can be very different, depending upon the situation.

We’ve identified five iconic archetypes of ways that companies are great marketers in the B2B context. What we told people and the client, and I subsequently worked with a number of B2B executives, is that you have to pick and choose. We can’t be great in all five dimensions. Part of the marketing strategy is picking the places where we want to be great.

What are those five archetypes?

The first one is the one that we’re all very familiar with, which is around sales enablers. Many B2B marketers focus on how we make our sales organization function effectively, how we provide them with support, and how we make sure they’ve got the collateral, etc. If you do a survey of B2B organizations, an awful lot tend to default to that archetype.

It’s probably the archetype that a lot of chemical companies default to. Sales is king and marketing serves sales.

Often, the way that we would measure the effectiveness of marketing is by how many marketing-qualified leads we produced, how effective marketing is in supporting people, do we run trade shows, etc. The second one is what we call innovation champion. An innovation champion is about marketing as a partner often with R&D to launch new innovative products.

This is thinking about if Apple is the North Star in terms of B2C, how do we find innovations for the organization? It’s not about marketing necessarily leading the organization to innovation because often development in R&D is doing that, but it’s about how we bring it to market successfully, where we view the future of the organization. It’s not about selling the current portfolio, but about expanding the portfolio to include new and innovative products.

TCSP74 | Marketing DNA

Marketing DNA: It’s not about marketing necessarily leading the organization to innovation, but it’s about how we bring it to market successfully.

 

The third one is something very much in your favor. It’s what we call the customer experience archetype. This is thinking about the end-to-end customer experience. Ten years ago, if you talk to B2B organizations, that was not high on the list of priorities for a lot of those B2B organizations. That has changed because B2B customers have experienced the Starbucks, Netflix, and the Amazons of the world and say, “Why can’t my B2B buying experience look like that?” Particularly, as we’ve had companies get into the B2B space, Amazon, for example. They brought what they learned in the B2C space to that. One of my clients has been a leading MRO organization in the Chicago area. The biggest competitor that they worry about is Amazon, not the traditional ones.

The fourth one is around customer insights generation. If we think about the metaphor that we could look to outside of B2B, it is something like Capital One, which was masterful in terms of coming up with offers for people based upon the insights they had about their customers. Where we see this on the B2B side is focusing on understanding what we can do as a company to drive positive outcomes for our customers.

Focus on understanding what you, as a company, can do to drive positive outcomes for your customers. Share on X

We use insights about how they use their products and so forth. One of the companies that are masterfully doing this is Ecolab. If you look at their home page, what they talk about is not their products or the features or the functionality or even their solutions. They talk about outcomes. The way they understand the outcomes is because they’ve got deep insights into how their customers are using their products.

It strikes me that Salesforce and a lot of what they want to do and help their customers with are around this fourth archetype, customer insights and how to use them to create outcomes.

If you go to Salesforce, their homepage is built with these customer success stories. They excel and got a big group ad. Salesforce is focused on understanding customer success. Salesforce also characterizes the last archetype, which is being an iconic brand builder. We can easily think about this in B2C. We have companies like Harley Davidson, Apple, and so forth, where these brands are tremendous. It’s a little bit harder with B2B and this is the least frequently used archetype for a whole bunch of reasons,

With everything from the iconic imagery that Salesforce use, to the customer advocacy that they’ve built and the loyalty and so forth, and you go to Dreamforce, which is their annual show that they do in San Francisco, they get 100,000 people coming to that. It’s all about the brand with Salesforce. They’ve been able to take what was originally a CRM business, and expand it to marketing and AI and so forth because they built this incredible brand with incredible loyalty to the brand and huge recognition. All of us probably, if we’ve had any experience with Salesforce, know what the logo looks like because it’s iconic.

Do companies inherently have one of these or can they pick one and transform it to get to that place? How do they decide this?

The quick answer is yes. They can transform, but we got to start with the premise that we only have 24 hours a day and we’re going to spend at least part of that sleeping because most of us have not learned to sleep any faster. If we can’t sleep faster and we only have so much time for what we do professionally, and our team only has so much time, the question becomes how do we allocate the time?

One of the exercises that we go through in our executive education class is I ask the CMOs and the senior marketing folks who are there, “Take 100% and tell us where you spend your time today.” They’ll take those five archetypes more than likely. Most of them are spending the bulk of their time around sales enablement. That may or may not be right for their organization.

We go through another exercise and say, “Given the strategy of your organization, the competitive position and so forth, where do you think you should spend the bulk of your time?” It’s a similar exercise. What we’re trying to look for is where the shifts are. I tell people when they do this, ”If you’ve got 20% allocated against each of the five, that’s not a good thing because what you’re going to do is spread it evenly.”

It’s not going into a casino and going to the roulette table. I’ll put half my money on red and half my money on black. You can’t win with that. You’ve got to pick a dominant one where it’s going to drive change for the organization relevant to that particular time. When we go through this, more often than not, the shift is around going from sales enablement to a greater emphasis on experience.

TCSP74 | Marketing DNA

Marketing DNA: You have to pick a dominant archetype that’s going to drive change for the organization relevant to that particular time.

 

I’ve seen in the last couple of iterations, everybody says, “We need to focus more on what the customer experience is in our business. We believe that will be the differentiator for us, particularly after COVID, when so much of our face-to-face sales was interrupted, and more companies were going direct to the companies through digital.” The digital experience becomes a big driver of that.

Victoria, you and I were talking about a company before. Years ago, we had this conversation. They said, “Our companies will never buy over the internet.” That’s not true anymore. I think a bunch of things prompted it, but COVID seemed to accelerate that switch because it forced people into having to do business remotely, which meant that digital now became an important part. For many B2B companies, it’s now a digital-first world.

I certainly see that across the chemical industry and the clients that I work with, this recognition that they need to drive towards customer experience. Whether they believe it or not, they do have a customer experience today. Everybody has got a customer experience, and then there’s a choice about how to evolve, leverage, and differentiate that to create value. The reality even in a B2B world, your customers are all people. You have to be able to engage the people at the companies that you’re doing business with in the ways that they want, driving the experience and creating that value for them.

One of my colleagues puts up this simple 2 X 2 chart. Along the horizontal dimension are needs. On one end of the spectrum is the rational needs. That’s the stuff that goes into an RFP or an RFI or goes into a spec sheet that you may give to a vendor. Along the other side of that horizontal dimension are the non-rational needs, the emotional needs, the needs to feel trust, safety, comfort, etc. Along the vertical dimension is the ability of the customer or the willingness of the customer to articulate those needs.

At the bottom, we got those, “I can easily articulate my needs.” At the top of that is the stuff that we can’t articulate. If we think about the thing in the upper left-hand corner, we’ve got articulated needs, very rational. That’s the stuff historically, we believe that B2B buyers use to make their decisions to use and not to use a vendor. All of us have had the experience where we see emotional needs.

Emotional needs may be, “If this goes sideways, I will lose my job.” That’s an emotional need. “Can I trust this vendor to deliver what they said they will deliver in the time period that they will?” “If they’ve got a product map or they’ve got a set of innovations to come in the future, can I trust them that they will continue to deliver against that?” What we’re seeing is the experience plays into delivering against those unarticulated emotional needs that B2B buyers have, just like B2C buyers have.

I like to use it as the iceberg principle. Those stated items are below the waterline, just like with an iceberg, 90% of it is below the waterline. That’s where all these other experiential trusts, unstated needs, and other things are getting met. That has always been true. It’s just shifting in the digital landscape. In the world that we’re in and the way business has evolved, some of those things are shifting but they’re still there.

The other thing which we talk about in our program a bit is the nature of the buyers has shifted. It’s more diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity and age. People who are now becoming buyers and influencers are younger. They’re more digital-first individuals. They’re people who are bringing different sets of issues. There are often things which are on that emotional and non-rational side like purpose, mission, and so forth.

The nature of the buyers has shifted. It's more diverse. Share on X

The changing nature of the buyer community in terms of diversity, the number of people who are getting involved, the willingness to look at third parties and so forth. That has also become now I’ve got to navigate that. Once again, the experience becomes an important element of how I navigate that diverse heterogeneous fire community versus, “I’m going to take somebody out to lunch. We’ll talk about it. I’ll show them my spec sheet and I’ve got to sell.”

Jonathan, one of the things you and I talked about is the changing role of B2B marketers. Maybe you’ve touched on this a bit. What do you see as this evolution in terms of what’s the role of B2B marketing now versus maybe where it was a decade ago?

I see a couple of things happening. Certainly, we have the emergence of a CMO role at a lot of B2B companies. That did not exist 10, 15 or 20 years ago. Sometimes they’re called chief commercial officers, chief marketing officers, or chief customer officers, but somebody who got responsibility for that side of the house who’s not necessarily subservient to sales but would partner with sales.

Part of that, we also see those people having a seat at the executive table. They’re often a C-suite executive, so they’re participating in conversations and decision-making. That’s one thing. The second is I do see the skills around experience, focusing on outcomes, thinking about brand-building, and being brought to bear on that. The nature of their job, this goes back to the DNA discussion, is not just about how they can equip sales. That’s an important part. That will never be going away. We need to make sure that our customer-facing parts of the enterprises are aligned with what customers need, and that we can support those things.

One of the expressions that I use in talking with students and talking with organizations that I consult with is that the job of B2B marketers is not to make things easy to sell. It’s to make things easier to buy. Part of what marketers need to think about is, “What are all the obstacles that get in the way of our customers using our products, and how do I systematically identify and tackle those obstacles and make sure that marketing is taking a lead on doing that?”

The job of B2B marketers is not to make things easy to sell; it’s to make things easier to buy. Share on X

You talked about the fact that we’re seeing more marketing in the C-suite and yet it’s still not easy, especially with this evolution. How do marketers educate the C-suite on the marketing DNA, the criticality of this, and maybe even shifting in the archetype? What do you see happening? What do you see as effective?

I remember I was helping out with a search for a marketer at a B2B organization. I interviewed a number of potential colleagues for the role that we were trying to fill. I said, “What does this person need to do?” The more often than not answer was, “They need to do this marketing stuff. They need to make all these cool marketing things.” I see the level of sophistication on their part. These were smart people. What marketing needed to do was pretty low in part because they didn’t have the experience.

It’s where in B2B organizations that a CEO comes up from the marketing ranks. It’s very hard to find CEOs who have done that. They may have come from sales, engineering or product, and R&D. They may have come from finance, but it’s very rare that you have people at marketing. It’s not surprising that the CEO and most of the C-Suite would not necessarily understand what marketing is. Similarly, if you look at the boards of these organizations, marketing may not be well represented on the boards either.

TCSP74 | Marketing DNA

Marketing DNA: It’s rare in B2B organizations that a CEO comes up from the marketing ranks, so it’s not surprising that the CEO and most of the C-suite would not necessarily understand what marketing is.

 

There’s an educational process in which one of the things I recommended to individuals is to use these five archetypes. After the individual fills out the sheet, I say, “Go to your team and ask your team about where we think we need to be, then go to your boss and your boss’s boss or the C-suite and let’s have that conversation there.” I have found that to be an easy way when people understand the five archetypes. It doesn’t take a long time to explain and to then have that conversation.

I had this conversation a few weeks ago with a newly appointed CMO for B2B organizations. Like many accidental markers in B2B, he did not come from marketing. He had a question for me. His question was, “How should I organize my marketing department?” I said, “What do you want the marketing department to do?”

Over the phone in a half-hour call, I talked about these five archetypes. I said, “Think about using that as a framework for thinking through where you want to place your priority, where you want to put your bets, and then using it also from a change management standpoint to educate your team and your leadership about what marketing should do.”

That’s right. I think there is a whole education process. I often tell people, marketing is not well understood inside the chemical industry. Often, people think of marketing as advertising or communications and miss the broader strategic value-oriented context. We’re starting to see this. We’re seeing some chemical companies that are driving more toward having marketing as a critical driver and function of the organization, but we still have a ways to go.

I’ll lead us to our last question then we’re going to wrap it up and move into our live Q&A. Jonathan, in the context of what we’ve talked about, and you’ve done work with chemical companies, as well as other B2B companies, what’s one thing that chemical companies can do today to better understand, and then leverage and make an impact utilizing their marketing DNA?

I’ll go down two paths. One is a path of saying understanding from a customer standpoint how we create value for customers. For me, that comes down to Clayton Christensen. He wrote a bunch of books, The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Innovator’s Solution, etc. One of the concepts that he has is understanding the job to be done and consequently, what constraints we’re operating under. It relates back to the conversation we had before about outcomes.

To me, this all starts with, how our products help our customers to achieve certain outcomes. Those outcomes may be strategic outcomes. They may be financial outcomes, They may be operational outcomes, and how do we quantify those outcomes? If we take that understanding, what are the things that we as marketers can do to help to increase the possibility that they will achieve the outcome?

Sales enablement is not a dirty word in my mind. I have run a sales force. I understand that we’ve got to feed the machine, but how do we balance it out with some of these other strands? Also, what works for one company in one particular category of chemicals may not work for another. I do encourage people not to get overly focused on best practices and say, “We could do so forth but what’s the best practice for us, given where we are at this point in time?”

TCSP74 | Marketing DNA

Marketing DNA: What works for one company in one particular category of chemicals may not work for another. Do not get overly focused on best practices but on what’s the best practice for you, given where you are at this point in time.

 

It’s creating that unique value that fits their organization, their customers, and target markets. Jonathan, thank you for joining us. This has been great. If people want to get in touch with you, how can they do that?

You can find me on the Kellogg website. My email address is Jonathan.Copulsky@northwestern.edu. I would also invite you. We have a program for executive education. We have a program on business marketing strategy. Our next one starts October 31st, and we’ll be launching in partnership with a company called Emeritus in January, an asynchronous version of that. I will be leading, so we’d love to have you join that as well.

I’m one of the guest speakers on that asynchronous program, so that’s exciting for me and everybody else too.

It’s one of the best parts.

Jonathan, thanks for joining us. Thanks, everyone, for joining the show. Keep following and sharing. We’ll talk again soon.

 

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About Jonathan Copulsky

TCSP74 | Marketing DNAJonathan Copulsky is an innovative marketing leader and growth strategist with over 40 years of experience working at the intersection of brand, marketing strategy, content marketing, and marketing technology. As a CMO, consultant, and board member, Jonathan brings the ability to anticipate customer needs, reposition brands, architect fresh “go-market-solutions,” creatively apply new technologies, streamline customer-facing operations, build strong teams, and engage diverse stakeholders to deliver measurable and impactful results.

Jonathan has accumulated significant strategic, operational, and leadership experience through a series of corporate and professional services roles. He has also gained experience in governance, having been a senior executive with a NYSE corporation and a board member for not-for-profits. Jonathan currently serves on the board of Openlands, where he has been a member of the executive committee, chair of the development committee, and a member of the marketing and communications committee. His board oversight work spans CEO succession, enterprise strategy development, acquisition due diligence, and succession planning. Prior board memberships include Chicago Public Media (WBEZ), the Chicago International Film Festival, and Northlight Theatre.

Specialties: B2B Marketing, Reputational Risk, Content Marketing, Marketing Technology, Growth Strategy, Digital Marketing, Brand Strategy, Customer Experience, Sales Force Management, Major Accounts Strategy, Channel Strategy, New Product Development, Marketing and Advertising Effectiveness, Innovation, Customer Loyalty, and Customer Service Operations.

 

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