The varying voices of account-based marketing

Jun 22, 2023


by | Jun 22, 2023 | Campaigns, Strategy


In the realm of Account-Based Marketing (ABM), the challenge of striking the right balance between brand messaging and personalised communications often leaves marketers scratching their heads. As we engage with clients’ brand teams, the question arises: at what point does the tone shift from representing the brand to establishing a more personal connection with the customer? It may seem obvious to some, but the inflection point in the communication process where brand transitions to personalised direct communication is not always clear-cut.

Consider this scenario – imagine discussing the core components of a brand, such as ‘truths’ and ‘trust,’ through high-volume channels like billboards, ads, TV, or magazines. In these situations, delivering brand-centric messages makes sense. However, what happens when the conversation becomes personal? Speaking in the same brand-oriented manner may not work; it can sound odd and raise doubts about whether the message is truly being heard, particularly if there is an existing personal relationship.

So, the right kind of comms at the right time, matters.

In a nuanced account-based marketing scenario, at what point should the communication style and tone change? And when you’re working within a large organisation, how do you align and ensure that everyone understands this distinction?

Balancing brand and personalised communications in ABM

We recently collaborated with a global consultancy to establish their brand in their chosen market. Our focus was on implementing a one-to-one AMB strategy targeting a key account – an existing customer – where we needed to raise brand awareness and change perception at a high level.

In addition, we needed to speak to this account at an individual, person to person level.

This means there were layers of communications, all working together to achieve the objectives.

  • Level 1: Brand messages aligned with wider brand strategy
  • Level 2: Account-specific brand-led messages aligned with relevant propositions
  • Level 3: Account-specific vertical-led messages aligned with vertical
  • Level 4: Highly personalised emails and person-to-person communications

At each level there were different visuals and content to support the message, provide context and facilitate engagement.

Defining the communication focus at each level

The debate we had was interesting – levels 1 to 3 were going to be paid advertising, predominantly through LinkedIn and level 4 was a personalised InMail message to individuals at the target account.

To us, the approach seemed clear:

  • Level 1: A brand message which emphasises “look how great we are”
  • Level 2: Messages highlighting outcomes, benefits and the “what’s in it for me” factor
  • Level 3: Account-led personalised messages demonstrating vertical specific expertise
  • Level 4: Communication centred around the customer and how our client could help them (and why)

Embracing a natural voice for personalised communications

A brand buzzword, strapline or proposition doesn’t have to be the lead for each level. In fact, each level represents a distinct ad type or marketing method, including brand ads and email.

And given that level 4 would be coming from a human being, it doesn’t make sense to have a brand message. The tone should reflect the brand’s values while avoiding sounding explicitly like the brand itself – after all, it’s a human sending the message, and in some cases, the individuals may already share a personal connection! The most important element here is that the level 4 communications have a natural voice, exude the brand and live its values, without focusing on the brand itself.

Perfecting the balance between brand and direct

The discussions with the brand team were fascinating, revealing their strong drive to establish the brand across all types of communication – this was driven mainly by the fact that they ‘owned’ the media spend, therefore they controlled and signed off the message in that medium. What was intriguing was their inability to see the context of personalised ABM and how paid media can support it.

The other area was the inability to see where a natural switch takes place when you shift from a brand communication exercise to a personalised communication piece where you’re talking to very few people.

When you’re speaking to smaller audiences, it’s easy for the brand to get lost or ignored. With smaller audiences, to retain attention, you have to lead with ‘what’s in it for them’. This captures their attention and encourages them to act. It’s the fundamental difference between brand communications and direct communications – and it’s something that this particular brand team didn’t fully understand.

The journey ahead

As marketers, we need to learn how to strike that perfect balance between brand and direct communication in account-based marketing. While we may have limited influence over organisational structures or who has control over the message and the medium, we can play a pivotal role in educating, refining and crafting our explanations regarding the balance of brand and personalised communications in the context of ABM. There’s still a long way to go though, and it is through these efforts that we can navigate the intricacies of ABM, creating meaningful connections and achieving our objectives, while staying true to the brand’s essence.



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Further reading

The impact of the strategic skills gap in marketing technology

When conversion tracking goes wrong, everything gets shaky

Leading change: Unpacking the Forrester B2B Summit, North America