Podcast: Why B2B Companies Need to Focus on Brand

Shahin Hoda 15  mins read Updated: February 9th, 2024

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Podcast: Why B2B Companies Need to Pay More Attention to Brand with David Nicholls from PPG

Episode’s topic: Why B2B Companies Need to Pay More Attention to Brand - Avoiding misconceptions in communicating value

In this episode, host Shahin Hoda chats with David Nicholls, Commercial Director at PPG Industries.

David takes us back to basics to understand how to present the value of a brand in B2B organisations. He clarifies misconceptions about marketing and provides guidance to set the pillars to build the communication of a brand. This episode is a great opportunity to understand why B2B companies need to focus on their brand and how they should approach it.

This episode’s guest:


David Nicholls, Commercial Director of PPG

David Nicholls manages the sales and marketing function of PPG Australia as their Commercial Director.

He has international experience as a sales and marketing leader, and he is passionate about creating people and customer driven teams. His work ethics and enthusiasm have achieved impressive revenue growth within multiple markets, including Australia, Germany, USA, UK, Russia and China.

Connect with him on LinkedIn


Conversation segments on this episode:

  • [00:57] About PPG 
  • [01:33] B2B’s perception of brand in Australia
  • [05:46] The disciplines of how to build a brand
  • [08:02] David's view on Marketing
  • [10:20] Examples of companies that have great branding 
  • [14:06] How to succeed with proposals
  • [16:00] An example of how to present the value of a brand
  • [17:56] When Brand Marketing goes the wrong way
  • [19:36] Learning from the mistakes
  • [21:17] How to probe Marketing's worth in B2B

Resources mentioned on this episode:

About the Growth Colony Podcast:

On this podcast you'll be hearing from B2B founders, CMOs, marketing & sales leaders about their successes, failures, what is working for them today in the B2B marketing world and everything in between.

Hosted by Shahin Hoda & Alexander Hipwell, from xGrowth

Get in touch!

We would love to get your questions, ideas and feedback about Growth Colony, email podcast@xgrowth.com.au

Episode Full Transcript:

[00:23] Shahin Hoda  Hello, everyone. Thanks again for jumping on another episode of Growth Colony Australia's B2B Marketing Podcast. My name is Shahin, from xGrowth and today I'm joined by David Nicholls, the Commercial Director from PPG. And we're going to be talking about why B2B brands need to and b2b companies need to pay more attention to their brand. Now, on that note, David, thanks a lot for joining us. 

[00:54] David Nicholls  Thank you. Thanks for having me. Excited to chat. 

[00:57] Shahin Hoda  Yes, same over here. Same over here. Now, David, for some people who might not be familiar with the sale for PPG, can you give us a quick background? 

[01:07] David Nicholls  01:07

Yeah, I am a Commercial Director, so I manage the sales and marketing function of PPG Australia and on architectural coatings division. We are the proud manufacturers of Taubmans, which is an iconic Australian brand, has been manufacturing paints in Australia for you know, over 100 years, which is a fantastic brand and fantastic company. And it's a great, great place to be. 

[01:33] Shahin Hoda  That's amazing. Well, it's great to have you. And as you said, over 100 years, that's an amazing number. You know, obviously brand plays a major role when we're talking about those timelines. And you know, not talking about short term kind of gains. And coming from that perspective and having that perspective, I'd love to hear you know, what do you think? Is the perception of the majority of B2B companies towards brand here in Australia? How do you find that perception? 

[02:08] David Nicholls  Yeah, I think there's a growing and acknowledgement of the importance from a B2B standpoint on the investment on brand. You've seen that in the, you know, in the B2B marketing research that's greenheart recently released another successful piece of research and it's, you know, brand is increasing its importance. I think, even during this, you know, current crisis, as, you know, people are spending a lot more time at home and becoming a lot more and, you know, a lot more conscious of everything around them. I think brand has an even bigger presence with that, as you know, ultimately a B2B customer as a consumer. And I think if you lose sight of that you lose sight of you know, of your revenue goals. 

[02:58] Shahin Hoda  And do you think, you know, why do you think it's kind of gaining attention now? Why do you think maybe previously, especially in the B2B scene, maybe there wasn't as strong of an attention to brand as some of the other maybe geographical locations or some of the differences and other verticals that you've seen. 

[03:19] David Nicholls  You know, I think B2B marketer, marketeer has, you know, kind of worked incredibly hard to move away from the, you know, pretty picture department. And a lot of people make the connection of our brand with the visual elements and those kind of key touch points. And I think B2B marketeers have spent, you know, a very, very long time, proving their worth and building the focus and ROI and doing that through lots of exciting pieces of technology. 

[03:53] David Nicholls  The evolution of CRM, and marketing automation has allowed that and enable that and as a result of that, I think there has been a tendency to, you know, veer away from the importance of some of the brand disciplines that really build a brand. And, you know, I think you see how that really can impact businesses in a positive way when you do invest in brand and that pure B2B space, you take great companies like Salesforce.com and don't spend anything on traditionally and P but they've got a very disciplined approach to how they promote their brand, and how every touchpoint in you know, connects with them, they live and breathe it throughout the sales organisation.  

[04:40] David Nicholls  So, I think it's just a, you know, coming back to why do I think that's the case? I do think it's just that natural beating away and focusing on other disciplines from marketing. 

[04:53] Shahin Hoda  And when you say by different disciplines, what do you mean by that?

[04:57] David Nicholls  Yeah. So I would say, you know, brand for me, should always be cool if you're just selling a brand. However, I do think in B2B world that we've had a tendency to jump on the next kind of technological bandwagon and end up, you know, focusing a lot of effort on how do I prove my worth? And how do I make my CMO see as real C-level see?  

[05:20] David Nicholls  I need to prove that I'm going to spend X amount of money in generate y. And I'm going to do it through these innovative ways and integrate that into the sales funnel. And then, and that discipline around about, you know, that discipline of marketing, which, you know, for me, is around about the communication, no more of a tactical way or aligning with the sales strategy is the same as ended up without moving away from the brand. 

[0546] Shahin Hoda  Gotcha. Gotcha. That's very interesting. And you bring a very important point there where marketers are more and more under pressure to show revenues, short ROI and kind of connect themselves with the company revenue targets, you know, what do you think is the best way for marketers to do that? If they're going to specifically focus on brand, right? Considering brand could have a, it could be a long term or a long waiting period to see results from brand versus maybe some performance marketing where there it's more short term. How do you seen marketers are able to better communicate ROI on brand to upper management, to the leadership, to the board? What advice do you have over there? 

[06:41] David Nicholls  Well, I think the you know, the blend of, you know, performance marketing and brand can can happen quite naturally. I think as long as you focus on the disciplines of how to build a brand. You know, you got to understand what's brand values. What do you stand for? But you know, what do you want to see? What do you, what are you trying to see and what are the key kind of pillars that you're in that you're trying to communicate? 

[07:07] David Nicholls  Once you've established that identity, and that those core brand values and purpose, you can, I think you can communicate that throughout the organisation very well. So you can prove the ROI of the brand, really by creating a series of brand evangelists within your organisation that doesn't need to be within the Marketing department that should be in the Sales department, everybody should be on message and selling. 

[07:33] David Nicholls  So it will actually, by getting back to basics, back to the basics of brand management and understanding the true importance of your identity and then, where you want to go, I think you actually meet performance marketing much easier.  Because it's much more in line with how the overall company's they're going. So to prove that further up the line, you know, everybody's starting to in the organisation Is should be singing off the same hymn sheet. 

[08:02] Shahin Hoda  Very interesting so basically not only talk about brand on its own but really tying in time brand into performance marketing and explain that you know, the impact of performance marketing is going to be even bigger if we have this focus on brand and and driving that is that, is that what you mean? 

[08:22] David Nicholls  Yeah, and I've got a very simple you know, view on marketing. My view is marketing is a series of relatively simple concepts and disciplines that have been overcomplicated by people trying to justify the existence within an organisation and I think you get to a point where you've gone to you know, we've gone too far trying to you know, prove our existence and become, and ended up forgetting about the actual very basics that is marketing, you know? 

[08:50] David Nicholls  What's your aim, you know, your brand values, what should identity,what do you know, what do you want your brand to go for, and that should then define how you start to develop products. How you start to go to market to generate new leads and revenue, how you start to talk to your customers and consumers. And once you've got that, Those basics as anchored within your organisation, it becomes a lot easier. Now I'm seeing that I'm getting those basics is incredibly difficult because, you know, everybody likes to overcomplicate a lot of things and I think there's so many great companies out there that do so well and make it look simple when it's not. 

[09:28] David Nicholls  And they move at it, you know, they have traditional consumer brands that aren't big in the B2B space. Apple, for example, is the great example everyone uses about you know, a brand that has a great purpose, great values, great identity and its products and product development. Really works with its you know, how that brand is evolving and they're begging the B2B space. You know, every single you know, the majority of people in their on our workforce are using an Apple product. And you know, you're not using that necessarily because it's got the best functionality or so on and so forth. A lot of those decisions that people make to purchase that will be around the brand values and what that brand does and then and the comfort you're in when, you know, the audience feel using it. 

[10:20] Shahin Hoda  No, absolutely. And thank you. No, you're right. And they kind of, they kind of use the brand that they build in B2C and leverage that also in B2B as well. And, I mean, I've noticed that I'm being bombarded with Apple ads on LinkedIn these days. Getting closer to end the financial year of, you know, buy a pack of of Apple products and use them in the company. So it's very true, what other companies or brands kind of come to mind where you talked about Salesforce, you talked about Apple, is there anything else that comes to mind when you're thinking about B2B brands that execute kind of that brand management component brand marketing really well. 

[11:00] David Nicholls  I think there's a huge amount of them and I think you know, they tend to be companies that go back to focus I think if you look at the automotive industry you've got all the major manufacturers do a great job there and other brand and moves through the value chain from finance all the way through to the purchasing a vehicle. 

[11:22] David Nicholls  In the finance industry, you've got some amazing great Australian brands that really you know, have done some fantastic work in the last 10 years of trying to reposition themselves, you know, especially you know, from the Big Four you look at Commonwealth, great key study Salesforce on that and they've got a very clear understanding of positioning, the vision, the personality, that key attributes that the brand has. And I think you see that you know, not just at the top end of town and these large a big global brands, but you can see it in on a lot of startups and, you know, I think there's, have held the saying a few times from a couple of marketing commentators. 

[12:08] David Nicholls  You know, I think Mark Ritson says it quite often show me the phone does, show me the brand. And I think that's fairly true. And you see a lot of these young startups that stay true to it, because a founder is somebody who has created this brand. And that startup specially see that. They understand the value. They've got a vision, their personality, their vision, the attributes, or what they've decided. And then the positioning is very clear. 

[12:34] David Nicholls  And those brands of chip start to chip away at the traditional big B2B players in any sector. And I think they do that because they've got a very clear purpose. And that's how they execute that so if you're, you know, if you're a bigger player in a space and you're concerned about disruptive startups, you know, get back to the core, understand what your brand is, your value, your visions, your personality, and attributes, and where you're positioned in the market, and you focus on those and disrupt that way. 

[14:06] Shahin Hoda  David, you're part of the leadership team at PPG. How would I, how, as a marketer, let's say I'm a marketer in your, in your team, right? As part of part of the team that is here in Australia, and I want to convince you and I want to show you that, hey, we need to focus on brand, we need to work on our brand. How should I approach you? 

[14:32] David Nicholls  So I'm going to, you know, again, relatively simple way, I like to think, I think a lot in this order, I expect and hope people bring me proposals. And then this is how I think you'll succeed is. You know, number one, what's the value to the consumer or the customer. And you know, so the consumer. Number two, what's the value to the customer? Number three, what's the value to the company and I think if you answer all those so questions in that order? And you can prove everything along that in terms of what you want to do, then you'll always be successful. If you can add value along that chain. That's the key to success. 

[15:13] Shahin Hoda  I see. And when you say you kind of mentioned at the beginning, what's the value for the consumer? And then what's the value to the customer? Are you really, what we're saying is consumer is whoever it is that you're just going to be consuming their product, not necessarily the buyer, the decision-maker, and then the customer is the person who kind of buys it. 

[15:33] David Nicholls  Yeah. 

[15:34] Shahin Hoda  Is that what you mean? 

[15:35] David Nicholls  Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you know, we will, you know, historically, in my career, I've worked in traditional business where you know, you've had a distribution channel and that distribution channel distributes it to the end user. I'm seeing you know, the consumer is the person using your product and the customer is the person that engages that you purchase it, and you have to deal with and if you add value to all those people, you'll be really successful. 

[16:00] David Nicholls  Let me give you an example. If you are selling a product to a you know a large corporate organisation and you have to deal with a buyer and see you're selling some IT equipment or some financial services products or a new start, you know you have to deal with a buyer and ultimately that buyers buying on behalf of the organisation and somebody else is going to consume the product. I need to, you need to explain what value your brand has to the buyer. 

[16:33] David Nicholls  So the buyers key areas and key is interested in may not be you know about your you know, your vision and your personality and so on, but your brand may bring exceptional value, which point that's actually something you're interested in, and you know, such as, and, you know, it's more than just the price or the different things you add on around when you're selling. And the person is using your products gonna have a very, very different experience as well. You need to make sure you add value to them, so that they want it. So it makes it an easy sale for the buyer into that organisation. And ultimately, by doing that, you're going to add great value back to your company. 

[17:13] Shahin Hoda  I see, I see. And that's, you know, that's how the chain gets connected. And so, that's how I should be presenting it to you if I'm trying to convince you that you should focus on brand and you should, you should, you should, yeah, build a little bit more brand equity.

[17:29] David Nicholls  Yeah, you know, build that kind of roundabout, you know, what does that mean for the consumer? So if you're, you know, I've got this great campaign, I want to run and it's going to be really exciting. When you say, well, what value does that add to the consumer and there may be a great, it may just may not add that much value. They said, well, what value does that add to the customer? And always, if you can, you know, keep challenging yourself along those three, then then it'll always be successful. 

[17:56] Shahin Hoda  Make sense? David, where do you think brand marketing goes wrong? 

[18:01] David Nicholls  I think brand marketing can go wrong by you're getting a little bit too focused at the, you know that, the, at the high at the higher level and not kind of really proving its value, then what happens is people then start to push it into the, you know, into the more traditional old school marketing departments. And you know, people get very focused and they are brand marketing, that means it needs to be creative. And you know, I'm looking forward to seeing this exciting new logo. When really for me, the brand marketer should be the smartest person in the room. And you know, she'd be connecting the dots on what's going on. And then, you know, and then building a strategy around that also, they're going to grow their brand. 

[18:46] Shahin Hoda  Yeah. And what's the perception in a customer's mind rather than, hey, here's a pretty shiny logo. Is that right? 

[18:53] David Nicholls  Yeah, exactly. And then coming back to those three kind of key areas of value. If you can, if you want to, you know, increase your budget and you want to do lots of great activity, if you're going to the Board of a company to the C-level you want to be seeing, I know your customer, an end user so well I can tell you exactly what they want, and why they want that brand. I know you're the person who's going to be buying this product so well, that I know and I can talk, we can talk to them in a meaningful way about the value we bring as a company beyond price. And that's how you draw the value back into the company. 

[19:36] Shahin Hoda  That makes sense. That makes sense. And I want, towards the end like Lastly, I'd like to ask a little bit about some of the mistakes you've done personally when looking at brand in the past. Does anything come to mind anything that you've you've tried in the past or you've had some definitions that were not maybe right and through really experienced those kind of have gotten refined and honed in, does anything come to mind? 

[20:05] David Nicholls  Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think if you're in any senior leadership position and you can reflect back to failures, then I don't think you should be in that position. I think about them all the time. And you know, generally, when it comes to brand, it's been about overcomplicating it. And, you know, trying, you know, trying to talk it, you know, trying to trying to over communicate. 

[20:30] David Nicholls  If you think about some of my early, the early days of an email marketing and some of the campaigns and they're generally where, you know, they they communicated way too much. If I'd got back if I went back to basics, and understood the really the identity of what I was trying to sell, then I would have been a lot more successful. So I generally when I look back at anything, that's what be better strategic piece of positioning the small campaign it generally been I y, know you have you can have overcomplicate it and go back to that premise that marketing's a series of very basic principles that we tend to overcomplicate. 

[21:17] Shahin Hoda  I love it. I love it. Simplify, simplify simplify as much as possible, but obviously not more than it should be. But that's I think, a great takeaway that I'm taking away from our conversation. And now look, those are most of the questions that I had. Do you think there was anything that I didn't cover here that our listeners would benefit? And we probably should have covered? 

[21:43] David Nicholls  No, I think, you know, I guess really, for me, when we talk about this topic, it's something I'm passionate about because I think it's something that gets overlooked and I think, and I speak to a lot of B2B marketeers and immediately the conversation gets into. You, how we can prove our worth at the C-level. And, you know, we should be, you know, it's ROI, with all the great metrics I have. And we've done this, and this is the future, that's a given. And if you've if you're if you go back to the very basics of running your brand, you should know, you should have segmented your market and understood exactly who you're talking to. 

[22:00] David Nicholls  And creating personas and done all that stuff and have smart dashboards because you've sensibly targeted your brand. And you've sensibly said this is based on my segmentation, this is where we should be targeting. And from that you've got a baseline metric to you know, to see what the growth is. And then you position the brand, then you move on from there. And that's how you start to win in that space. So the again, it simplify, you know, you need to having what's the matrix is great, but really the matrix that matter, you take you had to. you shouldn't overcomplicate. 

[23:06] Shahin Hoda  I love it. No, look, this has been amazing. There's been just a lot of golden nuggets in this conversation. I genuinely enjoyed it. Now, if some of our listeners want to know more about yourself or the company, what is the best way that they can find out more and reach out to you? 

[23:25] David Nicholls  Yeah, reach out to me on LinkedIn, you can find me, David Nicholls. I'm there. And you know if you want to find out more about Taubman's, it's a fantastic brand. It's got a great history, check out our website, Taubmans.com.au and our company PPG. We protect and beautify the world every day. We've got a great purpose, a fantastic company to work for, and all that it's available on PPG.com.

[23:52] Shahin Hoda  Fantastic. Well, David, thank you very much for joining us, and we'll chat to you in some future episode as well. Thanks. 

[24:00] David Nicholls  Thank you.

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