Always Start With The Brand – The Underestimated Role Of Brand In B2B Marketing

Josie Johnson

Josie Johnson is the Chief Marketing Officer for Yerra Solutions, a technology-driven managed services firm redefining the legal industry through a range of innovative and award-winning solutions. Prior to joining Yerra, Josie served in marketing leadership roles at software companies operating in the corporate legal and finance markets, including Datacert, HighRadius and Prodagio.
In a market so renowned for its traditional and often change-resistant culture, we were thrilled to speak with someone so pivotal in driving transformation across the legal industry. We spoke with Josie about:
– The role of brand within their development.
– Her views on digital marketing within the B2B space, and, in particular, on social media.
– The common marketing mistakes made by traditional organisations within B2B markets.
– The role of culture within the development of the Yerra brand and the impact having a female CEO has had on that culture.

Josie Johnson Boss to Boss Interview Profile Photo

How much emphasis was there on brand development in the early stages of the business?

When I joined Yerra full time in 2015, the directive from our Founder & CEO was to focus on branding and not worry initially about lead generation. This was quite different from what I’d experienced with other companies that were focused more on short-term revenue goals and less on brand equity. After digging into her reasoning, we agreed to take that approach for at least the first 12-18 months and then build from there. It fit quite naturally with my belief that it is always easier to generate leads (and convert them) when your brand is well-respected. You don’t have to be the biggest name in the space but having your brand associated with positive impressions and references paves the way for faster lead conversion. It has also paved the way for a growing sales team that we are now putting in place to create and close deals at a faster velocity.

It is always easier to generate leads when your brand is well-respected.

If you had to pinpoint one major win from a brand perspective, what would it be?

I don’t think there is any one thing, but I do think that mid-2016 to mid-2017 was a hugely important time for Yerra’s brand equity. We began focusing a lot on awards and PR and were very successful in using that to boost the brand awareness and credibility. We were careful to target awards and media opportunities that highlighted our strengths across multiple facets of the company – our solution offerings, our client results, our executive team and our employee satisfaction. Whereas early 2016 and prior years had mostly been about boosting our reputation with a targeted list of prospective clients and putting operational foundations in place (like a CRM), 2017 was about boosting Yerra’s reputation in the business community in general and putting those foundations to work. I also think that our Yerra Conference has played a role in building relationships with clients and positioning us as a conduit for networking and learning. We’re in our 6th year of hosting the Yerra Conference in London and in our 3rd in Singapore. It is exclusively for our clients and their peers and doesn’t feature sessions led by vendors (including us), only by in-house legal, IP and compliance people. We hear often how much that is appreciated.

Our Yerra Conference has played a role in building relationships with clients and positioning us as a conduit for networking and learning.

What role did digital marketing play in this process?

It played a huge role! Yerra has been a fully bootstrapped company since its start. We didn’t have the marketing budget to go out and put our logo on ten events a year or do a great deal of advertising. We had to be very picky and strategic about what to do (and what not to do) – always looking for the greatest value for money. Keeping the conversation going with our prospective clients had to be done largely through digital means – whether the website or email or social media.

What is your view on social media within B2B marketing? Have you viewed it as a quantifiable stage in the funnel, or is its role harder to measure and more about supporting your other activities?

Before Yerra, I was not a believer. This may just be a result of timing – social media is more prevalent with each passing year. But, I’ve come to view it as a way to really develop a relationship with your market (and prospects/recruits/etc. on a personal level) in a way that no other medium can achieve. To make it work though, you have to not only focus on company pages and posts – but you have to foster a culture where your leaders, experts and staff are also active. We’ve had a lot of anecdotal evidence showing that our social media efforts pay off. One of our big clients came directly from a social media post shared by one of our experts. I can’t tell you how many people have said “I’ve so enjoyed following Yerra’s story and growth on LinkedIn” and we get requests from media based on them following us pretty regularly. All of that said, it isn’t easy to measure as a quantifiable stage in the funnel. We have tools in place that help us understand the impact it is having, and we absolutely see new leads come in as a result of social media, but that can’t be the only way success is measured. The unquantifiable aspects of social media are just as important to branding as its role in lead generation. People can get to know you passively over time, and they develop a respect and attachment to the brand that isn’t always measurable but can be felt when sales engages.

We absolutely see new leads come in as a result of social media, but that can’t be the only way success is measured. The unquantifiable aspects of social media are just as important.

What are some of the most common marketing mistakes you see being made by brands in your (and similar technology) markets?

Legal is a “knowledge market”. Our buyers are highly educated and savvy, so everyone trying to sell to them is working hard to be a “thought leader”. I don’t want to disparage this at all, there are a lot of people in technology and service companies (including Yerra) who are really knowledgeable and innovative, and whose advice is invaluable to clients. But, a lot like throwing “The Global Leader in XYZ” on a tradeshow booth, you have to be wary of the skepticism clients could have when you proclaim yourself a “thought leader”. There can’t be 22 “global leaders” on a tradeshow floor – just like there can’t be 22 “thought leaders” in a room. The hyperbole dilutes your true value. So, I suppose that is a misstep we’ve tried to avoid. We want to be a catalyst to help our clients become seen as innovative leaders in their fields, to provide opportunities (like Yerra Conference) to share with one another, and through that we build our reputation for being forward-thinking and helpful, and we build our business. The fact that our business grew mostly organically through branding and referrals – and without a large, formal salesforce – for the first 5 years is testament to this approach.

Everyone is working hard to become a thought leader… but there can’t be 22 thought leaders in a room. The hyperbole dilutes your true value.

In your market some brands have a tendency to communicate quite technical messaging with more emphasis on features than benefits. What is your view on this and how have Yerra approached their positioning?

We try to keep our positioning focused on what our market wants to get out of the solutions. So, if the end game is having better reports so more savings can be realised, we start there instead of the technical details of how the reports are created. In most cases, clients don’t care as much about how they get “there” as they do about the benefits once they are “there”. This is one of the reasons we’ve had success with Yerra Clearly, our technology-enabled managed services that cover a variety of processes that legal and IP have to deal with (invoices, contracts, etc.). The way we’ve developed the solution takes the complication of what features are needed and what staff has to do to make them function properly out of the client’s hands. They just get the outcomes. To be fair, I think that a lot of the feature-heavy messaging you see is a result of the success of digital marketing. A prospective client, or someone in procurement or IT, doesn’t have to engage with a sales person until very late in the buying process. They often expect to find highly-detailed information on features online without having to come to the vendor for those details. So, out of fear of not being included in RFPs, many sales and marketing people will want to get all of that detail in an accessible place online. We don’t do this because we have structured our solutions in a way that doesn’t rely on features… our differentiation is more based on our approach and the simplicity (with the same outcomes) we have to offer the client. So, to negate that message of simplicity with a ton of technical detail would be counterproductive. We tackle the details later in the sales funnel.

In most cases, clients don’t care as much about how they get “there” as they do about the benefits once they are “there”.

How would you describe the culture at Yerra and what impact has having a female CEO had in the development of that culture?

I think the culture that has developed at Yerra has a lot to do with our founder being a woman. There’s also a good balance of men and women in leadership and in the rank and file. We have a strong sense of fairness and open communication embedded into our culture. Rajitha puts a lot of emphasis on the equal treatment of people regardless of background, race or gender. She also encourages a family atmosphere where we share personal news and achievements and celebrate them as a company. I think there’s an element of practicality that is driven by having a strong female perspective as well – egos are often put to the side in favor of collaboration. In fact, egos are not really tolerated and some people can struggle with that. There is a basic philosophy that if you do a good job and are nice to work with, people will want to work with you again and will tell others to work with you. I’m not sure if that is a woman-driven thing but it is something that only works when ego isn’t in the way.

I think there’s an element of practicality that is driven by having a strong female perspective.

Personally, I do think there are still challenges to being a woman CEO. We’ve come so far, but I still observe people saying things or doing things in front of Rajitha that they would never dream of doing or saying with a male CEO. Working past those things is something that factors into our culture at Yerra and something the culture at large is working through as well.