How Investing in Brand Drives ROI with Smartling’s Adrian Cohn

As marketers, we hear the word brand bandied around a lot. But what does that mean for B2B SaaS companies today?

On this episode of SaaS Half Full, host Lindsey Groepper chats with Adrian Cohn, Director of Brand Strategy and Communications at Smartling, a multilingual content solution provider, about brand in today’s marketing. He shares his experience uncovering the company’s “why,” creating an emotionally-resonant brand for Smartling through a unique brand campaign and how he generated executive buy-in on investing in brand strategy. 

Business-to-Person Brand Marketing

Adrian brings a specific definition to the word brand, which he uses to guide Smartling’s strategy. “Brand is the emotional state and the experience that your end users have with your company,” he said.

He asserts those experiences are increasingly vital to a company’s survival. Competition is heightening between B2B companies in every vertical, and Adrian sees the familiar “features and benefits” style of B2B SaaS marketing failing to keep pace with customers.

Brand fills the gaps between the logical case and the emotional state of customers. Adrian believes companies embracing brand create stronger resonance in the marketplace — and are more likely to emerge stronger from the current “digital-only” environment.

For SaaS marketers late to the brand game, Adrian says they should focus on brand positioning based on the value their companies offer the market and their approach to solving customers’ problems. “You can do that by thinking a little bit more like a business-to-consumer marketer. Or, as I like to think about it, a business-to-person marketer,” he said. “We’re all people at the end of the day.”

Brand Campaigns Can Humanize and Show ROI

Adrian injected that mentality into Smartling’s “Move the World With Words” campaign, which delivered a unique approach to connecting with customers and elevating the brand. 

It emerged from Smartling reviewing where it stood as a company and where it aspired to be. “We were known as the leading software provider in the space of translation management and localization. We also offer translation services. That was our message to the market,” Adrian said. 

That meant customers would buy Smartling’s technology but use other translators to do the work, failing to invest in Smartling’s services offering. It complicated customers’ translation efforts, and it ignored Smartling’s freelance translators who could do great work. This inspired the brand campaign, which launched in May 2019.

The campaign was designed to increase sales of translation services by showcasing the talented translators behind the work, the people whom Adrian believes are the unsung heroes behind the global economy. The campaign sent a photographer around the world to meet with 12 translators, compiling the pictures and conversations into a purchasable coffee table book, “Move the World With Words.”

The campaign used several events like the company’s Global Ready conference to launch the book, highlight translators and share best practices for translation. Smartling also re-architected its website so customers could meet the translators, incorporated a digital media campaign and executed a PR strategy to increase awareness. Through it all, Adrian ensured the messaging focused on the human side of global commerce. 

“It was a company-wide effort; everybody participated. We also redecorated our entire office,” he said. “We have photographs of all of our translators spread throughout the office, and it’s just become a big part of who we are.”

Brand Takes Time But Worth Investment

In October 2019, Adrian reviewed the outcomes and discovered Smartling crushed the business case: Along with significant increases in inbound web traffic and online interest, bookings for language services jumped from 20% pre-campaign to 80% post-campaign. The success continued into Q1 2020 with a 120% goal achievement in language services sales.

Beyond the numbers, Adrian feels it accomplished its goal of humanizing the brand. “By putting out the message, ‘Move the world with words,’ we’re reinforcing the human side of what we do in language translation,” he said. “And we’re reinforcing what our customers try to do or aspire to do, which is having an impact on global users with the words that are in their products or services.”

Adrian acknowledged he had several hurdles to jump to get executive buy-in for this campaign. To do so, he established business objectives, related them to marketing concepts and presented the humanizing vision to the CEO. It connected, and from there, he worked on budgeting and the messaging to elevate Smartling’s market perception from just a language services provider to a complete solution provider for multilingual content.

He encourages executives to prepare themselves for the time investment needed for a great brand. “It was not just a couple of days worth of work; it was a whole season’s worth of work. And I still think that we’re just at the beginning of our brand campaign,” he said. “But generally, I think that if CMOs and CEOs are really hungry to shift perceptions, which will be the difference between being in the number one or the number two slot — and being number 10 — you have to invest in brands.”

For more of Adrian’s insights, listen to Episode 205 of SaaS Half Full.