Selling the vision – part II

Backbase is a fast growing software company, headquartered in Amsterdam, with offices in London, Atlanta and Singapore. Clients are financial institutions. Their main product is an omni channel digital banking solution. This is part II of the chat we had with Jelmer de Jong. We pick it up again where we left of. We talk about brand strategy, growth and analyst relations.
Haven’t read part I yet? You can find it here.
How have you managed avoiding conflicts between your employer brand and your customer brand?. For example, for employees, technology focus may be very important, which is something you may want to avoid entirely in your market brand.
It is a difficult balance to strike. When you’re scaling up, growing your revenue and winning customers has full focus. At Backbase, marketing is not about getting hoodies with logos or fancy hand-outs at events. Marketing was and still is about contributing to sales: If we don’t sell, we cannot pay salaries let alone hire new people. However, with our success, employer branding has become increasingly important. The primary employer message that we are currently communicating is ‘growth’. And why not. We have been rapidly accelerating the past years. We like to work with people that enjoy working in a high-growth environment and want to contribute.
This message doesn’t always resonate well with all prospective employees. For example, as a developer, you’re likely to be more interested in a well organized and stable environment and the right technologies so you can focus on creating great software. Backbase does offer all this, but we don’t yet communicate this prominently.
When meeting with new recruits, they often are pleasantly surprised with all the cool stuff we do. And the scale in which we operate. For example, we have over 80 million users on our platform. Yes, there’s a lot we can do to strengthen our employer brand, but our focus remains on the contributing to sales more than to getting new people in, and perhaps that focus needs to encompass both goals in the coming months.
What words would you use to describe the Backbase brand?

Ambitious, ahead of the curve. Being bold. What we promise, we’ll deliver. Having a passion for what we do. These attributes are very much Backbase. But they were not ‘designed’ – they have attached themselves to the brand — really as the result of how we work and how people experience us.

Backbase shows a very solid and aggressive growth. What are the main challenges in supporting this growth from a marketing / communication perspective?

One challenge is to stay aligned and have consistent messaging in all markets and geographies. When we were small – say 5 sales, 2 marketing – we were always aligned. We didn’t always agree, but at least we were aligned. Now, sales want to run their own campaign in their own market with their own messaging. And then you potentially lose power – the power of consistent messaging in every market. There may be nuances in asia pacific or latin america, but in principle, the backbase story is the same globally.
The other challenge is to stick to the plan and don’t stop when it’s starting to be successful. You would be surprised how ‘common’ this problem is. Consider, for example, a plan where you want to approach 50 banks in a specific geography and you aim to have an appointment with each and every one. You organize a number of events and other activities to make it happen. So far so good. However, when sales cannot follow up after the first three meetings, the whole plan stops working altogether. I think there is still a lot to gain for us by diligently executing what we set out to do.

Backbase is well covered by the major analysts and well positioned too.

Yes. For us, analyst coverage is about obtaining top of mind awareness. Analysts reports have proven to be invaluable in being a top-3 brand to consider. Working with analysts and getting coverage is – for Backbase – really about the effort you put in rather than the money.
Analysts – just like banks – are looking for new players that do something cool. They have a vision for a certain market, and they need technology companies that deliver on that vision. Technology companies with customer cases to back that vision up. Next to that, it’s about building a personal relationship, from both sides.
Backbase is a Dutch company, headquartered in Amsterdam. However, Backbase communicates solely in English?

From the beginning, our goal was to be a global company. Our first banking customer was in South Africa, so this wasn’t even a local bank. I’d say that if you’re a B2B company, especially on the technology side, and your product is or potentially will be good enough to serve a global market, you must communicate in English from the beginning. Sure, there is a case for localisation, but this just opens up a web of content and translation issues when you penetrate new markets. Think Europe – exactly how many languages are you planning on catering to. And let’s not forget the cost of this. So we decided early on that it only makes sense to use English as our language, and that’s what we did.

To wrap it up: if you have one tip, for a marketeer in a hot startup B2B tech company, the one thing to do, what would it be?
Focus. The more focus you can bring in your go-to-market strategy, the better you can spend your budget, the easier it is to optimize, the easier it is to get references. Having focus makes it possible to become a leader. Narrow down your market definition so that you can become a leader. And once you are a recognized leader, expand your market again.