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Welcome Julia Doheny

President - North America
B2B International

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Julia Doheny
“The really successful B2B brands we see are those that blend art and science. They combine creative uniqueness and excellent technical execution to deliver on both utility and emotion.”

Julia Doheny is responsible for the North American business of B2B international – the world’s largest B2B market research company.

Having joined the business as a Research Exec in 2005, Julia’s career has seen her work with global B2B clients and FTSE250 companies including MasterCard, Stanley Black & Decker, Bloomberg, SouthWest Airlines, Akzo Nobel and Microsoft to name but a few.

Julia is a published author of a white paper and a book on B2B marketing and market research. She has also been a guest speaker for the Canadian Market Research & Intelligence Association, amongst many others.

Julia has created enhanced B2B market research frameworks including Net Value Score, CX Excellence Pillars and Emotional Engagement Ladder.

Transcript:

Automated Voice:

This is ClientSide from Fox Agency.

Nathan Anibaba:

Julia Doheny is responsible for the North American business of B2B International, driving growth across the region, and leading a team of consultants, researchers, analysts, technicians, and more.

Nathan Anibaba:

She is actively involved in strategic accounts including research, recommendations, project design, and consultancy. Julia Doheny, welcome to ClientSide.

Julia Doheny:

Thank you for having me.

Nathan Anibaba:

It’s really exciting to have you here. Let’s start at the beginning of your career. You started out as a Research Executive for B2B International in 2005, is this the way that you saw your career going when you first started with the company back then?

Julia Doheny:

No, I worked for B2B International thinking it would be for the short term. My ambition back then was research for television documentary, so I didn’t intend to stay with B2B for long, but I actually preferred market research to what I’d been doing in the media, and it just grew from there really.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really interesting. So it wasn’t what you intended to do at that time?

Julia Doheny:

Not from the outset.

Nathan Anibaba:

Not from the outset. What was it about B2B International that kept you engaged for such a long period of time?

Julia Doheny:

Just the variety of the projects we were working on, the different studies from product development research, to brand equity, study, segmentation, there was something different to work on every day, and I really found that fascinating.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really interesting. So B2B International clearly has a culture of hiring from within, and developing their people, talk about what surprise you most about the way the company has grown over that period of time, because you’ve grown pretty significantly over the years.

Julia Doheny:

Yes. The growth has been worldwide as well, both here in North America, and over in Europe and Asia. When the company was a lot smaller though, and when it was a family-owned business, it was a lot more flexible, a lot more patient, and we believed in hiring graduates and instilling the B2B DNA into them early on in their career.

Julia Doheny:

There’ve been lots of people whose careers have flourished from that approach to talent development, and they truly live and breathe B2B; but in recent years, and especially since we were acquired by Dentsu Aegis Network, there’s a greater sense of urgency to be bigger and bolder, and to achieve the never before in B2B.

Julia Doheny:

So we’ve needed to hire more people externally, and bring in experienced researchers with complementary skill sets to help us grow.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really interesting. So you had that organic culture being built because it was a family-owned business?

Julia Doheny:

Yeah.

Nathan Anibaba:

I had the benefit of speaking to Nick a few months ago actually, the managing director of B2B International, and he reiterated your point, that it really grew organically, and there’s this sort of built culture, and then you had to hire external experts as you mentioned earlier, what was it like bringing those two cultures together? So the organic inbuilt culture that had grown over time, and then when you’re bringing in these external people that have maybe different experiences and slightly different expectations, what was it like melding those two cultures?

Julia Doheny:

Well, everyone who’s joined us externally tells us that B2B is so very different. So people who’ve been groomed by us, who we hired as fresh graduates, and brought up to speed in the world of B2B, as I said, they have B2B in their DNA; whereas people that we hire externally who bring very impressive amount of experience, that experience tends to be in the consumer world. So they need to shift from all the-

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure.

Julia Doheny:

… fantastic consumer knowledge, to suddenly working in the B2B arena, which is-

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure.

Julia Doheny:

… so very different. So that always takes some degree of getting used to, but there’s still the complimentary skillsets that they bring to the table, and some fresh ideas, fresh thinking from all the research and consumer markets that they’ve done.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really interesting. Well, let’s talk a little bit about B2B International in a bit more detail, because you are the largest B2B market research firm in the world now, you’ve recently been acquired by Dentsu Aegis Network, as you mentioned earlier.

Nathan Anibaba:

You’re in the gyro network, so gyro I believe is a B2B creative agency, and they are also in the Dentsu Aegis Network, talk about some of the main challenges your clients typically have, and how do you help them solve them?

Julia Doheny:

So our clients come to us with a number of challenges and opportunities, I should say, and these vary. So, for example, how to address eroding market share, how to launch a new product successfully, how to identify where greater revenue potential lies, how to optimize a pricing strategy, and a lot more.

Julia Doheny:

The variety of what we do is what I love about the job, as I mentioned earlier, every client and business challenge is different, although there’s often a common theme, meaning we can transfer knowledge of how other brands have addressed similar challenges successfully.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really interesting. You deliver high quality data and insights for B2B businesses, to ultimately base a lot of their decisions on whether or not to go into a new market, whether or not to launch a new product, et cetera, is there a danger that we’ve become too reliant on data though in B2B, and sort of ignore the emotional intuitive side of marketing?

Nathan Anibaba:

The criticism for a long time has been the CMOs are over-reliant on data to make a business decision, and they kind of lose sight of creativity and emotion in marketing.

Julia Doheny:

Well, if by data you mean numbers, then yes, I think there’s a danger of companies becoming too focused on metrics, and not enough on the why behind those measurements. Your question reminds me of some research Forest published earlier this year that talked about the importance of emotions in driving brand differentiation, and that creativity is key to evoking those emotions.

Julia Doheny:

So with the rise of digital transformation, everyone’s become obsessed with technology, and that’s to the detriment of creative differentiation, and so the big opportunity right now lies in using creativity to fund out and drive higher financial return.

Julia Doheny:

The more successful brands that we see are those that really blend art and science, the combined creative uniqueness with excellent technical execution, so that they really deliver on both utility and emotion.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really interesting. This is a question that I asked Nick some time ago, but how much of marketing is art and how much of marketing is science? Because, you’ll get creative agencies on one hand saying, “It’s all about the creativity, and you need to break down barriers, and be really innovative, and forward thinking,” and then you have more performance-driven agencies on the left hand side that are more analytical, rational, data-driven, et cetera. To your point, how much of marketing is art and how much is science?

Julia Doheny:

That’s a really good question, and I think so much depends on the individuals running the marketing campaigns, or the individuals doing the market research to inform those campaigns, and measure the campaigns.

Julia Doheny:

Thinking in a research capacity, a qualitative research can be more on the art side of things, although there’s a scientific component to it if we’re looking into what drives people’s behaviors, and what influences mindsets, and with quantitative research you could argue there’s more science, because it is more metrics and measurements based, and so there’s opportunity for running statistical analysis, and so on.

Julia Doheny:

It so much depends on what it is that you’re doing, the nature of the campaign, or the research study, and then the individuals as well, and the skillsets that they bring to the table.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really interesting. Some businesses place a lot of emphasis on getting data on what their competitors are doing, but while they’re doing that, they’re not really focusing on the customer, or where they are in the marketplace, and Jeff Bezos, as we all know, is sort of famous for being maniacally led by the customer, and not by the competition, but it feels kind of wrong not to keep at least one eye on the competition, what advice do you give your clients?

Julia Doheny:

Well, I think there’s a clear difference between being led by the competition, and tackling the competition head-on, and Amazon definitely disrupted the market.

Julia Doheny:

Monitoring the competition is naturally important to keep on top of market trends, and we’re big believers in benchmarking your performance against other competitors; otherwise, how could you identify what constitutes good versus better versus best, and therefore set realistic targets.

Julia Doheny:

So yes, I think brands would be complacent if they didn’t keep an eye on competitors, and that would make them vulnerable to losing share of spend, share of wallet, and market share.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really, interesting. Let’s talk a little bit about choosing and appointing agencies, because I know that you’ve worked with several agencies over the years. In your opinion, what are the most common factors, and capabilities, or characteristics that you look for when you’re hiring a new agency?

Julia Doheny:

So there are a number of factors. If I were to just thin it to three, the first one would be experience. So with any agency, you’re ultimately buying people, and you need people who understand your challenge, and your end goal, and you can bring the best practices to the table, including transferable knowledge, solid recommendations based on their experience with other brands, and so on, that’s the first thing.

Julia Doheny:

The second factor I’d say, and we just talked about this, would be creativity. Creative agencies understand the importance of the human experience with brands, and so they know how to drive stronger emotional engagement, and that’s key to achieving brand differentiation. They bring fresh ideas to help your brand be relevant and dynamic.

Julia Doheny:

And then third, when looking for a new agency, I’d want to see strong evidence that they truly understand our industry, and in particular the challenges that we face uniquely as an organization, and more so that they can be empathetic to our specific needs, and so that they can provide solutions that feel like they deliver on exactly what we need.

Nathan Anibaba:

Makes perfect sense. Now, if there’s an agency that is lacking in one of those three areas, which area is of most importance to you, and is it important that every agency that you work with has all three in equal measure?

Julia Doheny:

Well, one, I was just saying creativity is important. Again, I think it depends on the campaign. So I still think it would be in the top three, but it perhaps might fall behind the people, the experience of the people, and then the evidence that they understand your industry.

Julia Doheny:

I mean, that’s the starting point, they have to understand the markets that you serve, the industry that you plan, and then what makes your organization unique. So that’s the starting point, then getting the right people to address your challenge, or your opportunity, and then creativity somewhat comes third.

Julia Doheny:

It depends, as I said, on the campaign, if creativity is the key part of it …

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure.

Julia Doheny:

… or not.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really interesting. Let’s talk a little bit about giving feedback, and managing your agencies, because clients have very different communication styles. If they’re unhappy with something, some clients tell their agency immediately, other clients stay silent, and sort of give the agency a sneaking suspicion that something may be wrong, but they don’t know exactly what it is, and I think most agencies would like to know quite early, either way, so they can do something about it. What’s your approach to communicating something that you’re unhappy with?

Julia Doheny:

It really depends on how adult I am.

Nathan Anibaba:

Right.

Julia Doheny:

If I chose the agency, and I believe in the effort from the client’s side, I feel just as much of an obligation to make the partnership a success, and I do think that clear communication throughout, from both sides, is necessary to ensure the expectations are aligned, and that there are no surprises.

Julia Doheny:

Now, if I wasn’t the lead on the relationship, and I’m not happy with how things are going, I might not speak up, as I could just feel it’s inappropriate for me to share my views. So I suppose that really speaks to the importance of ensuring all stakeholders are brought in from the outside.

Nathan Anibaba:

Definitely. What’s the best way, once you have chosen your agency based on those three criteria that you mentioned earlier, when you’re starting to work with them in the early days, what is the best way to set expectations with the agency early on so you have a clear idea as to kind of what’s expected, and the agency does as well? What have been the best ways of setting those expectations quite early in your experience?

Julia Doheny:

I think a good brief at the outset, so the client does need to be clear about what they want, what they need, what success means to them, possibly the risk factors is sometimes discussed at the outset.

Julia Doheny:

I think aligning on what the client actually wants, and what they expect to see at the end of the program is critical to the success around, and keeping a line of communication throughout as well, so that there are no hidden surprises that pop up at any point.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really interesting. What do clients need to know generally about their agencies in order to get the best work that they can from the agencies? Because, one of the questions leveled against agencies has been all, slightly larger agencies sometimes, is that if you are not the biggest brand in their agency portfolio, then they may not give you as much time and attention; whereas if you’re working with maybe a smaller agency, and you’re responsible for more of their revenue and income, you’re their largest client in their portfolio, they’ll put more time and attention on your account, and possibly go over and above, whereas a larger agency may not do that. What do clients need to know about their agencies in order to get the best work from them?

Julia Doheny:

Well, I think clients need to recognize that most of their requests of agencies these days aren’t easy, and I’m focusing on the B2B world right now, because if there was a quick and simple fix, clients would be addressing those issues themselves internally.

Julia Doheny:

So the first requirement is to give agencies enough time to do their best, and so time is key, and then connect it to that agencies need a sufficient budget to achieve the desired outcome, and it sounds obvious now, but they can only achieve so much with the tools that they have to work with.

Julia Doheny:

If you have big ambitions to increase brand awareness, for example, then you do need to be realistic about the investment necessary to reach the end goal. The time is key, budget is key, open lines of communications, as I was saying earlier, is key as well. It’s a partnership at the end of the day.

Nathan Anibaba:

It really is. Now, as much as agencies would like to hold onto their clients forever, the reality is that clients replace agencies with increasing regularity. What are some of the most common reasons in your experience that clients leave, or that you’ve had to leave, or separate from your agency, and what can agencies do to avoid it?

Julia Doheny:

Well, unless there was a push factor, might be incumbent agency disappointed them in some way, that they didn’t deliver against the needs on a consistent basis for instance, so unless there’s a push factor like that, the key reasons behind switching I assume would be pull factors.

Julia Doheny:

So, for example, someone new in the organization brings a preferred agency with them that they worked with in a prior role, or the team just has a desire for something new and different, so thinks of changing agencies just for some fresh insight.

Nathan Anibaba:

I see. So turn is inevitable, you would say, either because a new leader comes in and they’ve got a previous relationship with an agency they worked with in the past, or you just want to shake things up a little bit, and get a fresh perspective, and new ideas?

Julia Doheny:

Exactly.

Nathan Anibaba:

Is there anything that the agency could do defensively to tackle those second fancies when they arise?

Julia Doheny:

There’s a saying based on what Henry Ford once said, and it’s something like, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got, if you’re lucky.”

Nathan Anibaba:

Yeah.

Julia Doheny:

And I think that speaks true to what you just said here, that the agency needs to bring fresh ideas to the table, they can’t always do what they’ve always done for the clients.

Nathan Anibaba:

Good point.

Julia Doheny:

They do need to make recommendations on this is what we could be doing moving forward, here are some ideas, what do you think?

Nathan Anibaba:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Really good point. Okay, we’re finally getting towards the end of the interview now, let’s talk a little bit about B2B marketing in general, actually, before we get into other questions in our speed round towards the end of the interview. What trends are you seeing in B2B marketing as we turn a corner into 2020? I can’t believe this year has gone so fast already, but talk about what you’re seeing generally in the market, because you sit at a really unique vantage point where you’re privy to a lot of the strategic thinking and direction of major B2B organization. So what trends are you seeing your client focus on as we turn into 2020?

Julia Doheny:

Gosh, there are lots of trends, but I think if there are a couple to highlight, I’d pull out personalization, and then also e-commerce. Just starting with personalization, the vast majority of B2B brands struggle directing communications, and messaging in a personalized, and in a more relevant way. They’re under pressure to do so, given that what we’re seeing is conceived as driven by digital transformation helps brands better cater to us as individuals.

Julia Doheny:

So, for example, we’re used to Amazon making recommendations based on recent browsing, or product purchases, or we’re used to Netflix recommending what movies or series we should watch based on what we’ve watched before, and that’s all putting huge pressure on B2B brands to deliver more relevant, and more personalized content, messaging, solutions to live up to these examples set by our consumer cousin. Then the other big trend as we head into 2020 is-

Nathan Anibaba:

Just on that Julia, just before you move on to the second trend, what’s stopping B2B agencies from making that transition? Because, as consumers we interact with Netflix all the time, we interact with Amazon all the time, and it just feels as though this is just part of culture, and it feels quite seamless and easy. What’s stopping the best B2B brands adopting a similar approach and having that personalized experience with their customers?

Julia Doheny:

I think technology is the key reason behind it. We need to have the right technology in place to be able to deliver more personalized experiences to business professionals. There are certain organizations that have adopted technologies to help them do this, or address digital transformation; so for example, intelligent automation of your database can enable content that’s delivered to each customer at the right time, with the right message, through the right channel, but you do need the right technology in place to be able to do that.

Julia Doheny:

The technology, I think, is key to being able to deliver more personalized experiences, as well as studies like segmentation. We help our clients understand where is the greater opportunity among the customers that they serve, and when you understand the different segments of customers, it enables us to identify individuals who prefer to be communicated with in different ways, individuals who-

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure.

Julia Doheny:

… have certain sets of needs, or differing behaviors, and so that enables brands to address those individuals with those unique behaviors, and needs in appropriate ways.

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure. Really interesting. And the second trend?

Julia Doheny:

Second trend we’re seeing is the rise of e-commerce, which is huge. If I think back to some research we did earlier this year, we saw that 67% of B2B marketers expect e-commerce to influence their business over the next three years, and so B2B buyers are looking for online experiences, just like we were talking about with Amazon a few minutes ago, they’re looking for experiences like that, similar to what they’re getting as consumers.

Julia Doheny:

I mean, it’s really huge. It’s already huge, and it’s just going to continue to be getting bigger, and being a key agenda item for B2B marketers. Thinking back to Forester, they claimed that B2B e-commerce, here in the US, will reach one $1.8 trillion by 2023 …

Nathan Anibaba:

Phenomenal.

Julia Doheny:

… and that just speaks, yeah, it just speaks to the size of the opportunity, and the importance of e-commerce this year and beyond. Personalization and e-commerce are huge in my view.

Nathan Anibaba:

I can see that. Definitely. Who’s got the hardest job in B2B marketing right now? Of all the brands, and brand managers that you see in the marketplace, either that are your clients, or brands that you see externally, who do you think has got the hardest job in B2B marketing right now?

Julia Doheny:

That’s a really tough question. I mean, nobody has it easy in B2B marketing as it’s such a complex space to navigate, and to win it. There are certain segments though where I think it’s particularly difficult, so for example, brands that sell exclusively through channel partners, like distributors, retailers, they’re as far removed from the end customer and are often out of touch with customer needs, and pain point desires.

Julia Doheny:

And then also brands that are perceived as a commodity by the market, such as utilities providers, they don’t have it easy at all. Those B2B marketers are challenged developing value propositions that speak to differentiated benefits …

Nathan Anibaba:

Sure.

Julia Doheny:

… and that’s just really tough, in those more commodity type markets.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really interesting. So just on that, on the commodity markets, is a greater emphasis placed on emotion then, and as a way of differentiating and taking more of a role from the consumer playbook as opposed to the rational logic base, rule-based logic of B2B decision-making, how are the best utility brands approaching differentiation and marketing, what you’re seeing?

Julia Doheny:

Yeah, it’s more about building the brand, because at the end of the day the products are so similar, the services are similar, and the requirements are similar to their own reliability, dependability, no downtime, all of those requirements and challenges faced by customers are ultimately the same.

Julia Doheny:

So a lot of it comes down to the brand, and building the brand, and as you were saying, emotions are key in establishing a connection with the target audience on a more emotional level, and that’s a major positive in building the brand and achieving differentiation.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really, interesting. Julia, we’re getting into our speed round now, so these are our quick fire questions that I’ll fire at you, and if you could fire back some answers that would be fantastic. Now, are agencies a luxury or a necessity? So what do agencies offer that’s so unique that their client can’t achieve on their own, or they can’t replicate internally?

Julia Doheny:

Maybe I’m cheating, but I’d say both, both luxury and necessity.

Nathan Anibaba:

Okay.

Julia Doheny:

Similar to what I said earlier, creativity is just vital to growth, and agencies bring fresh and entrepreneurial ideas to the table that disrupt the status quo in a positive way.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really interesting. What excites you most about your current role and position?

Julia Doheny:

Making an impact, whether big or small. I’m really proud of my team, and what they’ve achieved, and I just love seeing our clients succeed as well based on our insights, and recommendations.

Julia Doheny:

Now that we’re in the Dentsu Aegis Network, we’ve expanded our reach into new markets, and to new client opportunities, and so I’m excited about what the future holds.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really exciting. And my final question, Julia, what’s the single biggest thing that you’re yet to achieve in your career?

Julia Doheny:

Well, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in helping individuals grow in a professional capacity, and empowering brands to achieve more, as I just mentioned, but my goal is to ensure B2B International makes more of an impact on the society. We’ve started engaging with nonprofits in the local community, but I do think there’s a lot more we can do.

Nathan Anibaba:

Really interesting. Julia, thank you so much for being on the show.

Julia Doheny:

It’s a pleasure. Thank you.

Nathan Anibaba:

If you’d like to share any comments, or subscribe to the podcast, you can find ClientSide on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, Stitcher, or wherever fine podcasts are sold. If you’d like to appear as a guest on the show, or would like to recommend a senior B2B marketing professional to appear on ClientSide, then please visit fox.agency.

Nathan Anibaba:

We would be unable to produce the show without our special team here at Fox. Milly Bell is our booker/researcher, Paul Blandford is our creative director, Ben Fox is our Executive Producer, I’m Nathan Anibaba, you’ve been listening to ClientSide from Fox Agency.

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