• Transform magazine
  • March 27, 2023


Five minutes with Jenny Sagström


How tough is it building a B2B brand from scratch in our ever-changing world? Jenny Sagström is the CEO and founder of Sköna, a B2B creative agency based in San Francisco and Stockholm. She discusses all things B2B branding and how her firm succeeds in differentiating itself from other agencies.


When do you believe the right moment is for B2B companies to start investing in branding?

Well, there’s the ideal answer and the more pragmatic answer. In an ideal world, the answer is from the very beginning. But in the more pragmatic world of Silicon Valley, I think a more realistic answer is post Series B funding. Up to that point, the focus is on proving the concept. It's about pivoting (sometimes daily) and it’s about pipeline growth. Now don’t get me wrong, pipeline always matters but in those early days, when it’s hard to measure anything else, pipeline growth is key.

Post Series B, it becomes more important to bring new eyeballs into the ecosystem. To be crass, performance marketing focuses mainly on making the people who were always going to buy our services or products do so sooner. Real sustainable growth comes from expanding to new audiences, widening our targets and the only way to do that is through brand advertising.

Now, I realize my answer is very focused on the tech world as that’s where we spend most of our time. In more traditional and industrial B2B settings, I think the answer is even sooner. For all businesses, brand thinking is growth thinking.


How would you go about building a B2B brand from scratch?

Snowflake, when we started, were just coming out of stealth and competing against established solutions including Oracle and Teradata. Consistency in messaging was paramount as well as a consistent visual brand system. You only have so many impressions, so ensuring a consistent look and feel is the least you can do.

This last year, we’ve also worked on brand extensions for Alteryx and Rollbar. We also launched new brands for Unsupervised, Findity and Rollworks. Each one of those engagements starts by digging into the brand strategy, what sets those brands apart from their competitors and how can we take that and package it out to their markets.

One of our differentiators, is that we always start with thinking about the target audience first. So much of B2B starts with the product or service, explaining it. The tech details. All the things you’re proud of and have worked hard at. But that’s not what your clients need, or want. They just want to know how you solve their business problems - and in order to do that, we need to understand what those business problems are.


Has Sköna adopted a new strategy when working with B2B brands post-pandemic, or is the environment much the same?

During the pandemic, we had to pivot quickly to virtual events. So much of the pipeline in the tech B2B world has always been driven by events, but in the pandemic the first thing to go was events. We rapidly learnt how to create immersive, engaging digital experiences. We also leaned into direct mail campaigns, blurring the distinction between private and professional worlds. We helped our clients develop swag that was as useful for them as it was for their kids. We created coloring-in-books, branded socks and, of course, sweatpants. Anything to make their days more comfortable and our clients more memorable.

The post pandemic world has continued with the same intensity for us. Most of our clients are companies helping other companies with their digital transformation. This is something that accelerated during the pandemic. Digital transformation projects pre-pandemic had three-year timelines, today we’re looking at three months. In other words, as creative partners, we’ve had to become even faster moving than before.

Post pandemic, the trend we’re seeing linger is less business travel. This is something very few of us are actually missing! Today, we’re more effective with our time and our clients' time which is a huge bonus for all.


Your agency also specialises in marketing. Do you believe there’s a tension between traditional advertising and brand building? And how is this dynamic changing over the years with clients?

In the B2B world, we think of it more as the tension between performance marketing and brand marketing. In B2B, branding has traditionally been looked down upon and seen as somewhat frivolous. Today, we see a huge shift in this thinking. Branding is no longer seen as something ‘dirty’. I would go out on a limb and say that branding in B2B is actually becoming trendy and we’re just at the forefront of that wave. It’s exciting to be leading the way!