Companies that sell directly to other businesses have long debated the importance of a distinct branding strategy. And many still argue it’s a waste of money and effort: They say customers base their purchases on functional decision making like cost, quality, and availability, not the emotional pull of brands. We couldn’t disagree more: With major forces like globalization and digital commerce upending markets, we’ve got a front-row seat to the many ways business-to-business (B2B) branding is more critical than ever.
How B2B Branding Differs from B2C Brand Strategy Marketing
Of course, B2B branding markets are distinctly different from those that sell to consumers. The buying cycle is usually longer, the requirements are better defined, more people are involved and the stakes are typically higher. But the truth is, there’s a difference between rational and functional buying. B2B transactions are typically heavily weighed and considered purchases.
Functional requirements must be met. But there are higher-order elements in play as well. While attributes like competitive pricing, delivery, and technical support drive sales, there’s much more to your customer’s decision-making.
These higher-order traits also drive buying decisions and are much harder for competitors to replicate. When you’re easier to do business with, your customers feel it and you become top of mind. It makes their work more efficient and predictable.
They are more confident and less anxious. They see you as a partner to their business and an ally in their struggles. When you bring your customers fresh insights and ideas, they feel that, too. They come to you more often not just to buy a product or service, but to help to solve problems.
This is precisely the power of brands. Instead of just relying on superstar account executives to carry this message one meeting at a time, the strongest B2B companies create brands that do it for them.
Building a Successful B2B Branding
Smart branding makes it easier for the marketing, sales, product, and technology teams to do their real work: Develop and provide solutions that help customers grow. For this reason, we’ve outlined some of the most important considerations for B2B branding:
Use brand stories to reinforce B2B marketing strategies
Look closely at the fastest-growing B2B brand businesses, and you’ll see they are all propelled by a brand story that supports their business strategy. These B2B brands have defined their business around the benefits they provide to customers, not the products and services they offer. They intentionally link brand and strategy in a way that makes it easier to move into–and even create–new categories. The brand is purpose-built for the company’s mission and also for the commercial opportunities they see coming.
Yes, B2B product brands need a story. Your customers want to know what you believe, what you can do, and where you can go with them. For inspiration, spend a little time watching the masterful ways Getty Images is injecting its mission into new products and services, with Adobe’s award-winning story of creating lost masterpieces.
Remember that your brand is experience and experience is your brand for Marketing B2B
Experiences, not messages, define brands. You can have the most compelling brand message in your category, but it doesn’t matter if the experience isn’t reinforcing it. For B2B businesses, it’s increasingly important to start with the experience your customers want as you define your brand.
The strongest B2B brands build highly relevant and hard-to-replicate experiences. From the first impressions, they make in the relationship-building to the early evaluation phase, it is all connected back to their brand.
Are the employees designing products, services, and customer touchpoints all starting with a shared understanding of the B2b brand, and what makes it relevant and distinct to customers? The strongest B2B brands have achieved their positions by ensuring that everyone understands the brand attributes and how those traits show up throughout the experience.
Every interaction, at each step of the purchase process and beyond, makes it clear that they are not just vendors, but partners. Companies like American Express and MailChimp are succeeding because they take this partnership so seriously, creating steady streams of content and interaction that inspire and inform experiences.
Your B2B brand goes far beyond customers
While a strong brand identity helps B2B companies grow faster than generic competitors, it can also
cement relationships and connections with other key audiences. Employees and prospective employees also benefit from stronger brands. Increasingly, people care about the story of who they work for and expect a clear purpose and strategy. They want leadership to articulate that brand and create a team they believe in. Brands play such an essential part in making sure a company’s talent is engaged, in what many companies are now defining as an “employer brand”. Which works in concert with the “customer brand,” treating it as two sides of the same coin. The businesses that use their brand as a storytelling vessel for current and prospective talent are winning.
It’s no surprise that the largest and most competitive B2B companies, like Nike, Under Armor, Adidas, and Puma, continue to invest so carefully in branding campaigns. Their workforces are enormous and recruiting and retention are essential to maintaining their edge.
Benefits of Effective B2B Branding
There’s no denying that the process of building a brand takes up a lot of resources and for a solid reason! With a well-established b2b branding strategy, hard ROI benefits are almost a guarantee! Here are some of the main advantages of having solid b2b strategies!
Attracts driven employees
Behind every successful company and improved sales is a group of motivated experts! And when a business has a clear idea of what its purpose for existence is, it acts as a great motivator for your entire company.
Some people might think it’s just another marketing ploy, but in reality, having a clear cause for everything that you do leaves a great impact on organizations. It leads to better relationships within teams and cultivates a better culture, which reduces turnover!
Consistency builds equity
Much of the success most major brands enjoy nowadays was built from the simple theory of repetition. Just think about some of the common products that most of us automatically associate with a certain brand, all because they offer us the same experience regardless of where we are.
Consistency builds equity, which pertains to the level of value your company has based on consumer perception. When you use a unified visual and verbal identity throughout all of your communications, audiences will eventually associate a distinct concept to your business! It makes identifying your brand amongst a sea of competition much easier!
With personalization and exceptional customer service, all the rage in both the b2b and b2c business, decision-makers are expecting more from their b2b partners. As a result, b2b companies are using their brands to offer more value to their services!
A recent Harvard Business Review report revealed that 73% of company owners believe that investing in customer experience plays a critical role in improving their business performance. Build loyalty by going above and beyond what your brand offers. With stronger relationships with your customers, you can almost guarantee referrals that can lead to improved sales!
What does all this mean for the future? As more companies step up their efforts to build strong B2B brands, we expect we’ll see more innovation in ways that convey value to both primary and secondary audiences.
Some of these B2B branding efforts will likely look more like B2B and B2C efforts, including smarter content marketing and more seamless experiences using mobile technology. They will likely energize employees for greater engagement. They will grow faster than competitors: How strong your brand can make the difference between negotiating price reductions and capturing price premiums, and between merely holding onto core volume and finding the next opportunity. These strengthened brands will have that extra edge, providing an intangible value that goes one step further than price or function.