When we think of brands, we think of Coca-Cola, Nike or L’Oreal. Brands are part of our daily lives. We are loyal to the brands we favor. When we make purchases, we stick to our favored brands, often not even considering rival offerings.
Now, the brands in our daily lives are typically B2C brands. We acknowledge the power of B2C branding with their eye-catching designs and fancy advertising campaigns.
But in our professional lives as B2B marketers, we often overlook the power of branding. B2B is seen as more serious, more analytical. Branding is for consumer goods, not business products.
Is this a mistake?
I say that it is.
Let me explain why.
Is branding relevant for B2B marketers?
B2B marketers sell to business decision-makers. The conventional view is that these individuals are rational and carefully consider their purchasing decisions. B2B buyers are not likely to be swayed by fancy packaging or witty slogans designed to appeal to the emotions.
Does that mean B2B branding is not important?
B2B brands may not be as ‘sexy’ as B2C brands, like L’Oreal or Nike. But it doesn’t mean that they can’t form an emotional connection with their target audience.
Of course, B2B buyers need to look at the benefits and features of the products they’re evaluating. But that’s not to say that they can’t be swayed by emotional factors.
B2B buyers are not robots, they’re humans with innate desires and values. This leads them to want to align themselves with organizations that share their desires and values. This is where branding can come into play.
By presenting your organization in a way that aligns with the desires and values of your target audience, you can form an emotional connection with them. And when they make their decision, this connection can lead them to favor you over your competitors, especially when differences between your offerings and those of your competitors are hard to discern.
Why having a B2B brand strategy is important
It’s not enough for us to understand the power of B2B branding. We need to have a strategy.
In today’s age, our audiences experience our brands through multiple points of contact online and offline. Each experience impacts the way they perceive our brands. After multiple experiences with different brands, our audiences begin to differentiate between them. They decide to align with a certain brand and reject others.
An effective B2B brand strategy should manage our audience’s experience of our brand in an array of mediums. It should emphasize our core values in a way that’s congruent with the needs of our target audience. It should communicate our brand values consistently with clarity and purpose.
5 Characteristics of an effective B2B Brand Strategy
Here are the 5 characteristics of an effective B2B Brand Strategy:
1. Audience knowledge
Great branding, like great marketing, is rooted in knowing our audience. Our businesses exist to serve their needs. But we often make the mistake of believing that we know exactly what their needs are. Many times, we don’t. We make incorrect assumptions that leak into our branding. These incorrect assumptions can drive away the very people we’re seeking to attract.
Great branding starts from knowing our audience inside and out. We can do this through face-to-face interaction and online surveys. We can do this by listening: on social media, forums, blog posts.
Once we truly know our audience, we can solidify our brand message. We can couch it in terms that connect with our audience’s core values and beliefs. We can build an emotional connection based on mutual understanding and shared goals.
2. Unique proposition
In business, as in life, we might wish that we were unique in some way. But we usually find we’re not. We’re swimming in a sea of competitors hawking stuff which is pretty similar to ours.
So, how can we be unique? One way is to be “the best,” but how do we define “the best”? However we define it, there’s a lot of competition at the top. If we’re a relative newcomer to our industry, it’s going to take some time before we can challenge the top dogs.
A better approach is to try to be “different.” At first glance, this can also appear to be a big challenge. If there’s a demand for products in our niche, there’s bound to be other companies offering similar products.
Does this mean we can’t be unique?
It doesn’t. If we can find the one special thing that differentiates us from the competition, that’s our unique proposition. It doesn’t matter if our products are essentially the same. Look at Domino’s Pizza. When they started, they were just another pizza shop offering the same pizza as anyone else. But they made a promise that their pizza would arrive in 30 minutes, or it would be free. And they built an empire on the back of this promise.
Can we do the same with our B2B brand?
B2B companies are comprised of living, breathing human beings. But they often represent themselves as faceless automatons. Storytelling is a way of lifting the “corporate veil” and revealing ourselves to our audience. In this way we can intrigue, captivate and engage them.
Stories are not just about having a compelling narrative. They can be used to transmit our brand’s values in a way that’s emotionally involving.
The ideal brand story should illustrate what we do, how we do it and why we do it. It should feature characters that our audience most identify with. These characters could be people in our company or other customers we’ve helped in the past.
“Microsoft Stories” is an excellent example of brand storytelling done well. Their stories are beautifully presented, inspiring and engaging. The stories touch on Microsoft’s products but the focus is firmly on people. Microsoft Stories has helped shed the geeky uncool image of the brand and attracted a fresh new audience.
B2B buyers are no longer receptive to being talked at or sold to. They’re becoming immune to traditional “buy from us” messaging. They have a healthy skepticism about what brands say.
However, B2B buyers pay attention to their own experiences with B2B brands. The more positive the experiences are, the more aligned they feel with our brand, the more likely they will purchase from us.
Engaging with our audience should be an essential part of our brand strategy. This can be done via social media, email newsletters, webinars or blog posts. We offer content to our audience that is relevant and useful to them. If they respond, we take the opportunity to start a conversation.
Through engaging with our audience, we communicate our brand values. We can show that we’re more than a product or service. We build trust and credibility, and establish a relationship that can lead to a future loyal customer.
Our B2B audiences experience us in two ways: what we say and what we do. We achieve authenticity when we are able to match the two.
If our actions fail to live up to our promises, we’re perceived as untrustworthy, inauthentic.
In our branding we must be careful about what we say. It can be tempting to overstate our abilities, to claim to be able to accomplish more than we’re capable of. B2B buyers are savvy enough to see through this.
The correct approach to branding strikes a careful balance, so as not to oversell nor undersell the products and services we offer. It’s a slow and steady approach but one that will build momentum over time.
Amidst media saturation, people are constantly bombarded with brand messages. They are searching for something deeper, something more genuine. What people really want is more than just a product or service. It’s an experience. We need to offer our audience an experience, one that is authentic and enriching.
In this way we can win their trust, build engagement and turn our audiences into devoted advocates.
Branding is in everything we do
Branding is an inescapable part of marketing. Whether we acknowledge it or not, everything we say and do forms part of our brand. By becoming conscious of this process we can learn to shape it and use it to our advantage.
Before you implement any of the brand strategies I’ve described here, it’s worthwhile to take a step back and think about what your branding is saying about your business. I like to call this your ‘brand identity.’
Do you have a brand identity that clearly expresses who you are and what you do? Does your brand have a mission? What’s your brand’s personality?
Want to know more?
Well you might like to read my post on Creating a Kick-Ass Brand Identity.