The benefits of strong branding are well documented in the business to consumer market; brand-building is a near-universal best practice for B2C companies. But many B2B enterprises shy away from investing in their brands. They argue that buyers make strictly functional decisions based on product viability, ease of integration and cost. This reasoning is outdated and out of touch with today’s B2B marketplace.
Thanks to digitization and globalization, the 2022 B2B ecosystem is more competitive than ever. In order to stand out from the crowd, B2B companies must take a cue from their B2C counterparts. Business to Business firms that fail to create brand recognition and brand loyalty risk a race-to-the-bottom price war to secure sales.
Today’s successful B2B brands embrace more consumer-centric practices like brand storytelling, CX initiatives and unified messaging/ visual brand identity. It is important to remember that B2B buyers, though making more functional calculations than the average consumer, are just as swayed by emotional factors as retail consumers are. B2B buyers are consumers, too, after all!
There are successful B2B branding stories everywhere, though they may not be as obvious as consumer brands. For instance, among Interbrand’s most valuable global brands are B2B juggernauts Microsoft, Cisco, Intel and IBM. No matter the industry, successful brands should tell a story and impart a feeling. A number of B2B companies have done this effectively, finding creative and simple ways to bring their complex work to life.
When done right, a strong B2B brand will generate huge value that you can take to the bank. Rather than relying exclusively on sales people to deliver your story to the market, your brand should do the heavy lifting for you. It acts as the “first meeting.” A strong brand also gives your customers a sense of security in working with you; a positive brand story imparts a feeling of trustworthiness and begins a more meaningful and longer-lasting relationship between supplier and buyer.
Investing in a B2B brand also allows you to activate one of your most important brand tools: your team. Businesses who have strong brand positioning and demonstrate that they’re true to their brand pillars in words and actions have the power to transform their people into their biggest brand ambassadors. Employee advocacy like this has positive effects on sales, morale and productivity, as well as hiring and retention.
So how do you begin to build an effective B2B brand? The short answer: with a deep understanding of your industry, your customer and your own value proposition. At TFG, we guide clients through a comprehensive yet practical brand positioning process. Below are some of the high-level considerations we address at the outset. These early-stage to-dos will help your B2B business make highly effective branding decisions.
- Competitive analysis: explore competitive positioning, product offerings, competitor keywords and message tone. By putting your brand in context you can find opportunities to stand out.
- Stakeholder interviews: get essential third-party perspective on your customers’ biggest needs and pain points. You’ll also uncover your company’s true strengths and blind spots as well as opportunities to drive differentiation and value. To accomplish this, our team facilitates in-depth interviews with questions that capture key perspectives of customers, partners in the businesses value chain, influencers and internal company leadership.
- Positioning and messaging architecture: Once you better understand who you are and what you offer, it is time to distill your mission, product offerings, value to your buyers and those all-important differentiators into a visually and tonally cohesive brand structure. Impactful brand positioning must be clear and focused, and be supported by brand “pillars” that bring your overall brand identity to life through specifics around the “how” and the “so what” that people experience every day.
Once these considerations begin to coalesce, you can take the learnings from your branding groundwork to create a brand positioning playbook. This master document serves as a template and cross-checker for all your marketing, PR and sales activities. A brand positioning playbook will contain your core brand values, positioning language and differentiators that make you unique in the market.
The playbook should also inform the essential visual elements that represent your company. This includes everything from colors, fonts, logo design, and examples of how to bring visual elements together with your positioning language to produce a desired emotion in your target buyer.
Developing and implementing a brand positioning playbook requires an investment. But once you begin to leverage the full power of your B2B brand to garner trust among your buyers and employees, you’ll see tangible returns in the short term and for years to come.