Introduction

This article explores the importance of the brand to B2B businesses, based on Brandspeak’s experience of working with 100’s of B2B clients over nearly 20 years.

It starts by explaining why so many B2B organisations place little value on, nor investment in branding. 

It then goes on to explain why the brand is actually the most significant tool in any B2B organisation’s sales and marketing toolbox. 

It finishes by outlining the process of building a B2B brand, then measuring and maintaining its performance. 

It’s a 7-minute read and an essential one for any B2B business that feels the brand isn’t important for their business, as well as those who know that it is!

Why so many B2B businesses regard the brand as unimportant

If only I had £1 for every time I have been told by a B2B client that the brand isn’t important for their business!

The fact is, many B2B organisations (particularly those below a certain size) ascribe little or no importance to their brand on the basis that B2B branding doesn’t have the ability to influence sales performance.  

Instead, they will point to the superiority of their product, the excellence of their salesforce, or the keenness of their pricing. 

It’s totally understandable. If you dial these things up or down, you will see an almost immediate impact on sales – either positively or negatively.

For B2B organisations focussed on keeping the lights on, fulfilling orders and satisfying customers, any focus on brand-building can be seen as a distraction from the day-to-day. 

The B2B view of branding

The fact is though, that when appropriately devised and implemented, the brand is the single greatest weapon in the B2B company’s armoury, with the ability to transform the bottom line.

So why is there this mismatch between perception and reality?

In our experience, it’s often because B2B businesses are primarily product and relationship-focused, regarding their customers as ‘pragmatists’ who aren’t influenced by marketing.   

As a result, the brand typically isn’t ascribed nearly the same level of importance as it is in B2C organisations and because of this, it’s composition, role and potential impact is often not clearly understood.  

The  brand reality

The reality, however, is that every B2B organisation has a brand, whether they want one or not! 

That’s because a brand is ultimately just the sum of the customers’ perceptions of the organisation, based largely on their direct and indirect experiences of it.  

If the organisation has designed its brand well and implemented a coherent strategy to bring it to life across the channels and touch points, then those perceptions will be highly consistent, relevant and differentiating, and they will be instrumental in turning prospects in to customers and customers in to advocates.

Not only does the brand support the customer journey in this way, it has several other significant advantages too; 

  •  A carefully created and managed brand has significant value in its own right.  That doesn’t just apply to huge brands like  Coca Cola or Apple for which it represents a line on the balance sheet.  Carefully managed, smaller, B2B brands can add significant value in their own right, when the business is sold, licenced or leased
  •  A brand that has built significant, positive awareness (or equity) can charge a premium for its products or services, simply because of its name. This applies regardless of whether they are genuinely better that the competition or not.  It’s all about managed perception. 
  •  If an organisation has succeeded in making its customers loyal to its brand rather than its products it is much harder for competitors to prize them away with new product or service roll-outs
  • Once an organisation has a successful, existing brand it decreases the chance of new product failure, as the customer base will be significantly more receptive to new products from a brand it already trusts – even if that new product bears no relationship to the existing one(s) 
  •  The brand provides additional corporate resilience during difficult periods; for example, during a serious product recall or a security breach.  The goodwill and confidence the brand has created helps to insulate the company when the proverbial hits the fan!
  • A strong brand will find it much easier to identify other brands or individuals to partner with. Organisations with strong brands find it much easier to attract the best and brightest talent. 

Of course, if no formal brand exists, customers will still be developing perceptions of the company every time they interact with it.

However, without the structure and clarity a brand brings, these perceptions are likely to be random, contradictory and (to some degree) negative – a jumble without a consistent or compelling narrative. 

Creating a B2B brand

It’s not just the point of having a brand that some B2B organisations struggle with.  Many are also put off by brand strategists stressing the ‘complex’ nature of brand development – models of brand onions and aubergines, further broken down in to the brand proposition, brand positioning, brand vision, brand mission, brand values, brand pillars, brand personality, brand culture, brand essence……..and so on. 

The truth is, you will rarely meet two brand strategists who can agree on the essential components of a brand, let along how each one should be defined, because they have made it needlessly complicated.

For B2B branding it’s a matter of quality over quantity, simplicity over complexity.  The most important thing is the brand that is implemented isn’t just the result of a brainstorm by board members, or those in the company who believe that they know what the customer wants.  

Instead, the brand’s composition should be the result of independently conducted qualitative and / or quantitative market research capable of getting under the skin of the target audience – its needs, expectations, perceptions and behaviours.  

At its simplest, a B2B brand doesn’t have to be much more than a positioning statement reflecting what the brand must stand for in the mind of the target audience, supported by a number of tangible brand values that reflect the characteristics the organisation would most like its brand to be associated with.  These elements then need to be delivered via a consistent brand personality and tone of voice. 

The rest is down to the marketing and operational strategy that defines how the brand positioning, values, personality and tone of voice are implemented across the business.   

THAT is the only way to really understand what customers need from you – and your brand.

Bringing a B2B brand to life

The next task is to ensure that the new brand is delivered consistently in the organisation’s marcoms and at the key customer touch points.  Market research may again be required to understand exactly where and how the B2B brand can be leveraged to best effect.  

Ultimately, brand delivery should be considered within the main, customer-facing areas of the business, potentially including; 

  • The website
  • The call centre
  • Field sales 
  • Retail premises
  • Administration / back office
  • Customer service  
  • Product / service portfolio
  • Product / service delivery

Ensuring the brand stays in good shape

After the brand has been implemented, ongoing measurement is essential to ensure your brand is being delivered appropriately and continues to have a positive impact on the business fundamentals. 

It’s most commonly undertaken via a market research brand tracker – often in the form of an annual, online or phone survey of customers and target customers.

A B2B brand tracker will either include participants who are representative of the brand’s target audience. 

Aside from the main brand, the tracker will also gather data on around 6 competitor brands, in order to provide essential context and comparison.

Tracker results are then reviewed both in isolation and in comparison to the previous period(s), in order to understand the brand’s direction of travel.

A B2B brand tracker assessment will typically include; 

  • Brand awareness / recall;  increasingly referred to as the brand’s mental availability, this is typically measured at both unprompted and prompted levels, to determine the extent to which (target) customers are able to bring the brand to mind
  • Brand usage; this is used to measure the frequency with which your brand is being used, as well as how it is used and the specific occasions on which it is being used
  • Brand preference / purchase; this metric simply identifies the extent to which the brand is preferred over those of the competition, as well as the likelihood that the (target) customer will purchase or repurchase in the future
  • Brand attitudes and perceptions; these are typically perceptions related to the quality and / or performance of the underlying product or service
  • Brand associations; this identifies what the brand stands for in the minds of (target) customers. 

Ideally, those associations will derive from the brand’s positioning and core values.  Individual brand associations can either be prompted in list form, or respondents can be required to reveal what they most associate with the brand using free-text.  The market research agency running the tracker can then analyse their responses very simply using text analytics software

Brand tracking enables the organisation to measure and monitor the impact of a new brand from Day One.  It provides the necessary insight to course-correct at short notice and to keep optimising the brand’s ability to make a positive difference to the bottom line, by enabling the organisation to acquire and retain more customers.

Brandspeak

Brandspeak is an insight consultancy that specialises in helping B2B organisations develop new brands, products and services.  If you are interested in finding out how we may be able to help you, please contact us on +44 (0) 203 858 0052. Alternatively, you can contact us at enquiries@brandspeak.co.uk

Jeremy Braune

View posts by Jeremy Braune
Jeremy specialises in delivering market research and consultancy programmes that enable organisations to maximise the impact of their brands, products and services, communications and customer experience delivery. His company, Brandspeak, has offices in London and Bristol and since 2004 it has been helping companies all over the UK and globally. Jeremy has also been a guest lecturer and speaker on London Business School's acclaimed MBA course, on the subject of Brands and Branding.

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