B to B branding. Don’t get misled by myths when building a Business to Business Brand
By Tom Dougherty
The false belief about branding is that those competing in the B to B markets don’t have to worry about building a brand, especially a corporate one.
It’s a misnomer because those companies most successful in B to B branding are the ones who understand that their customers are swayed by emotional factors as much as consumers are. In fact, in today’s world where products are all basically the same, having an emotional brand for your customers often determines whether you are in their considered set.
For those who still argue against investing in a meaningful B to B brand, their response often goes something like this: B to B is mostly a sales-driven industry, which means logical selling arguments carry the day. Product efficacy, price, and relationships are what move the needle, they say.
B to B Rebranding Must Move Past Table Stakes
However, those are “table stakes,” the things you must have – and say you have – or buyers will think you do not have them. Those table stakes are what make you viable in an industry and they have a place in a sales discussion.
But table stakes do not create preference, and they certainly do not steal share. They just keep you from being eliminated, just like a good resume keeps you from being eliminated for a job but it doesn’t get you the job by itself.
That’s where brand comes in to play, because the “table stakes” offered are also offered by your competition. They also have effective products, claim to be the best, and offer a reasonable price with a sales staff that works to build a relationship with the buyer.
Rebranding — forget the Myths of B to B branding
To stand out, you need a brand, even in B2B. Here’s why:
1. B to B Branding encourages trust.
Many B to B customers hesitate to completely believe a sales rep because they know the rep is simply trying to persuade them, often for personal means like a commission.
The way to overcome that is to give customers a reason to understand why your company does the things it does. Why you emphasize quality or service, or any of the other sales talking points. Answering that question goes a long way to establishing trust between a potential customer and yourself.
For example, a national business insurance company we recently did work for now has a sales staff that says it offers quality services because it’s only “fair,” which described the highest emotional intensity in the market. What they found was that fairness gave the emotional hook to their offerings. By using the brand to support their offerings, they found potential customers to be more receptive to their sales arguments.
The same goes for a manufacturer that supplies a part to another manufacturer or brand. If you are manufacturing plastics, for example, to Tupperware, the contact points at Tupperware are looking for reasons to believe in your promises. Without that brand to back up those promises, they become less believable.
2. Brand clears up the clutter.
All of us, including those in B to B branding science, see thousands of brand messages a day, even it’s only a logo on an ink pen. But we filter most of them out because they don’t relate to us. If, however, that message is a reflection of your customer – like a billboard with their name and picture on it – it rises above all the marketing noise and becomes noticed (and meaningful).
Brand, if it’s truly meaningful to your target audience, gets you through the filter – and that’s especially important in B2B where most of the messages sound the same. Not only that, but those messages are often benign (table stakes) that come at potential customers from a variety of directions, including the Internet.
Brand cuts through all that because, when it’s done right, it is a reflection of the customer, not the company itself. They see themselves in that brand so it rises into the customer’s considered set and create preference.
Without it, you are lost in the clutter.
3. B to B Branding represents the best way to take on the market leaders.
Our clients are, for the most part, those chasing the market leader that is executing a defensive strategy – relying on “table stakes.” For a market leader, that is a relatively sound strategy, especially if all the messages are alike. When all things are equal in the minds of customers, the market leader will always hold the preference.
But for those chasing the market leader, brand is one of the most important and strategic ways to topple the market leader. You will then be attacking the leader strategically because the market leader will most likely not have a brand that’s meaningful to customers, especially if it’s positioned against the market leader. If you execute that, then you present a true, different (and better) choice.
At their most basic, most competing B to B branding contains products that are seen as relatively the same, which is why the default choice – the market leader – is often chosen. For the customer, there’s simply less risk to choosing the market leader if they are all seen equally fulfilling the same need.
A brand that reflects the emotional triggers embedded in your potential customers gives them a reason to choose someone other than the market leader.
Purchase Decisions Are Never Totally Rational. B to B Rebranding Needs to Reflect This
The myth that brand does not work in B to B is based on the misconceived notion that the purchasing decision is so rational that emotional triggers do not work.
The simple truth is that customers of B to B products are human too, and they are just as persuaded by emotional connections as consumers. They may articulate their buying choice by “I just felt more comfortable with them,” which in itself is a brand choice. (They just back that statement up with the rational reasons to support the decision.)
Brand is that comfort, and the B to B brands that do not develop a meaningful brand are the ones that will always leave customers in the position of choosing someone else.