While many are familiar with B2C branding, we think the role of branding in B2B is often maligned. Most businesses recognise the need to invest in innovation, R&D and sales, but there’s a great chasm between this and the focus, budget and resource put aside to develop a B2B company’s brand. But many B2B enterprises could benefit from a good branding.
In fact, Interbrand’s 2014 ‘Best Global Brands’ included B2B giants IBM, GE, Cisco, Intel and Oracle in the Top 20, all of whom have been putting brand at the core of business activity for decades.
One of the chief advantages of investing in a strong, compelling brand is that it provides a focal point for your organisation, even in times of rapid growth or diversification. In fast moving markets, the core belief or idea behind your brand can be the only thing that retains any meaning or value with both customers and employees alike.
Take GE. This vast, complex organisation has used their brand to create order and coherence. Their brand idea of ‘Imagination at Work’ cleverly unifies a hugely broad organisation - making sense of their diversity - and has inspired 85 ‘imagination breakthroughs’ attributed to an additional $25 billion dollars of revenue for the business.
Turbulent financial times also highlight the importance of your brand. Add this to constant technological revolutions, and those without a strong identity (think: Kodak and Compaq) lose their seat at the table. Business today must be more adaptive and dynamic than ever before, and a strong brand allows companies to keep their credibility and reputations even while undergoing significant change.
One of the most powerful examples of this in the B2B world is IBM. Predicting the commoditisation of computing hardware, IBM shifted their core offering to business and infrastructure consulting, all the while remaining ‘IBM’ because they still want ‘To build a Smarter Planet’.
No matter how much salesmen and account managers would have us believe B2B relationships are wholly dependent on their persuasive expertise, even to be seen as company worthy of another’s time requires the relevance of your company to be obvious. This is where having a consistent brand idea and message, creatively and intelligently articulated and presented across everything you do, pays dividends.
It’s also worth noting how, for many enterprises, it’s not always differentiation, quality or even price that’s the most important criteria when selecting who to do business with. It’s trust and reliability.
Research by Lippincott shows 39% of business buyers’ choices are driven by brand, compared to 27% being driven by price. So in the complex business ecosystem where one small failing can bring down the whole supply chain, businesses need to have a reputation for delivering; that is to say a strong brand.
In conclusion, while we often hear things like ’Branding isn’t relevant for B2B’ and ‘Business is all about relationships’, these arguments fail to acknowledge the understanding of ‘brand’ today. It’s so much more than corporate identity and consistent marketing communications.
If companies invest, brand can be the organising principle which creates focus and coherence for management, motivates and inspires employees behind a common goal, and increasingly raises awareness and differentiates your offer with your customers.
With the challenges faced by many business this era, B2B branding is coming into its own.