Is branding required in the B2B context?
In the B2C context companies like Coca-cola and Pepsi persuaded consumers that sugar water with some acids and colouring was better than water, and the in-thing to keep sipping all the time. If branding worked for them, it must surely have relevance in the B2B context as well. At the same time, surveys have shown that most industrial brands are just labels and do not really have strong correlation with the qualitative attributes of the product.
What does business branding need to achieve?
Studies show that Business buyers are not necessarily value driven. They are individuals in decision making units who want to reduce risk and simplify evaluation by going in for brands they resonate with. B2B decisions entail personal risk to the decision maker. If things go wrong, their credentials in the company are at stake, and they could even suffer job loss. Hence a B2B brand not only needs to demonstrate business value, but also personal values. Hence the marketing message must have a rational as well as an emotive appeal. In fact, very few industrial buyers will change suppliers for small price differences. They would rather buy peace of mind. They may rationalize externally, quoting price, performance and features as important. But if we dig deep, they are actually buying trust, comfort. For example, when a business signs up with let’s say, Taj Group of hotels, the decision makers in the administration department are confident that senior executives of their firm will be well taken care of at the hotel, and would have no reason to complain.
Brands help as a means of communication of benefits and value
They help to set expectation on the product or service. Perceived quality of a branded product is higher than an unbranded product. In the B2B context, a brand achieves greater information efficiency and risk reduction, while in the B2C context there may be more of image value benefits.
Two frameworks for a holistic approach to branding
However, B2B Branding approach needs to be holistic. There are two broad principles B2B must adhere to. First is internal alignment. Internal branding is important, since all employees of the company need to speak the same lingo to the customer, so that the message the customers gets are unified and strengthens the brand. It has to message the right values to the customer as well as incorporate similar values within the organization, so that the internal systems are really in sync with the brand value. It should not be the norm that the brand conveys a German solidity and robustness, but the production system reeks of poor quality and shoddy work, while the procurement division is going around shopping for the cheapest input components. The spirit of the brand has to come across all functions in an organization and very importantly in marketing and sales functions. Consistent and effective marketing to build the brand on functional (like features, benefits), economic (price, time etc) and emotional parameters (like trust, peace of mind, solidity) must happen.
Second is customer focus. Often companies talk past their customers, and there is divergence between the core messages companies communicate and the brand characteristics that customers value the most. While companies may project a social responsibility angle, customers may be valuing efficiency or reliability. When customer focus is not central to brand building and marketing, marketing teams tend to get carried away over time, and start to project the wrong messages and confuse customers. Hence a disciplined communication of values and messages is important. The content that we create and the thought leadership that we intend to project must be something the customer really values.
Small efforts lead to large long-term benefits
When industrial companies benefit from business to business branding, it is often by accident rather than design. However, with a little extra effort and cost, the effect could be much improved loyalty, greater profitability and higher valuation of the firm. Finally, the most successful B2B brands have always kept it simple and stupid.