We tend to think of branding as a largely consumer-focused exercise. But in reality, its scope has expanded far beyond B2C industries.
In other words, there is a significant gulf between need and ability for many B2B organizations. This, in turn, provides a perfect opportunity to step in and differentiate your business through effective branding.
Branding in a B2B context is still a relatively new concept. Entering this space now allows your organization to set itself apart from potential competitors, more effectively influencing awareness and brand perception in the eyes of potential business customers.
So let’s dive in, starting with a definition of “brand” and “branding” in a B2B environment. We’ll then explore branding opportunities and examples in this space.
A Modern Definition of the Term “Brand”
We’ll start with a simple definition. A brand is not actually your product or service, or even your organization. Instead, it’s “what customers believe your product or service represents” in both emotional and rational terms.
That definition has some significant implications. It means that your brand is not something you can control. Instead, your business lives in the minds of your audience.
In consumer environments, Apple is a frequently-used example of this concept. People buy iPhones and MacBooks not just because of the technology inside the devices. Being an Apple loyalist means buying into a culture and a feeling of exclusivity.
Apple, of course, has done its part in perpetuating these feelings and perceptions. But ultimately, whether a brand’s messaging sticks is a matter of its audience and is therefore outside the company’s control.
Taking Control: From “Brand” to “Branding” in B2B Environments
Apple’s messaging is a perfect example of branding. Through strategic messaging across channels, including a conscious outsider image when its first computer was introduced in 1984, the company has created a strong brand that speaks clearly to its customers.
This process is well-established in consumer industries, but it’s only beginning to take hold in business environments. It brings with it some nuances that are worth exploring further:
- While all purchasing decisions are ultimately driven by emotions, B2B purchases tend to be more rational, based on facts and complex decision-making processes. B2B branding needs to be built around that primary motivation.
- Customer profiles are significantly different in B2B environments, often consisting of buying teams that all need to be taken into account when building branding-focused communications.
- B2B customers tend to be more demographically narrow. Branding should target specific niches rather than a broad subsection of the population.
- Sales cycles in business contexts tend to be longer, providing more opportunities to establish a brand as well as a greater need to remain consistent over awareness, lead generation, lead nurturing, and sales closing touchpoints.
4 Reasons Branding Can Help B2B Marketing Efforts Succeed
Too often, branding can seem like an intangible concept with few business returns. In the rational world of B2B marketing, it might seem out of place at first glance.
In reality, it can actually make a major impact on your marketing efforts and business growth. Check out these four reasons why building your B2B brand should be a core point of emphasis for your team.
1. Improved Reputation and Credibility
When looking to attract business customers, credibility is everything. If you can convince your audience that your business is more trustworthy, higher-quality, and better connected to their values, you have already won. That’s what the right branding can accomplish.
The reasoning behind this approach gets at the psychology of B2B marketing. According to a recent study, 92% of customers are more likely to make a purchase after reading a trusted review.
Regardless of whether we’re buying for business reasons or as consumers, we want to follow our peers’ trends and expertise. A branding strategy designed to prompt customers to share their stories and advocate on your behalf can go a long way towards building a positive reputation in your industry.
2. Increased Differentiation in Competitive Industries
Every business has a personality. Whether you want it or not, your audiences associate specific thoughts and feelings with you compared to your competition.
Think about Salesforce and HubSpot, two SaaS organizations with largely similar offerings. One is established and prides itself on complexity, while the other is an upstart challenger focused on the marketing zeitgeist. Branding can accomplish this type of differentiation on behalf of each platform.
As the Branding Journal puts it,
If your brand does not have a personality defined, your prospects will have a much harder time connecting with you and deciding you’re the one for them… Bland, boring, and inconsistent messaging that lacks strategy or intention aren’t going to get you anywhere. The market is just too full of noise competing for your ideal clients’ attention.
3. Improved ROI on Marketing Initiatives
According to one study, 32% of business buyers look to brand reputation as a key attribute when finding a supplier. Meanwhile, Marketing Week found that B2B organizations identified as outperforming their competition were twice as likely to already be allocating a significant portion of their marketing budget to branding efforts.
Those results speak for themselves. Branding, by itself, will likely not drive a significant amount of leads or sales conversions. But it can raise the floor of your marketing efforts, making each subsequent and conversion-focused message more effective by building your reputation and enhancing your credibility.
4. Enhanced Long-Term Strategic Marketing Outlook
Finally, and closely connected to the above, don’t underestimate the potential power of B2B branding in creating a marketing approach more focused on long-term wins.
Sure, you need those short-term messaging tactics specifically designed to drive conversions. But keep in mind that B2B sales cycles are much longer. Focusing only on short-term successes can be fatal in competitive industries.
Instead, you need a balance between short-term and long-term marketing initiatives. In their book The Long and the Short of It, Les Binet and Peter Field suggest a 60/40 split where the larger amount goes towards brand-building. This can lead to a better long-term marketing outlook, designed to help you succeed not just in the next quarter but over years to come.
Examples of Effective B2B Branding Efforts
In short, the benefits of B2B branding are real and tangible. Here are just a few examples of business-facing companies maximizing their branding opportunities with their respective audiences:
- Zendesk, which has successfully positioned itself as a “champion of customer service”
- Microsoft, looking to shed its relatively bland image compared to competitors like Apple with vibrant business-facing stories of how its platforms make a difference
- UPS, focusing on its services to small businesses beyond the obvious shipping options through its “every ing for small business” campaign
- General Electric, using traditionally consumer-based channels like Instagram for vibrant visual storytelling aimed at its business customers
- Zoom, which has emerged in the COVID-19 pandemic as the central communications tool for the work-from-home demographic, despite plenty of competitors offering functionally identical services
Of course, these are just some of the countless examples of business-facing organizations in a variety of industries that are using branding to stand out from their competition. Though their approaches differ significantly, they all stand out by focusing on more than just cold hard facts and embracing their personality as they look to attract and build customer relationships.
Ready to Strategically Build Your B2B Brand?
B2B branding may be a relatively new concept compared to its consumer-facing counterpart, but the gap between its effectiveness and current ubiquity in the space can be a crucial advantage. Start taking control of your business-facing brand now, and you will be able to strongly differentiate your company from both direct and indirect competitors in the space.
Of course, getting there will take time and effort. Rather than flipping a switch, it’s a complex endeavor that everyone across the organization has to buy into. Planning your B2B content marketing strategy has to tie directly into your current and desired brand perceptions, as do any other marketing and messaging tactics with potential long-term impacts.
Good news: you don’t have to go through this process alone. The right software can go a long way towards optimizing your planning and processes.
Take brand asset management as an example, which you can take from spreadsheets and folders to a simple, centralized solution using the right software.
B2B branding goes far beyond a software implementation. Our software, though, can help to set the baseline and streamline your branding efforts. Ready to learn more? Get started with a free Welcome account today.