8 Things that B2B should consider at the branding stage
“B2B has its own set of rules.” B2B brands used this statement to ignore good advice for decades – and marketing managers across the country demoted their own importance. Now digitalisation is shedding unforgiving light on the situation: that claim was nonsense. B2B just acted according to habit and ignored many basic marketing rules. Now they have to work hard to play catch-up. Now that customers have more and more control, many companies can’t seem to create a brand fast enough.
Just look at the many “hidden champions” in Germany that have long been idolised: suddenly they all want to gain visibility. They invest in content, prominent personalities and pimp their brand images. This radical reversal alone shows that the “laws of B2B” that were set in stone were actually nothing more than well-worn paths. And we learn that much greater wisdom is seeking validation: the fact that brands need to be viewed holistically. Branding-wise, it doesn’t make any difference at all whether a company is B2B or B2C.
Either way, it’s clear: B2B brands need to change the way they do things. But is it possible for hidden champions to suddenly transform into coveted international brands here and now? Many years of work with leading B2B brands have helped us identify eight fundamental aspects that B2B players have to work on before they can rise to the position of a brilliant brand.
The ability to communicate is a valuable commodity in the digital age. As demonstrated by many other industries in the past, all employees need to outwardly represent the company. This is the only way to authentically communicate with end users, believably convey technical content and facilitate interactive communication. Medium-sized companies aren’t always used to this idea because they are often managed hierarchically from the start. But now it is high time for them to discard their fear of their own employees.
Most B2B brands, particularly the widespread hidden champions among the mid-sized companies, are very technically oriented. They have mastered products and services. So, accordingly, they have trouble making emotional arguments or communicating overarching concepts. But, in the fleetingness of digital touch points, B2B brands only get through to customers with catchy and “enlightening” ideas.
Long-time customers in particular are often unfamiliar with the brand content of B2B brands. This is because their contact becomes increasingly limited to sales and support over time. The brand is thus absent as a unifying, balancing element if the relationship hits a snag. Brands that wants to create an emotional basis for customer loyalty should be in constant search of opportunities for dialogue – through all relevant channels and at all levels. This not only reinforces the connection, it also helps keep the brands’ eyes and ears connected to the latest trends, and they can react quickly to changes. This ultimately puts an end to the game of Telephone in which the customer contact person decides what will be forwarded within the company. Brand communication should not be allowed to simply be (mis)understood as an acquisition tool. It should become one of the central corporate tasks.
Even medium-sized B2B companies have international contracts – with several subsidiaries and distribution partners that are all part of the brand. In these cases, several international touch points arise. But the interpretation of the brand is often very different. Back in the days of pen and paper, that might have been alright. In the digital world, where it’s possible to graze all of these international touch points in the most varied environments, inconsistent presentation becomes confusing and contradicts all the measures taken to build trust.
Many specialists live from the depth of their portfolios. A special feature here, a special feature there, and you’ve already differentiated yourself a bit from the competition. For individual customers, this can truly be a great thing – they receive precisely the tailored product they are looking for. But portfolios are often bloated and difficult to describe from the perspective of an outsider. This can be a major hindrance if you suddenly have to get right to the heart of what you can do.
The brand is often simply viewed as an instrument, and often seen in a one-sided context within the realm of corporate design and the visual brand identity. But again and again, we see how well centrally anchored ideas can function as an element of control and cohesion, both internally and externally. A common “why” can be a major factor for success, a guiding star for action – everyone has been aware of this since Steve Jobs at the latest. Just “being there” has become obsolete. Its function as a shabby mainspring nobody has to invest in is no longer helpful.
Incomprehensible distribution of responsibilities and the practise of placing more emphasis on sales or other functions than on marketing, as often happens in the B2B sector, prevents fast exchanges and rapid development of new ideas and approaches. Today, marketing can no longer be viewed as an executive organ. It needs to become a supra-disciplinary function that everyone is involved in. This then closes the circle as we come back around to having responsible employees with the ability to communicate. Because this requirement is equally critical to both internal and external functions.
The silo issue leads to another problem. A dedicated service provider is hired for each communication measure. In the best-case scenario, it’s the best buddy who once programmed something for you and now has their own agency, and is really cheap, of course. Ultimately, nothing really fits. The website isn’t really compatible with the ERP system or the marketing and sales campaigns. At some point, it becomes clear: you burn through several smaller separate budgets with very few good results. It would be better to set a transparent joint budget from the beginning, one that is well thought out and can be utilised centrally.
If we look at the above points, we quickly notice that digital transformation doesn’t initially have anything to do with technology at all. It’s about finding a new perspective on things in a more general sense. So it’s always a good idea to begin the transformation process in the minds of your employees to create a suitable environment. Then the tools emerge on their own.