Brands drive B2B marketing. Those that recognize this fact and leverage their full brand assets will create a true, strategic competitive advantage.
Ironically, technology has led to brand importance in the B2B world. The growth of the Internet and e-marketplaces along with accelerating technological product obsolescence has resulted in a hyper-informed and commoditzed B2B marketplace. Buyers are overwhelmed with myriad logical choices, features, benefits, information, data, metrics -- parity and clutter. They want to make an easy, safe and right choice. Thus, "brand' becomes the compass or default for navigating the purchase process.
B2B customers often evaluate potential suppliers according to numerous, rigorous criteria -- a scientific request for proposal (RFP) process. But does anyone really think a big dollar decision will come down to a numeric score or check list? How does a supplier even make the RFP list? You guessed it: through their recognized brand.
Strong B2B brands benefit from organically created branded, web-based communities of loyal customers who evangelize the brand. When it comes to marketing technology products, marketers all too often ignore the full package of customer benefits to instead focus only on product features. I rather suggest three dimensions of benefits to build positioning platforms:
1st - Functional (what the product does)
2nd - Economic (what the brand means to the customer in time and money)
3rd - Emotional - (how the brand makes the customer feel)
Brands that deliver beyond functional and economic levels with emotional benefits will command an incremental price premium and create strong competitive advantage and customer brand loyalty.
Emotive propositions resonate in B2B markets whether customers admit it or not. People say that they are not influenced by advertisements but data suggests otherwise. In the early-to-mid 1980s, IBM did not have the best computer systems or pricing. "Big Blue," however, became the enterprise systems market leader because you never got fired for buying IBM. IT Directors "bought" a relationship, company, reputation, service, people, assurance. In other words, they bought goodwill of the brand.
Recent research supports the notion that buying decisions in B2C and B2B spheres are largely based on irrational impulses often unknown to the buyer. For example, the IBM customer was strongly motivated by job security and peace-of-mind. Today's B2B customers may articulate their need for ROI, higher performance, a better mousetrap. Yet, they really want to do business with a name or people they can trust -- to buy from a "leader." Strong brands play to these important drivers.