To stay alive and flourish in highly competitive environments, business-to-business companies spend more time and money on R&D. Companies focus on making their products smarter, faster, more cost-effective and reliable. They also find ways to improve and add services so that they provide customers with a complete and satisfying experience.
But how can these B2B companies truly differentiate their offerings and be relevant to customers over the long-term? This is where branding applies. Brands matter in B2B markets. In fact, they matter even more in B2B than business-to-consumer.
Cut throught clutter: Brands matter because the B2B marketing communications world is characterized by numbing sameness, commoditized feature wars and laundry lists of product benefits. In other words, there is a sea of noise, parity, clutter and dullness. Branding, however, allows a company to distiguish goods or services. Branding today is a strategic tool that helps the supplier cut through the clutter of the market, get noticed, and connect with the customer on many levels and in ways that matter. A strong brand becomes the customer's "shorthand" for making good choices in a complex, risky and confusing marketplace.
Tap into emotional drivers: Brands matter because companies act just like people when it comes to evaluating what products or services they buy. Along with a number of explicit rational criteria, a powerful irrational impulse is always present to influence the purchase decision. A strong brand with an effective positioning strategy speaks to and taps into the totality of the buyer needs.
Facilitate delivery or promise: Brands matter when supplier teams are doing business with buyer teams. Through effective branding efforts, the brand becomes the "glue" that binds the supplier culture and organization together, enabling the brand to make good on its external promise. Customers will reward a brand which delivers a unified, consistent and satisfying experience with repeat business.
However, common beliefs in B2B marketing tend to overlook the importance of brands. Consider the following thoughts:
Consumer brands are defined and presented largely on emotional appeals -- "warm and fuzzies." In B2B, products and services, rather than "brands" are pitched, sold, and transacted through cold logic.
Consumers are drawn to brands' irrational benefits (status, prestige, affinity, self-security). Business customers speficy and purchase based on rational drivers (pricing, specifications, product peformance, metrics).
I suggest that such thinking by B2B marketers is not only naive, and defies logic, but also undermines their ability to drive incremental business value and ROI.