Introduction: A B2B Brand Strategy
The business-to-business (B2B) market is very different than the consumer market. And there is a generally accepted wisdom that B2B Brands be less necessary than consumer ones. Consumers need products but choose and buy brands.
But in business, companies always look for the best deal from the most reputable source. They need and want to be seen as an expert in their field, deliver on what they promise, and provide excellent customer service. Most B2B Companies do not see the connecting dots of promise, reputation, credibility, and uniqueness under the brand umbrella.
A B2B brand strategy builds a reputation beyond products and services.
As a B2B brand, the first brand strategy is more complicated.
Your B2B brand strategy is more challenging to build and maintain because most people think it’s less critical.
People tend to treat B2B companies differently than they do consumer brands. You may be familiar with this phenomenon: You’re at a conference or networking event, and you’re talking about your company, its mission, and its products. And then someone asks, “What does it do?” That question is seldom asked in the context of a consumer brand—it’s usually assumed that consumers already know who you are and what you do. But for businesses that sell to other businesses, it’s often considered that there are so many different kinds of companies (in fact, there are) that asking the question can help orient someone who has never heard of your product before.
The good news is that if you can get anyone interested enough in what makes you unique as an organization and how your product solves a problem for them, they’ll probably become a customer too! The challenge is getting them interested in learning about themselves first so they’re ready for whatever solution might come next.
All of the above exemplifies why the first brand strategy for a B2B brand might be a high hurdle for any marketer. But we have some words of wisdom to help you in the process.
A B2B Brand is about building a reputation beyond products and services.
First and foremost, a B2B brand cannot be about products, quality, and manufacturing excellence. A B2B brand is about building a reputation beyond products and services. You’re not selling a commodity, even if you technically are: you’re selling a relationship with your customers. You must make that relationship at every stage of the customer journey, prospecting or closing deals.
The first step in doing this is developing the following pillars:
- Customer insight: How does your understanding of your customer differ from your competitors? If your knowledge of the customer is the same, then your brand will hardly be different. Build unique insights on what keeps your customers awake at night. When Klarna launched its merchant services, it understood both the merchants’ insights and their shoppers: this is why it developed its offering and positioning accordingly. And that’s a pain point that most of their competitors had ignored until then.
- Promise: what unique and relevant value does your brand bring? What is your promise as a company?
- Reputation: What can other companies say about you? Can they recommend working with you? Do external people like dealing with your people? How does their experience match up against other providers in the marketplace (if any)?
- Employees: how well do people get along within an organization? You can build a B2B2C/ B2C or DTC brand “despite” the people in the organization. You can’t build a B2B Brand unless the people within the organization all make it happen.
Each company is one brand within its industry: the need for uniqueness.
If you are a B2B company, you are one brand within your industry. Your customers have many options from which to purchase. They will most likely consider multiple companies before making a decision. As such, your brand must stand out from the competition so that your business can be relevant to potential customers and make them aware of the value you offer them.
The main objective when developing a B2B Brand Strategy is to create a unique identity for your company that differentiates itself from its competitors. You want to make an image in people’s minds when they hear about or see your company name on paper or online. This image should portray something familiar and different from what they already know about other brands in the same industry space as yours (or even other industries).
At the cost of being repetitive, you can’t develop a brand strategy around the products and services because you will commoditize your efforts and risk having conversations only around price and trading terms.
To achieve this goal, there are several things you must consider:
1) An unquestionable B2B purpose will resonate throughout the entire organization.
The purpose of your organization is its reason for being, and it should be the driving force behind all organizational activities. When you put a robust B2B brand strategy in place, you can:
- attract the best talent to your company;
- build a brand that customers love;
- increase employee morale and productivity;
- generate revenue faster;
- build investor confidence in the company’s prospects by building a reputation for integrity;
And much more.
2) B2B Brand strategy a starting point: customer insights
Customer insights are the starting point for a B2B brand strategy. Without customer insights, you’re wasting your time.
Customer insights are the key to a successful B2B brand strategy. A successful B2B brand strategy lives or dies based on its ability to gain and maintain customer insight.
Customer insights are the foundation for a successful B2B brand strategy. Without customer insight, you’re operating blindly and relying solely on guesswork when developing strategies that will resonate with customers—and that just won’t cut it in today’s marketplace!
3) Building a future-proof B2B Brand: trend analysis and weak signals
Weak signals are a way to identify potential future trends. They are ambiguous and have the potential to be the next big thing—however, it’s important to note that they’re often not visible in current data and information. Weak signals are usually the first signs of change and have a qualitative nature.
You’ll need to understand how they work to build a relevant B2B brand strategy based on weak signals. First off: weak signals are not trends that your competitors have already done or noticed; instead, they’re signs of an emerging trend that is yet to become mainstream in your industry or others like it. Weak signals can also be considered “early warnings” of what could happen if specific changes occur in your market or industry over time.
4) Your B2B brand positioning, but from a customer point of view
The customer is the king, but how do you know what they want? The answer is simple: by listening to them. Customer insight is the starting point for any successful B2B brand strategy.
But the meaning here is much more profound. Your positioning should not be “we want” and “we are.” It is about how you solve a problem for your customers. The narrative should be around the customer, not the brand.
5) B2B Brand Competitive mapping
Uniqueness begins with being different! And you can’t be different unless you have mapped your competitors’ brand positioning. What kind of insights are they tapping into? Are they unique or converging around similar customers’ needs? The objective of the exercise is twofold:
- Understand your competitors’ strategies and how they stack up against yours. It’s important to know what other businesses are doing so that you can improve upon it and differentiate yourself from them.
- Understand what makes your brand different from the competition. This is where you’ll define your competitive advantage, which is a way of saying something like, “what sets us apart from the others?”
6) Choosing a brand positioning model
But how do you choose a brand positioning model? Which one is right for you? The Brand Pyramid, Brand Key, and Brand Wheel offer different benefits to help you identify your B2B brand strategy. Here’s everything you need to know about each model.
- The Brand Pyramid: This model will help you figure out what exactly makes up your brand’s promise. The big drawback is that it’s an inside-out approach.
- The Brand Key: most complete of them all, but also the most difficult for a non-expert.
- The Brand Wheel can be a good compromise between the previous models and balancing simplicity with an outside-in view.
B2B branding is not just about selling products or services. It’s also about building a reputation that customers will trust over time. This means understanding your business, your customer, and the industry you operate in. Then, crafting a B2B Brand strategy that resonates with both groups by focusing on what matters most to them at that moment in time.