Everyone seems to want to enhance their “brand”, do more “branding” or simply “re-brand” these days. But most people in both B2C and especially B2B marketing misuse this term or don’t understand the basic concept of “branding”, and therefore miss the real opportunity to distinguish their product or corporate brand.
Recently I’ve heard statements from executives like “we must start a branding campaign”, or “our problem is one of branding”, or “branding is only good for consumer goods”. What they’re really talking about is a communications or marketing execution issue – e.g. building awareness, lead generation initiatives, changing the name, or reaching a wider audience. This is not branding per se. Instead it is a misconception that distracts from the real opportunity (or problem) to build their business.
In a recent blog by Seth Godin on “We’ve Branded Ourselves to Death”, he prudently recognized the “glut of brand advertising…and customers no longer want to be spammed with information about the product or service; they want to feel the connection of it”. What he means is that most advertising and even selling initiatives communicate a diatribe of product “features” and do not offer a distinctive value proposition or a focused, compelling benefit. It’s called “clutter”!
So What Really Is “Branding”?
There are many succinct definitions – a promise, an expectation of performance, a reputation, a mark of trust – but a compelling product or corporate brand description should start with a clear positioning, one that strategically addresses the target customers’ needs and distinguishes it from competition. Even a company’s vision and/or mission statement, and especially its values and brand image, should ideally emanate from the research and analysis that goes into a brand positioning.
Branding is not about one’s product offer or marketing effort. It is about the customer, and how to develop a meaningful relationship with the customer – what is often called the “customer experience”. A brand breathes life into a positioning strategy, so that customers can naturally trust it, feel comfortable with it, and ultimately be loyal to it. As Seth Godin puts it, branding is not marketing – instead “it should inspire, lead, and tap into the brand passions so you’ll tap into your customers’ passion and build a committed following”.
Today’s Biggest Challenge: CONTENT That Inspires
While we are flooded with new digital media options and various selling techniques these days, there is a temptation to simply add, and then add more to each offer. This is the wrong direction. Instead, more emphasis should be on developing content or a focused message (i.e. the brand) that will stimulate that desired “WOW” reaction, set your company or product apart from the clutter, and even become viral on digital media. As Chip and Dan Heath write in their recent book, “Made to Stick”, the idea behind a brand story or communications must be “sticky” – simple, concrete, credible and emotional. People don’t remember a laundry list of features or an abstract concept. They want to relate to a core idea or brand, become emotionally attached to it, and feel comfortable to act on it – even purchase it.
Developing a focused, compelling brand idea is not easy. It takes time, lots of research, independent, diverse thinking and especially an effort to generate new, creative ideas. Ultimately it must define a corporate, product or service brand in a way that leads to distinctive, relevant content, ideally with a “sticky hook” that will break through the clutter, become viral and eventually result in a purchasing action.
Smart Branding – A Golden Opportunity for B2B
- Integration of Sales and Marketing – the traditional role of B2B selling has changed, particularly in technology, due mainly to the complexity of client needs/issues and the growing pressure on accountability for purchase decisions. Today sales people must do more research to gain a comprehensive, strategic understanding of his/her prospects or clients, a responsibility historically residing mainly with marketing. But sales people must also work even more closely with marketing to provide this feedback on target customers, and together customize the core company brand offering or value proposition to fit the specific needs for each client.
- First Impressions – In contrast to mass marketing in the consumer products world, B2B selling is highly personalized. Key emotions like trust, comfort and credibility are essential to open doors for prospects and build rapport. In fact, you represent the company brand whenever you make contact, direct or indirect, with a customer. That critical first impression should reflect and convey the values and core benefits of the company brand. It is what differentiates your company, and should become the constant in all subsequent communications or meetings with clients. Branding is all about trusted relationships, not between things but between people.
- The “Elevator Speech” Opportunity – in today’s chaotic, time demanding, pressured business environment, your brief response to the question, “what do you do”, is the immediate ice breaker that will determine success or failure, especially in B2B selling situations. The purpose of an elevator speech is not to sell, but to engage. It must be short, pithy, memorable and give the person a clear idea of what you do – and succinctly communicate the company or product brand. Instead of a self centered, abstract statement about your company or service (e.g. “we are the leading provider of cutting-edge….”), it should briefly summarize what you do and whom you work for, expressed in a way that reflects the core value proposition of the company brand and how you are special. Again, the intent is not to sell but to start a conversation so you can quickly learn more about the other person and his/her business.
The basic principles behind branding are the same for B2C and B2B, but the personal nature of selling and building a credible, confident relationship in industry begs for a memorable brand identity. More time should be spent on innovative research, brainstorming new ideas and prioritizing the core strengths of a company that are truly relevant to target customers, to create and communicate a distinctive corporate brand identity. In practice, every touchpoint and interaction with the customer must be consistent with this brand personality, to build brand equity and enrich the customer experience. B2B sales people would then become much more effective and more productive ambassadors of their corporate brand with such a compelling brand value proposition.
In our next installment on B2B branding we will provide specific examples from noteworthy companies that have successfully built a loyal customer following by defining their distinctive brand positioning and then using this effectively as a compass to synergistically develop and coordinate all their communications with their customers. Meanwhile feel free to email me with a brief description of your brand and I will offer my suggestions if/how it could be improved.
Jay Gronlund is a Principal at Global Partners who focuses in the areas of brand development, new product launch and marketing in emerging economies. Jay has been an Adjunct Professor at NYU since 1999, teaching a course on “Positioning and Brand Development”. He has also written many articles on different international themes, as well as a book on Branding in the Over-the-Counter pharmaceutical industry. For more information, interested readers can contact Jay at email@example.com