Why B2B Should Invest In Branding (And What Happens When You Do Not)

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Tony Zambito

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The classic red-and-white Etch A Sketch model
The classic red-and-white Etch A Sketch model (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the financial crisis hit in 2008, a certain word went missing in business.  And, another word became all too powerful.  The word, invest, and the inertia behind it lost traction in B2B business.  Rocked by the financial crisis, many plans were shelved.  Collecting dust.  The word, cut, became dominant in business vocabulary.

A few short years later, B2B business leaders in the C-Suite are waking up from this slumber of cost cutting and extreme focused on tactics.  For some, it was a matter of necessity in order to survive.  Having to resort to the proverbial cut their losses and resort to defensive postures in the marketplace against competitors.  For others, a cautionary psyche enveloped their organization.

Renew Focus On Top-Line Revenue Growth

Today’s business leaders are having a renewed drive towards top-line revenue growth.  Rediscovering the critical role branding plays in contributing to overall growth and profitability.  Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, one of the leading marketing communications services entities globally said this recently in the Wall Street Journal:

“You can’t cut your way to prosperity. Investing in brands to drive top line growth is critical. The 2008 Lehman crisis has increased focus on short- term profitability.”  Martin Sorrell, CEO, WPP

This comment reflects something else happening.  Cost cutting has reached bone marrow and there is nowhere else to cut.  To prosper, B2B organizations will need to shift energy and focus on investing in the future and driving top-line revenue growth.

Tactical Prowess Only Goes So Far

Since 2008, we have gone deeper and deeper into a digital world.  The pace of change so rapid, tactical prowess became a means of staying ahead of competitors as well as responding to changing buying behaviors.  Responding with tactical measures in content marketing, lead capturing, inside selling, and building online and digital capabilities.  While tactical prowess is essential, B2B organizations can intensely zero in on tactics in a way, which sacrifices on strategies – the glue holding tactics together.  Investing in branding today means investing in the glue designed to pull your tactical prowess into a story buyers can buy into.  The sum of the parts, telling a visionary story greater than any individual components can do on its own.

Connecting Brand To What Buyers Care About

Branding has always enjoyed a star quality in B2C.  Our conscious is filled with memorable branding association, which can rise up emotions in consumers.  B2B branding now must focus on becoming a visionary tale of meaning to buyers.  The brand is becoming a significant element in influencing why B2B organizations are making choices.

Through the last few decades, the focus in B2B has been on buying criteria.  Aiming at meeting traditional categories of criteria related to price, quality, service, resources, and implementation.  Buyers care about these, however, they have become so commoditized they are the minimum level of expectations and entry.  This comment from a recent interview helping a B2B entity gather profound buyer insights tells us much about the power of brand:

“All the right things are there.  Service is good, negotiating fair pricing, it works, and they provide plenty of help on installation.  The name of the game though is if we are going to make a long-term investment, where do they fit in the future or what do they see themselves becoming?  What can they tell us about that?”  Senior Director, Supply Chain

Here is a good example of clicking on all the right things, the standard level of buying criteria expectations, yet what is the glue holding them together?

Branding As A Core Element of B2B Strategy

Martin Sorrell, in his comment above, is hitting the nerve where it should be. A recent survey by McKinsey I covered also points to this urgency.  Branding strategy will be an important part of driving top-line revenue growth.  If it is not a factor in B2B thinking, the ability to prosper will no doubt be compromised.  What can CEO’s, CMO’s, and CSO’s as well as others in the C-Suite do to provide brand leadership?  A few suggestions:

Find out what customers and buyers care about.  An important first step is conducting buyer insights research and using buyer personas to communicate what buyers really care about.  By this, do not confuse conventional buying decision criteria (a misperception about buyer personas) as the deep and profound buyer insights you need.

Create a core brand story based on what your buyers care about.  This is an area I often see skipped.  A tendency is to jump right into saying what the brand has always said.  In our connected digital world, this could be a big misstep.  Take time to create your brand story, which is relevant to what buyers care about today and fits today’s new order of business.

Develop consistency in brand messaging.  How different functions communicate the brand message is a difference maker today.  Branding must become everyone’s business in the organization.  Cutting across marketing, sales, service, and operations.

Provide a consistent brand experience across all channels.  The rise in channels and touchpoints over the last decade creates the challenge of providing a consistent brand experience.  With many buyers today operating in multi-channel mode, having variances in brand experiences will stick out like a sore thumb.

When You Do Not Invest

B2B organizations, which continue to have a mindset about branding not being an essential part of B2B business strategy, will be left out in the cold.  B2B branding is reaching a level of importance once regarded as sacrosanct to just B2C.  Increasingly becoming a powerful determinant in how choices and decisions are made.

When you do not invest in branding, it will be like an etch-a-sketch.   When buying behaviors shake and change again, your organization may disappear.

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