At the most fundamental level–at the human level, the mechanics of branding are consistent across every industry–across every product and service, because one element in the branding scenario is ever constant: humans, and the mechanics of creating and sustaining memory in humans transcends the setting in which that exercise occurs.
I often hear B2B marketing executives assert the idea that B2B and B2C branding are fundamentally different, and therefore the requirements for success in the B2B arena involve a completely different set of strategies and tactics.
In a thousand small ways this is true, but at the macro level, when focusing on the larger factors that lead to our intended outcome: a sale, B2B and B2C branding principles are far more similar than not. At the macro level, our goal as B2B marketers is simple: we want to cultivate awareness among our audience, inform them of our value proposition in a memorable fashion, and layer our products and services with a set of emotional associations that create affinity for our brand–one that tips the purchasing decision in our favor vs. our competitors. Long sales cycle, short sales cycle, complex products or simple products . . . all of those variables are secondary details in the process of sales persuasion–they inform the process, but aren’t the fundamental drivers.
Keep it simple. Win the big battles, then tackle the secondary issues.
Battle #1: Give your sales activities (people, processes, online and offline) the best stage upon which they can deliver a winning performance.
Here’s your salesman walking into a new business presentation and greeting a potential customer for the first time. In the absence of a strong and memorable B2B brand, he walks in alone.
That same salesman who enters a prospect’s office as the representative of a strong B2B brand strides onto a stage your brand has cultivated, accompanied by a rich set of associations: “he’s an elite professional”, “his products and services are reliable”, “his products and services are innovative.”his company has a rich heritage” etc. Your brand’s reputation precedes his entering that office, and accompanies him for the duration of his presentation. If you were that salesman, which scenario would you prefer? If you were the potential customer, which salesman would you look forward to meeting more?
Your brand provides the stage for your B2B salesforce.
The very same mechanics apply to your products or services.
Battle #2: In the absence of a brand’s employees, how do people feel about your products or services when they see them on a shelf, in a catalog, brochure, website . . . ?
Without a brand, this product is cola syrup and carbonated water in a glass bottle with a metal cap–just the sum of it’s components.
Your product is more that its constituent parts.
However when that exact product or service is branded, a powerful set of emotional and sensory associations are activated in your audience’s memory. If you had never purchased a Coca-Cola before and were presented both of these scenarios: one branded, the other unbranded, which product would you reach for first? Which product would you be willing to pay more money for?
Your product is delivering a brand performance.
Now you may say, “well that’s well and fine for Coca-Cola, but I sell rackspace servers!” The only difference between your rackspace server and that bottle of soda (aside from the obvious physical differences) is this: they’ve activated a unique, distinctive, and highly memorable set of associations for their brand, and you haven’t. I could have just as easily substituted a picture of your server for that bottle of Coke and the effect would have been remarkably similar. A viewer would believe your technology opens a world of creative and innovative solutions for its users. And that using your products/services, and interacting with your company personnel might even be enjoyable.
Do you think that kind of positioning would stand out among the dull, hum drum techno speak that dominates the rack server brandscape? If your rack servers can deliver all of the performance and reliability your competitors can, if your technical support is just as good or better than your competitors, but your customers feel differently about your brand, do you believe that might give you the edge you need to inch (or leap) ahead of your competition?
Once you overcome your initial resistance to the idea that the fundamentals of B2B and B2C branding are inherently different, you will have liberated yourself from the shackles that limit your brand’s ability to thrive and win more market share. You’ll come to see an entirely new set of opportunities for positioning your products in highly distinctive and memorable ways that create space between you and your competitors–space that leads to higher levels of awareness and recall, and ultimately, sales.
Be bold and prosper.