In some executives’ minds, business to business (B2B) branding just doesn’t make sense. Consumers base their purchases on the emotional pull of a brand. But for business transactions, no one cares about any of that … Right? Wrong.
A solid branding effort is essential is essential for attracting both consumers and business clients. In fact, most of the world’s strongest global brands rely on sales to businesses as well as consumers (e.g., Google, Microsoft, IBM).
That said, the keys to B2B branding are a bit different. To be effective with your business clientele, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Master branding beats product-line branding. Yes, consumer marketers often focus on branding products (product-line branding) rather than branding the larger company (master branding), because they can better segment target audiences. However, master branding usually proves more effective for B2B efforts. A strong corporate brand creates a wider circle of influence and can reach across many segments of potential clients. Strong corporate brands are also more able to blunt a wider range of competitors, improve loyalty and avoid market confusion. And even if an organization has a number of products in play, the strong master brand provides long-term strength.
Establish coherent messages to be used up and down the ranks. Yes, establishing strong core messages is a basic tenet of consumer marketing, but it’s actually even more important for the B2B world. Imagine the damage every time a sales or customer relations person goes off message. It could result in lost sales and business loyalty. A strong marketing department must make sure key messages permeate the B2B organization.
Look and feel like a solid company. Consistently branded packaging, web sites and promotional materials give your company a sheen of professionalism and stability that will attract like-minded businesses. Super-strong B2B brands go even further, ensuring everyone uses the writing style and imagery that fit the brand.
Don’t forget content marketing. Content marketing has a bad rap among B2B marketers who label it as mere storytelling rather than the hard-hitting, direct approach needed for business transactions. Yet, the fact remains that potential clients are hungry for informative content. Therefore, it just makes sense to develop content that addresses pain points for your client base. A key consideration point: Your clients are busy, so instead of investing in elaborate video productions, stick to more straightforward written messaging.
Don’t underestimate emotion. Yes, we just said to be straightforward, however, that doesn’t mean you can’t add a little seasoning to your messaging. B2B buyers can be overwhelmed during the decision-making process. A typical request for proposal (RFP) process has dozens of potential vendors, features and data to review. Along with your clean, clear-cut presentation on the benefits of your product, sprinkle in a taste of your company’s values and vision. These positive associations can have sway, especially when your client experiences confusion or indecision.
Make the CEO a brand champion. Every corporate brand campaign demands CEO support, but perhaps the B2B brand demands even more C-suite backing. Successful B2B marketing needs people who can truly sell a product, and that means leaders should instill employees with the confidence and personal pride that comes from solid branding. Employees who are encouraged by their CEO to “feel” the brand are inspired, whether they are responding to customers, filling orders or developing new products.
Watch the numbers. Successful branding depends on a reliable system of metrics and monitoring. Just as in consumer marketing, it’s critical to consistently evaluate and improve the credibility of branding efforts.
Of course, a good B2B brand manager also relies heavily on the sales department to determine whether or not efforts are succeeding.
Let’s go deeper into strengthening the relationship between marketing and sales to boost your brand. Here are some tips on developing a partnership that clicks:
- Develop a coordinated sales and branding/marketing strategy. Never create a B2B branding effort without bringing sales into the loop early in the game. Engaging sales early in the brand development process is essential for their engagement, acceptance of the brand, and the campaign’s success.
- Ensure regular meetings, and promote feedback. Establish regular feedback loops so the sales team can easily weigh in on the leads marketing provides to them. What’s working, and what’s missing?
- Provide the right tools. Give sales representatives the branded templates and tools they need to do their jobs, and regularly follow up to assess if the tools are working.
- Know the cycle. Your branding may be amazing, but if materials are delivered at the wrong time, they’re wasted. For example, B2B organizations are notorious for sending out unsolicited white papers very early in the lead generation process. That’s valuable content that usually falls on deaf ears. Instead, get to know the sales cycle, and understand when to let the marketing faucet drip slowly and when to let it flow.
- Don’t just hand off leads, study them. Take a look at the types of leads your brand and marketing work is capturing. Are they what you expected when you established the brand? Sometimes, sales won’t tell you honestly if the brand is missing its mark, so make sure you’re doing some reality checking on your own.
- Educate and collaborate. Yes, sales and marketing often have their differences, but you’re on the same team and, ultimately, representing the same brand. It just makes sense to educate one another on your efforts and do your best to be side by side.