How B2B marketers are missing the point
There’s a long-held belief in B2B marketing that the brand isn’t as important to driving sales as other factors.
The rationale includes a range of reasonable-sounding assertions, such as:
- The person doing the selling (the rep) has more power in the transaction than the brand, because of the personal relationship she or he should have with their customers.
- The buyer, being a corporation or a company, is acting rationally rather than emotionally, as a consumer does, and is therefore more interested in facts than feelings.
- The target market isn’t broad enough to merit the investment branding would demand.
- The product attributes are too complex to adequately explain in an ad, tagline or motto.
The problem with this belief is that it is wrong.
The truth is that “the company’s overall reputation is generally more influential than the sales presentation, and that technical personnel in high-risk situations rely more heavily on company reputation than on the presentation.”
This is because the buyer is not a corporation, but a human being acting for a corporation – as is the seller. As such both parties are subject to emotional impulses as well as rational thinking and logic. Or, as Michael Clark of UPP puts it: “B2B brand equity is built in our minds and is rooted in our emotional feelings about brand connections including our feelings about aspiration and trust.”
And, according to a 2017 Lippincott study, this is based on fact, not hearsay. They conducted a survey asking consumers and business customers to rank the importance of price and brand in the purchase decision. Their statistical analysis of the data showed that the consumer’s choice was driven 34 percent by price and 27 percent by brand whereas, for the business buyer, the impact of price (27 percent) and brand (39 percent) was exactly reversed.
Over and over again investment in a B2B brand has been proven to provide positive returns.
Very clear evidence that a leading B2B brand can help justify a price premium, and the ‘halo effect’ can ensure that new products introduced by respected brands are well received by their target markets.
On reflection the reasons are pretty compelling:
- There is generally significantly more money involved in a B2B purchase.
- Chances are, it’s more than just a one-off purchase decision (ie. customers are buying into a long-term relationship).
- The costs for switching are significantly higher.
- There is a higher penalty for making the wrong decision.
Is it any surprise, “No-one ever got fired for buying an IBM”.
Over and over again, investment in a B2B brand, regardless of how broad the target market is or how complex the products are, has been proven to provide positive returns.
Look at the world’s Top 20 B2B brands.
Scanning a list of the top 20 B2B companies for 2017, one thing immediately becomes apparent. They are very well known names – Microsoft, IBM, UPS, GE and Shell among them – because they’re more than just names, they’re brands. Their success is at least in part due to their recognition of the importance of branding in every market where they operate, including B2B.
The other common characteristic of most of these top 20 companies is that they are built on a discernible vision, with a system of definable beliefs and a set of well thought out behaviours that guide everything they do. In other words, they are constructed on a powerful underlying ideology.
Are you leveraging your brand effectively to drive sales?
Accepting that brand is critical to getting results from B2B marketing activities, the next step is to consider your own brand, and the ideology underlying it. Questions that should be asked include:
- How is your brand perceived by your customers?
- Is the brand supported by a pervading overall vision and set of beliefs, which inform a corresponding protocol of behaviours?
- Do your customers, staff and other stakeholders buy into your ideology and ‘live’ it?
If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, you are ready to move to the next level. If not, consider examining your ideology and brand, and finding ways to make them work together more effectively.
This will involve defining and articulating your ideology, getting your people to believe and live it, and embedding it every customer touchpoint and brand experience.
The next level – seeing I to I.
Once you have a strong ideology-led brand, you can embark on ideology to ideology marketing – seeing I to I.
The key here is to study the prospective customer’s ideology and how it fits with your own. Knowing what drives your customers will help you to understand their needs and how they prefer them to be met. You can then fit your service to their way of thinking and doing, rather than trying to get them to fit your preferred method of delivery.
Having a deeper understanding of the client’s needs will help you perceive their needs more clearly, and assist you in being proactive. If you stay connected to them via tools like social media and CRM, you can begin to identify opportunities before they even know they have a need.
You will be working to their ideology and refining your own in a positive way at the same time.
We are a creative management consultancy that brings together business strategy, brand and culture to create meaningful relationships.
We work with ambitious B2B leaders to drive transformation and accelerate growth by unlocking competitive advantage within their businesses. We get to the heart of an organisation’s unique reason for being, its ideology, and build the brand from the inside-out by embedding it in the culture and in every customer experience.