Is B2B branding the key to a successful business?

Indeed, these are important parts of any branding strategy, however a brand is much more than this.

The traditional practice of marking or branding cattle to distinguish ownership has been adopted by companies and has created a recognition tool; enabling existing and potential consumers to identify products of a certain company. However, a brand is more complex than simple recognition and also has resonance with a company’s values and cultural uniformity, and also the consistency of communications and presentation.

Reflecting Brand Essence

Business-to-business branding is currently working for industrial companies but with limited efficiency, as success is often achieved by accident and not through deliberate design. This is due to the lack of effective management and direction of the company brand. Companies are struggling to ensure a common template across internal and external publications by attempting to reflect their brand essence in everything they do. Hence it is no surprise that industrial companies are low on the branding ladder.

This metaphorical ladder pinpoints the milestone stages in the process of a company, creating and maintaining a strong brand with the aspiration of achieving a sustainable competitive advantage. At the moment many industrial markets are stagnant; they have a brand of sorts (they are not unbranded) however are located between the recognition and positioning rungs of the ladder. With a little extra effort (such as a well-designed branding strategy) and expense, the effect of B2B branding within the industrial market could be improved, increasing both customer loyalty and profitability.

Brand Strategy in the Marketplace

The starting point of any branding strategy is research; what does the company stand for? What is the most important value you want to communicate? Is it a low price guarantee or an exceptional customer service? Or, does it go deeper than the tangible assets? These intangible variables may be more valuable to your customers as they express personality characteristics of your company. Furthermore these qualities may be more effective in securing a larger target market, strengthening your position within the marketplace and on the B2B branding ladder.

Although certain tangible assets will appeal to the target market, it is important to allow consumers to attach their own value and meaning to your company and products – which can be influenced by your brand. As aforementioned, the brand of a company heavily relates to consistency and uniformity; two properties that help shape and eventually become a company’s identity.

Brand Consistency

The use of graphic symbols i.e. a logo is an excellent visual reminder of a company, yet a consumer or potential customer cannot decipher or understand a company’s value system from this alone. It is important to understand how a consumer perceives your company from the representation you are exposing them to. Ensuring a consistent layout like font, use of colour and message across promotional items will imply a heightened sense of professionalism, and will help sustain your brand within the market and amongst competition. In addition, this will also make your company easily identifiable.

It is not enough however to appear consistent to the external markets. The internal environment must be uniform too, as a confused understanding of company values from within the business could jeopardise a brand and also affect the company’s differentiating advantage. Thus, ruining the chances of sustaining your position and certainly dominating within the competitive market.

It is additionally important to be able to distinguish between a brand and a product. Many industrial companies give names to their products, however this does not make them a brand – a product is only a brand if people associate imagery and values to it. Many industrial brands are simply labels which could just as easily be referred to numerically. As a result of this confusion within the industrial market, it is typically only the corporate brand that matters and which consumers attach individual value to.

Beyond Price and Availability

The essence of marketing is having the right product in the right place and at the right price, but if these attributes are the only influencers of purchasing behaviour, why do some choose you over others, regardless of these parameters?

The answer is the brand. It is the values the consumers recognise within your company communicated via your brand, which go beyond the price and availability. Being open and allowing customers to see where their values and the company values overlap creates good rapport, which is by far more effective than simply having the right product in the right place for the right price.

Even in the specialised small industrial markets, it is unlikely target audiences will be swayed by an unknown supplier offering goods at a lower price. This could be down to inertia – the balance between the current product performance and the effort to change. Or more positively and perhaps more believably it could be the trust in the product and the view that a new product may not perform as well. This trust does not remain solely with the product and transcends to the company and brand, as a result of the relationship they have built and the loyalty they have towards you. As a loyal customer they are affected by more than the functional aspects of the product and will not only give you repeat business but will further communicate your brand for you.

Brand Promise

A good example of this is your brand promise, this is the promise of what you will deliver to the customer as part of the brand experience. Consistency matters most you need to ensure the whole organisation delivers on the brand promise day in and day out. This is where it becomes difficult for all companies to ensure consistency on a regular basis. The brand promise has to be delivered each and every time the customer has that ‘moment of truth’ when they engage with your company be it directly over the phone, by letter or by use of your product or service. This ‘promise’ means that every aspect of a companies operations are required to understand, believe and really embrace the promise. Any aspect of company operations that fails to deliver breaks the brand promise.

To deliver requires strong internal communication, training, systems and leadership from the top of the organisation. It also requires collecting regular feed back from customers as to their views and opinions on your performance and ensuring that any business performance gaps are closed. In doing this you show to the market and your customers that you are honestly concerned in ensuring that you deliver that promise. By doing so you underscore the customer’s belief that their purchase from you was the right one and the benefit is they are more likely to come back and re purchase and endorse you.

Opportunity Amongst Competition

A strong brand is at the heart of a company and is their identity; providing a differentiating opportunity amongst competition. From the tangible appearance of the employees and the services provided to the intangible organisational culture, each factor contributes to a company’s value system and the way this is perceived by a consumer through brand communications.

Despite its convincing argument, business-to-business branding is not the be all and end all of a successful business – it is only one aspect of marketing. However designing and creating a strong industrial brand will not only aid the development of the marketing mix, but it will additionally progress a company up the B2B branding ladder which will ensure full comprehension of your company and its policies, from a consumer perspective.

Chris Wilcock, Creative Director, Opening Doors. Providing creative marketing that improves awareness, sales and the bottom line.