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2B or not 2B: What's next for B2B brands?

By Marco Rivolta

Imagine you buy the wrong brand of a brand new soda – you can always go back to the supermarket and buy a new one. Now, imagine you are the sales director of a company. You buy a supply of a newly developed plastic compound for your product, and it doesn't work. In this case, you have a major issue. Of course, you considered every functional aspect of the product when making your choice. But you needed to choose something new. This is why you made your decision based on the brand, and on the people at the company.

The brand becomes a significant aggregator of information in such situations, reducing the perceived risk involved in the transaction. In other words, brands are the greatest assets companies can use to set themselves apart from competitors in B2B environments – just like the B2C world. Today, B2B companies are truly recognizing the value of their brands and the importance of investing in them. B2B marketers are having more eye-to-eye discussions with B2C brands and learning valuable lessons in how to effectively reach their desired target audiences. As a result, they are building brands on levels unanticipated until just few years ago – one excellent example is GE.

So what's next for B2B brands? There are three main things that will help B2B brands achieve their full potential.

Content 1. Platform 0. Digital tools put content marketing and branded entertainment in the hands of all marketers, providing immense opportunities to interact and engage with your audiences. B2B brands have been quite skeptical about the available platforms, considering them to be too fancy or not addressing the target audiences. The good thing about these possibilities has nothing to do with the platform you use – the story you tell is what makes all the difference in connecting with your audiences.

What story, you may ask, are B2B brands supposed to tell?

There are two distinct levels of storytelling, and they serve two different objectives. Let’s call the first one purpose-driven. It’s the story of why you exist and do what you do. This category might also cover stories on CSR, your global reach and role in society. The goal here is to make a broad community of people understand why you exist. It is also the type of conversation that attracts new talent. Employer branding is more efficient when you give prospective employees a clear understanding of your ultimate goals rather than the functional benefits of the latest product. The second level of storytelling should focus on what you do, and how you do it. This is where you make your expertise, competitive assets and products the heroes of your stories. The aim is to be authentic, credible and clearly visible in an increasingly generic world. The greatest challenge is to achieve the right balance between these two levels of stories that best resonates with your audiences while enhancing your brand.

Simplify the customer journey The B2B purchase decision cycle is generally more extensive compared to B2C brands, in terms of the number of decision makers, duration and complexity of offered products and services. A brand is a valuable asset that helps you cut through this complexity and simplify the process.

At what moments of truth can each brand express its maximum potential?

When buyers are looking for information about their various options, the brand plays the role of reducing perceived risk. The brand needs to prove its relevance for all subsequent steps in the customer journey. In other words, the company needs to prove that it is reliable and can be trusted from the outset. After the purchase has been made, the brand is still a helpful tool in helping manage expectations with your customers. Existing trust and strong loyalty in the brand can go a long way towards repairing any issues that may occur during the customer journey. People are willing to give their preferred brands the benefit of the doubt, and tend to buy them again in the future. Naturally, the ability for brands to sell well in the future has a great deal to do with the people responsible for sales.

The sales force is king – and the brand is their kingdom Great brands start from within – this is true of every company. When it comes to B2B brands, the question remains: Where exactly do they begin? Who is truly responsible for creating and shaping these brands? The sales force plays a vital role in the B2B context. Salespeople serve as the primary point of contact for clients and are the key to driving performance. As transparency increases regarding product quality and price, the job of the sales force will shift more towards building and maintaining a meaningful branded relationship with your clients. Your sellers become a living extension of your company and its purpose. In an increasingly commoditized world, even the most cutting-edge B2B companies often claim the same competencies. Your sales force is the best amplifier of your brand – if your salespeople can stand united behind it.

A B2B brand can unfold as much value as a B2C brand. It provides your company with an overall purpose, and aligns your employees and resources towards common goals. Your brand helps you demonstrate your value to your customers and build long-term relationships with them throughout complex purchase cycles. If this isn’t enough to illustrate a B2B brand's value, then just remember: A B2B brand today can be the next star B2C brand star tomorrow. Just ask Google.

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