“Why do I need a brand? I’m not Coca-Cola.”
Consumer brands spend millions developing, monitoring and enhancing their brands, which may lead to the misconception that brands are not important for B2B companies. Even if you don’t think you need a brand, you already have one. David Ogilvy described brands as “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” That includes the advantage you deliver, how and where you deliver it, and the value of that benefit. Essentially, if you have customers, you have a brand. So, let’s examine some brand positioning basics – and why brands matter for B2B.
What is brand positioning?
Al Ries and Jack Trout first popularized brand positioning as a concept in their book Positioning – The Battle for Your Mind. Today, there are as many definitions of positioning as there are marketing experts. Most, however, agree that key messages come from branding and positioning create a distinct place for your brand in the mind of the consumer. Further, most experts would also agree that – ideally – your distinct place in the consumers’ minds should be different from your competitors. Most simply, positioning is “what you want to be known for.”
Over time, marketers began using the “classical” brand positioning statement: “For (target market), BRAND is the ONLY (category, frame of reference, competitive set) that (differentiation) because (proof points or reason to believe).” By filling in the blanks, marketers either accurately described their brand – or identified an aspirational brand position that they would then work to achieve. An example is “For businesses (target audience), HighFive is the only video conferencing service (frame of reference) that can connect all of your employees and all of your conferences rooms easily with one click (differentiation), because HighFive was built for business, not social networking (reason to believe).” (Click here for information about the brand positioning statement and marketing research: 4 Questions You Must Answer About Your Brand.)
In today’s world, whether B2B or B2C, real differentiation may be hard to maintain. Therefore, some marketers have begun to call it “distinction.” While it may be true that your brand is an undifferentiated commodity, every brand can have some aspect that separates it from the pack.
So, before you resign yourself to a life of price competition as your only marketing option, think about other ways that your brand might stand out from other brands in the frame of reference for your target market. What about your brand relationships: are your customers more loyal? Were you the first-to-market? Often, even in an undifferentiated market, you can create a distinction by identifying a very compelling and desired quality and building a competitive advantage through your delivery of that attribute to customers.
Why Brand Positioning Matters for B2B
There are three reasons brands matter in B2B, as much if not more than in B2C markets:
- Cut Through Clutter. B2B products and services are often complex, and the individual features and benefits can become mind-numbing clutter. A strong brand helps you get noticed and becomes your loyal customers’ ‘shorthand’ for navigating a complicated – and risky – purchase decision. Accenture successfully rebranded under the tagline “High performance. Delivered.” to reinforce their brand promise and make the purchase decision easier for B2B clients.
- Tap into Emotions. There is a myth that B2B purchases are rational and not impacted by our emotions. Wrong! Human beings make B2B purchases. Remember the saying, “You don’t get fired for buying IBM”? Career protection may not have been a stated evaluation criterion, but you can be sure it was important.
- Facilitate Delivery of Brand Promise. Cultural transformation at Barry-Wehmiller (B-W), a $2 billion capital equipment and engineering consulting company based in St. Louis started by listening to and responding to employee frustrations. Since then, B-W’s strong brand culture has spread to other companies it has acquired, maintaining and reassuring customers of their excellent customer experiences.
Focus, Focus, Focus
The key benefit of building a strong B2B brand is focus. Brands become behavior standards and decision guides to strengthen marketing messages, operations, and strategy. Unifying diverse parts of your company under a strong brand can save money, improve productivity, and increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Are you sure you don’t need a brand?