I’m not a believer in branding being a primary driver of B2B success, which surprises most people, given that my business is all about marketing. But when it comes to closing a B2B deal, I don’t see any hard evidence that branding alone will convince a customer to buy. It is often even questioned in B2C markets, as John Wanamaker (founder of Wanamaker’s department stores) used to say, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is, I don't know which half.”
Of course, branding has its place -- particularly for business-to-consumer (B2C) markets. That’s because consumer branding often involves convincing people of things that aren’t necessarily true. B2C marketing efforts are frequently driven by such irrational factors as image, self-satisfaction, fashion, the need to be cool, sex appeal, etc. That’s why consumer marketing generally lives and dies by advertising. Very few consumer products or services can survive without it. Consumer ads, promotions and other image projections often establish the product's value and create the demand for it.
The B2B world, by contrast, is rooted in the rational. Branding that appeals to irrational or perceived needs just isn’t going to work, because in the end businesses will not buy nor continue to buy things that don't actually help their business. Marketing your business products and services to business customers demands a different way of seeing the relationship between your product and the prospect, including the hierarchy of benefits -- real and perceived.
That’s why we in B2B marketing must rely on a more fundamental tool: compelling business value. The value that you create for a customer is your best asset for appealing to the B2B customer, because the B2B customer believes in facts (aka, verifiable financial proof in the form of ROI).
The task for B2B marketers is to understand what constitutes value for their customer and to create a truly compelling value proposition that a prospective customer will recognize and respond to. The value proposition must be relevant to their actual needs, and expressed clearly and directly. And it must position your offering against your competitors' in terms of business value, and not features, flashy advertising, or other factors subject to rapid oblivion. Go for substance. If you've got numbers, use them. Leave trying to convince people that they will be more attractive if they buy your product to automobile advertising.
Once you have a compelling value proposition, stick with it. Continue to prove it and strengthen it. If it rings true, make it ring louder, make it ring for a wider audience. Even if you get tired of hearing it, your target audience won’t.
In B2B, a brand is built by delivering on the actual value behind your value proposition. Staying true to the promise is really what creates a B2B brand and sustains it as fleeting trends come and go. There's no better way to increase return on your marketing investment. In the end in B2B, advertising won’t help you create your brand. Once a brand is established, you can advertise to promote it, but a B2B brand is born from your product or service.
What are your thoughts about building a B2B brand? Post your comments below.