When it comes to business development in 2016, it can seem as if business-to-business (B2B) companies operate in an alternate universe than their B2C (“business-to-consumer”) counterparts – and the concept of branding is a case example of just how different their worlds are.
Consumer-driven companies, by nature, have to get themselves noticed by the public in order to win revenue. If they don’t stand out, they fade into the mass of other businesses competing for customers’ attention. That’s why branding is widely understood to be important in the B2C space: Without a recognizable identity, B2C companies can’t differentiate themselves enough to earn a substantive share of their market. No matter the industry, B2C branding matters – period.
Alternatively, B2B companies often operate behind-the-curtain. Enterprise software companies, for example, face long sales cycles and typically win or lose clients based on the ability of their product to adapt to a client’s needs. “Standing out from the competition” is important, but B2B companies aren’t trying to be picked up off a shelf. In their minds, what differentiates B2B businesses from their competitors is the value they provide to potential clients in areas like service, availability, pricing, and quality. Period.
Because it’s possible for B2B companies to win business quietly, branding (or rebranding) typically falls very low on B2B companies’ priority lists. The fact that many B2B executives don’t understand the concept, belittling it nothing more than the logo and tag line, also doesn’t help the cause.
But branding is about far more than compelling imagery and clever slogans. It’s about distinction, uniformity, and the communication of a company’s value. And branding does help B2B companies win revenue – even if their products aren’t sold on a shelf – because it helps establish a company’s identity.
A Tip for B2B Sellers: You’re No Longer in the Driver’s Seat
B2B companies’ neglect of branding can stem from the outdated idea that long sales cycles (as mentioned above) put the seller in a position of control: A B2B company seeking to win a new client communicates what it wants to communicate to the buyer over the course of the purchasing process, and the buyer uses the information provided to make their decision.
But that’s far from the only information that matters. 74% of business-to-business buyers told Forrester last year that they research half or more of their work purchases online before buying – leaving sellers with less ability to directly communicate their brand identity, value proposition, and product information to potential customers on a one-to-one basis.
That means that if companies don’t invest in presenting a unified identity – in imagery, tone, and voice; online and in print; across all content and messaging – it can hurt them well before the sales cycle ever begins. Why? Because a muddled brand identity can keep them from consideration for new business entirely.
Going Beyond the Logo: Creating Distinction & Patterns
Effective B2B branding involves two interrelated objectives: distilling the company’s value proposition into a unique identity, and conveying that identity consistently. And yes… an updated, modern logo is an important piece of an overall branding strategy.
But even a logo itself is not really “just a logo” – it’s a graphical representation of the company’s value system and way of doing things, which is why investing in the development of a great one is so important. If a logo truly reflects a B2B company’s identity, then using it consistently helps to not only create uniformity, but communicate the business’ uniqueness and corporate “personality.”
Yet using a logo to foster visual consistency is far from the only piece of branding strategy that matters, as language is also key. Though it’s impossible for every single piece of content– ranging from website copy to blog posts to tweets and other social media material – to hit the exact same note, a well-defined B2B brand strikes a similar tone across all mediums and messages, while leaving room for creativity and matching the context of a given communication.
Ultimately, a “well-defined” brand is key – and B2B companies can rarely define it well on their own. As with all things PR and marketing, an experienced strategic partner is an invaluable asset to any company as it looks to branding to better communicate distinct value. And for technology-focused companies especially, a trusted agency like ThinkInk can help bring the importance of branding in from the B2C universe for the benefit of B2B stakeholders.