3 things you can learn from the world's best B2B brands
Brands willing to take risks and fail are the ones succeeding in today's economy, says Mike Rocha
For 19 consecutive years, Interbrand has been conducting its definitive study into the world’s Best Global Brands and, in these volatile times, it’s clear that the brands that will come out on top are the ones with the confidence to be bold and decisive.
There could be no more fitting theme for our 2018 report than ‘Activating Brave’. We examined the role that strong brands play in the transformation of the world’s leading businesses, creating the most impact and delivering exceptional results. These findings apply across both B2C and B2B brands.
When we run our valuation analysis, Interbrand assesses each brand on 10 factors of ‘Brand Strength’. These include factors internal to the organisation, such as clarity and governance, as well as external, customer-related, factors such as authenticity and engagement. We also assess ‘Role of Brand’, which is the influence of the brand in driving customer choice, relative to other factors like price, or product specification. Both Role of Brand and Brand Strength are levers to increase brand value, but more importantly, to drive business growth through a stronger brand.
When we analysed our BGB database, looking specifically at the brands that were either completely or significantly B2B in nature (hereafter, ‘B2B brands’), we identified some interesting findings.
1. Brand in B2B matters
The average B2B Role of Brand is 23%. In other words, nearly a quarter of a B2B purchase decision (for the best B2B brands in the world) is driven by brand. The old adage that ‘you don’t get fired for hiring IBM’ may not be as true as it used to be – IBM’s brand value has declined by an average of 11% over the past five years – but it is clear that B2B buyers are not entirely rational in their decision-making, taking into account factors such as personal reputation and impact on career prospects. Even on the fundamentals like delivery against contract specification, a strong B2B brand will do what strong brands do around the world – engender trust and reduce perceived risk.
2. Winning cultures create winning businesses
The fastest-growing B2B brands over the past five years have significantly increased their performance on clarity and commitment Brand Strength factors. This highlights how important it is for B2B brands first to be crystal clear about what they stand for and what makes them different and, second, committed to living up to that promise in everything they do.
Salesforce is one of the fastest growing brands in BGB this year, growing by 23%. This growth is underpinned by a very focussed commitment to the brand and culture within the business, at the core of which is the Hawaiian concept of ‘Ohana’. This stems from a sabbatical CEO Marc Benioff took in the late 90s in Hawaii. In Hawaiian culture, Ohana represents the idea that families – blood-related, adopted, or intentional – are bound together, and that family members are responsible for one another. When he created Salesforce in 1999, he made sure Ohana was in the company's foundations. Salesforce ranks number one in the 2018 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For.
3. To the self-disruptors the spoils
Our analysis shows that the top 10 fastest-growing B2B brands score significantly higher on two specific factors: Relevance and Responsiveness.
What this means in practice is that these B2B brands are both highly customer-centric, creating and offering products and services that are extremely relevant to customer needs, as well as agile enough to evolve and adapt rapidly as customer needs change.
B2B brands that are declining in value in 2018, like GE (-26%) and IBM (-8%) were formerly in the top 10 of our global ranking but have failed to adapt fast enough. Conversely, brands like Microsoft (+16%) and Adobe (+19%) are winning by being willing to do whatever it takes to keep the customer happy, even if this means reinventing themselves and disrupting their own business models.
Just five years after Adobe’s controversial decision to switch its entire business from one-off product purchases to enduring relationships with its customers through its subscription and cloud-based business model, it is reaping the rewards. Adobe has seen a 17% average annual increase in brand value since 2013.
In practical terms, it takes a great deal of courage to imitate Adobe or Microsoft. From the CEO down, companies must be infused with a culture of experimentation, a willingness to take risks and a willingness to fail.
It takes a relentless focus on the customer as well as the ability to simultaneously look at your business, your customers’ worlds, and the market in which you operate, through both a microscope and a telescope. Inspired and informed by frameworks like Brand Strength, brands need to sweat over the details while simultaneously plotting a course towards a long-term vision.
Download this free, practical guide on how to find out what brand experience is, why it’s important in B2B, and how to ensure your experience is consistent across touchpoints.