B2B branding: The third age
Led by a greater recognition of the power of a consistently and coherently delivered brand experience, B2B branding is now entering a third age. A third age which focuses inside out, and while still recognising and respecting the importance of sales and price in short-term decision making also understands and values the role of relationships, emotion and the need to take a long-term perspective.
Led by a greater recognition of the power of a consistently and coherently delivered brand experience, B2B branding is now entering a third age. A third age which focuses inside out; still recognises and respects the importance of sales and price in short-term decision making, but also understands and values the role of relationships, emotion and the need to take a long-term perspective.
The first age of B2B branding was all about the name, the identity and maybe a tagline. The brand was the public face or perhaps more brutally the brand was the make-up that the public face wore to attract new users. A re-brand was a makeover.
The second age saw an evolution and broadening of the role. Branding was seen as a marketing and sales tool. Branding was part of developing a killer proposition for customers that could help the sales process even if it was unlikely to clinch the final deal. Brand awareness helped get you into the consideration set a branded, differentiated proposition might help you get on the short-list.
The third age recognises that brands in the modern world can play an even bigger and broader role. They address multiple stakeholder groups both external but equally, and perhaps more importantly, internal as well.
Few (if any) organisations only have one target group nowadays. Most need to deal with multiple stakeholders including customers – often of different types and sizes, national or local government, investors, local communities, NGOs and so on. They also have to think about their own employees – both current and future. The best brands come from within; they start with their own people. Finding, recruiting and keeping great employees is a key success factor and providing them with a purpose and philosophy, something a well-defined brand does, is key.
In this third age, there is also more recognition that while absolute cost is still a key factor, other elements come into play in what many commenters would point out is a H2H (human-to-human) as well as B2B (business-to-business) context and so emotion and relationships shouldn’t to be ignored.
The third age perspective is longer-term too; it understands that the point of purchase is rarely the end of the sale but rather the beginning of a relationship. A relationship whose real value extends over a series of “sales”, one that can incorporate changes in what the company does and what the customer needs and even who the specific customer contact is. IBM’s shift from hardware to consulting being a perfect example.
So from its origins in providing a pleasing and appropriate name and identity, third age B2B marketers recognise that branding can:
1. Provide the necessary balance of consistency and flexibility so marketing, sales and PR works effective across all key stakeholder groups and target audiences.
2. Create demand/pull for the brand.
3. Shorten the sales process.
4. Help create greater barriers to entry/more differentiation (versus existing and new competition).
5. Help supporting or justify higher prices and margins.
6. Help build emotionally and functionally based long-term relationships that encompass multiple purchase points outliving individuals in specific roles.
7. A well-defined brand purpose and philosophy - set of beliefs – can help recruit and retain employees and provide the cultural and behavioural framework that helps ensure your brand delivers at every touch point and provides a branded experience.
The question remaining is whether your business has entered this new age and put this broader understanding of the brand at the heart of what you do.