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B2B buyers say ‘don’t tell us, show us who you are’

A recent research study by McKinsey has uncovered a surprising gap between the most commonly used B2B brand messages and what customers value for brand strength.

The study boiled down to 13 themes from 90 Fortune 500 and DAX 30 companies. McKinsey then surveyed 700 global executives across six sectors, to determine how each of the brand themes was evaluated for perceived strength.

McKinsey's results show that the most common brand messaging themes - such as ‘social responsibility’, ‘sustainability’, and ‘global reach’ - are amongst the least influential in portraying brand strength. The opposite is also true, in that themes such as ‘cares about honest and open dialogue’ and ‘fits well with my values and beliefs’, important messages for customers, were not emphasised at all by the companies in the sample.

Apart from providing helpful insight into business service buyers, the research appears to align with larger consumer trends toward brand transparency.

In our world of limitless research and self-selection, customers are in the power position. Rather than taking invasive messaging at face value, they look for cues of genuine brand behaviour in their decision-making. Assessing brand behaviour means understanding the underlining values and truths in the similar way that we get to know and assess human beings. What’s interesting from the research is that three of the most important brand themes for buyers are all identity based: caring, responsible action, and values & beliefs. And yet none of these themes are being communicated in B2B marketing – most likely due to brands continuing to believe in persuading audiences through headline messaging.

Brand identity elements are difficult to communicate through ads but much easier to experience. The research confirmed this by finding that sales reps are the most influential factor since they are (ideally) real living, breathing ambassadors. When used correctly, digital media - and particularly social tactics - can be leveraged to invite customers to interact with and experience a brand. The AMEX open forum is a great example of a digital platform that delivers on a key brand belief by helping small business owners. What’s more, AMEX empowers its employees, who genuinely represent the brand’s characteristics, to behave on the behalf of the brand.

The strength of transparency marketing is also its key challenge. Customers want to know the identity of your organisation and if that identity is not well defined or, worst, not attractive, it will be difficult to make a positive impact.  For organisations on their third merger in as many years, truly exhibiting brand beliefs can be incredibly challenging. There might be four words splashed in the building lobby, but they are meaningless unless they are real and lived and rewarded throughout the organisation.

If B2B marketers want to truly connect with the brand criteria of buyers, they will need to dig hard to find their brand’s true character, distil and champion it, and look for meaningful and innovative ways that allow customers to experience it in action.

 

by Matthew Walko, Head of Strategy, Omobono