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A masterclass in engagement from the world’s most valuable B2B brands

Almost a quarter of the world's most valuable brands are now B2B brands. Fraser Hynes, research director at Millward Brown, explores what has made them so successful

BrandZ’s annual ranking of the world’s 100 most valuable brands now includes 23 from the B2B sector. This is up from 14 in 2006, and reflects increased investment in brand-building, as companies recognise the power of a strong brand to drive revenues.

What unites the most successful companies in this list is that they’ve built their brand strategy around a single ‘big idea’. In an age of increased transparency having clarity of purpose, standing for something unique and genuinely striving to improve customers’ lives plays a huge role in predisposing people to purchase. IBM, the world’s second most valuable B2B brand, leads the way here with its ‘Smarter Planet’ ethos which connects with audiences on both a rational and emotional level.

Driving this engagement is the increased use of sophisticated analytical tools to understand purchase habits and buying signals, and prioritise leads. After Dell’s European marketing team introduced predictive analytics it was able to cut the number of leads sent to sales by half, while at the same time almost doubling revenues.

The ‘data revolution’ has also led to an ever more detailed understanding of the decision journey. This is enabling B2B marketers to optimise campaign activity and develop genuinely customer-centric content which moves brand communications from ‘announcements’ to ‘conversations’. Universally, brands are talking less about their products and focusing instead on the issues facing their customers. Strong examples of this include IBM’s Security Intelligence website, which directly addresses the challenges of IT professionals, and SAP’s C-Suite D!gitalist magazine which features thought leadership articles from independent industry voices.

The finesse shown in using digital channels is understandable given how rapidly decision-making groups are evolving: 46% of buyers researching B2B products today are millennials, compared with 27% in 2012, with 70% of those using video across the purchase path (Google and Millward Brown Digital). And you know there’s a significant shift taking place when a 120-year-old behemoth like GE starts talking about ‘emoji science’, and creating outstanding emotive video content such as its ‘Unimpossible Missions’ series to showcase the science behind its industrial products.

'A Snowball’s Chance in Hell' - Unimpossible Missions - GE

This approach to creating content designed to evoke an emotional response is universal amongst the most powerful B2B brands. Completely logical when in most markets the ‘brand’ is the only differentiating factor, and changing how customers feel about it the most effective way to stand out. This is why HP’s new CMO Antonio Lucio’s remit last year was to ‘bring back heart’ to the brand, and is an approach captured beautifully in Intel’s award winning ‘If Cables Were People’ campaign, which personifies and brings humour to the frustrating problems of trying to present from a laptop.

Now, of course, not many organisations have the marketing budgets of these 23 world-beating brands – but their sustained value shows that brand-building is a worthwhile investment: the stronger a brand, the more able it is to withstand the macro-factors that batter the categories B2B businesses operate in.