Why winning in B2B requires putting meaningful brand experiences at the top of the agenda

The B2B landscape is evolving at pace. Game-changing influences such as the pandemic, hybrid working, and the rise of a new buying and decision-making audience are forcing B2B businesses to evaluate what they need to do to win in an increasingly competitive environment. In the face of these changes, the customer journey is becoming increasingly complex and the ways in which brands become and stay relevant is being redefined. 

Brand experience is a top strategic priority for B2B CEOs and their influencers, after financial stability and productivity and efficiency, and before cost base reduction, new revenue streams and digital transformation. To understand the components that define successful B2B brand experiences - and uncover what separates the winning brands from the losing brands - Merkle B2B conducts a regular global study of more than 3,500 B2B decision-makers across tech, professional services, manufacturing and financial services. 

The latest SuperPowers 2.0 study highlighted that the brand experience gap between winning and losing B2B brands has narrowed by 51%. In light of this narrowing gap, the study also identified six newly important drivers that need to become critical components of a winning B2B brand experience. Where all six ingredients were delivered upon, organisations were not only three times more likely to see increased spend from customers, but they were also able to reduce the average sales cycle by up to a third. With millennials and Gen Z now in key decision-making and influencing roles, the opportunity to shorten the sales cycle is even more critical, given that they will take 90 days longer than the older generation to make their decision. 

With this in mind, here are the six newly important ingredients that any winning B2B brand must include.

1. Consistently deliver on time and as specified 

Brands need to reinforce their reputation for being dependable via inherent brand behaviour - just claiming it is not enough. Deloitte found that 75% of major public and privatesector programmes run over time or over budget and often have failure hard-coded into them from the outset. They developed Programme Aerodynamics, a process offering that enables the rapid delivery of high-impact programmes by enabling organisations to anticipate, shape and manage change. Through this programme Deloitte’s commitment to risk management and value creation demonstrates an inherent behaviour of reliability and dependability.

2. Be quick to respond and adapt to changing plans 

It is critical to ensure that CX is responsive to predictable and unpredictable events. Working with Wimbledon, IBM Consulting co-created an open and flexible platform of innovation giving millions of fans a unique, personalised digital experience. This platform transforms massive amounts of tennis data into meaningful and engaging insights for fans, whilst automating key business processes and securing Wimbledon's entire environment. Powered by IBM’s Watson AI, Wimbledon’s Match Insights platform surfaced real-time insights about every singles match, demonstrating IBM’s abilities to respond to rapidly changing realities amongst a broad audience.

3. Offer customizable products and services 

CX must be made relevant both on a business level and a personal level. PayPal demonstrates this through their Commerce Platform, providing businesses of all sizes with customisation options “built for you” and enabling them to customise payment and commercial solutions to suit both their business and personal needs. It further supports customers with a series of thought leadership content that assists them in growing their business and is tailored to specific business sizes, life stages and ambitions.

4. Provide the expertise, information and support that is needed 

It can appear easy for B2B brands to demonstrate expertise in their own products and categories. However, it is more difficult to go beyond this to add new levels of information and support that might transcend the core business offering. Recognising that the CMO is the shortest-tenured member of the board, Google spoke to Fortune 1000 board members and CMOs to understand the position of the CMO and demonstrate how they might reframe their position to become leaders of digital transformation. This positioned Google as a true ally to CMOs, showing support beyond what might be expected.

5. Teaching new skills and knowledge

A winning B2B brand will help customers learn new skills and capabilities. Salesforce’s Trailhead initiative allows for digital skills learning via a rich and engaging learning ecosystem and community that brings audiences to the very core of what Salesforce is about – business transformation. The free-of-charge initiative enables users beyond Salesforce’s customer base to learn in-demand digital skills, earn credentials and connect with a global community. A great example of how a B2B brand puts upskilling and transformation at the core of its behaviour. 

6. Taking a progressive approach to stakeholders  

In a world where communicating the “E” will often be prioritised, it is important that the other component parts of ESG commitments are demonstrated in equal measure. AB Inbev brand Michelob’s “Contract for Change” is an example of a brand demonstrating this progressive approach to stakeholders. In light of the significant investment required for US farmers to go organic - without promise of a buyer at the end of a three-year transition - Michelob made a Contract for Change with US farmers. The contract guaranteed farmers a buyer once their organic transition was complete, removing the biggest barrier. 

There are many examples of brands delivering against the six newly important ingredients, but there are fewer examples of them doing it well. The most successful B2B brands will demonstrate the ingredients across inherent brand behaviours rather than isolated activities, whilst aligning with the emerging B2B agenda of behaving like a forward-thinking business and adding meaningful value not only to the buyer’s organisation but, critically, the buyer themselves.

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