The Unacknowledged Leverage of B2B Brands

18 Jun


By Charles Byers, a longtime friend and former client of MCA

Living in Silicon Valley  ̶  the capital of innovation  ̶  you can’t imagine how often I hear technology executives state, “We’re a B2B company specializing in technology, so brand doesn’t matter.”

This data-driven, technically trained mindset clearly appreciates the tangible aspects of innovation: feeds and speeds, product design, etc. Sadly, it doesn’t grasp the intangibles that ultimately turn technical success into business success.

But let’s be perfectly clear. Good B2B brands have one very tangible role: drive revenues and margins.  How do they do this?  They build differentiation, add value, add intangibles to the purchasing process, and break attribute-driven ties.

Brands are critical in creating an uneven playing field that works to an organization’s advantage. Brand strategist David Aaker argues in his book “Building Strong Brands” that brand differentiation “is not introducing another marginal difference but creating categories and subcategories that redefine the market in such a way as to make competitors …. less relevant and to cause (customers) to rethink their decisions.”

Audacious indeed, but in this land of small attribute-based difference, the power of the brand to create scenario-shifting differentiation spells the difference between subsistence living and market leadership. The objective:  make sure the customer doesn’t think twice when (and after) choosing your offering.

There’s a misplaced notion that all purchasing is done on attributes and price alone, assuming the same attributes hold the same values for different individuals. But the more sophisticated brands understand that delivery, service and trust make up the brand foundation that move the purchasing dialogue toward selection based on a holistic transactional experience.

And given the complexity of today’s purchasing-by-committee process, differentiated brand propositions work best because they connect on an emotional level with the needs and concerns of different individuals involved in the collective process. Brand provides the means to scale a highly personal connection and align individuals’ needs with behaviors and messages – the basis for focused and integrated brand marketing.

Finally, strong B2B brands are the attribute-based tie breakers. The notion that “no one got fired by buying IBM” still captures the risk-avoidance power of today’s brands to differentiate the preferred from the also-ran. Technologists argue that their audiences are very small compared to B2C, and they are selling very complex things that really are set apart via their features. Risk avoidance is the biggest driver of purchasing decisions in B2B, and it is an emotional driver. Studies show that, despite what they think, buyers in the B2B space choose brands, not products.

Ultimately, great B2B brands inspire greater willingness to try a product or service while reducing “closing” costs, heighten the propensity to make a purchase at a premium price and, ultimately, encourage a stronger rejection of competitive offerings.

So what do you think? Share some of your B2B brand successes.  I know they’re out there.


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