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Branding In B2B Markets

The importance of branding

A brand is more than a logo. It is the identity of your company. Put all your company’s communications on the table. Is there uniformity and consistency? Behind every strong brand is a brand champion adhering to brand guidelines, and the challenge is moving beyond symbols to achieve the cultural uniformity customers recognise and value.

What do you stand for?

The starting point of a brand strategy is working out the single most important value of your company. How do you treat customers? Are your messages consistent? What do you stand for?

Know the difference between product and brand. The two get confused, with industrial companies giving names to their products, believing they are brands. Remember, a product is only a brand if people connect imagery and associations with it.

A brand is:

  • Something customers ask for by name
  • The name people use when talking about the product
  • When people think of the brand rather than the product
  • Something with a personality beyond the product
  • Something people pay a premium for

A product is:

  • A convenient locator in a product range
  • Something which could just as easily be ordered by description
  • A level which could be changed without any loss of loyalty to the customer
  • A label which customers have to look up and don't really care about

In most B2B markets, the only B2B brand of value is the company itself. Product labels trying to pass as brands could just as easily be numbers or codes.

The power of branding

Good marketing is having the right product in the right place at the right price, ensuring customers are aware of the product/service and want it above all others.

Coke and Pepsi have persuaded customers that their phosphoric acid, flavourings, colourings and sugar are better than those mixed by others. People do not drink Coke to quench their thirst, or drive a Mercedes because it offers best value for money. Something else is going on – the power of branding. Branding works for Coke and it can for a manufacturer of industrial hose too.

Consider someone who buys lubricants. When asked in market research why they choose a certain supplier, they may rationalise their decision with hard, tangible factors, like performance, price, or guarantee. But why do they really stay loyal to the supplier? When you dig deeper, the real reasons may be something beyond tangibles.

The value of a brand

Your brand name and its associations stand for everything you offer. Product quality. Reliability. These are all wrapped up in perceptions of your brand.

When people say a Mercedes offers good value for money, they believe it. They don’t confuse themselves by weighing up alternatives. Someone buying a Shell lubricant synthesises their decision so they think only of Shell and worry no more.

This is why market researchers try to get beyond obvious values. They ask projective questions, using scenarios beyond the direct and obvious. Word associations using Freudian psychology tease out simple brand values – another favourite is asking respondents to make an association between the brand and a car, or the brand and an animal.

Associations are only part of the equation, though. We must put a monetary figure on those brand values. In consumer markets there are many ways to get at these values. But this is more difficult in industrial markets, given the brand is the company itself. One measure of this value is the premium someone will pay for the company beyond the tangible assets and beyond typical price earnings multiple in that sector. Complications arise when the premium is partly due to the brand and partly due to patents or a charismatic CEO, or some other intangible but valuable issue.

Gaining competitive advantage

Dell, Sony and IBM are computers that all do the same thing. But buyers may see one standing for flexibility, another for innovation, another for quality. All possess all three values but the high ground for each value is owned by just one of the companies, helping them to gain a competitive advantage.

Yet so many industrial companies have no strategic plans for managing their company brand, without even a common template for stationery or adverts, let alone a brand essence that is reflected in everything they do.

While B2B branding will not be the making or breaking of a successful business, if you get it right, the likelihood is that all the other parts of the marketing mix will fall into place.