B2B Branding: How to Develop a Powerful Brand Strategy

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brand strategy, b2b brand strategy, b2b branding

The importance of business-to-business branding remains a hot topic in marketing discussions. Some experts argue that branding does not significantly impact the B2B buying process.

While it’s true that B2B customers make choices based heavily on factors such as quality and cost, a B2B brand strategy is still an integral part of the sales funnel and provides many unique advantages.

While B2B transactions involve logical decision making, successful branding is crucial for sustainable growth and entering new markets.

What’s the Difference Between B2B and B2C Branding?

Branding is an essential part of the image companies present to the world but the benefits vary depending on whether you market to consumers or businesses.

Business-to-consumer (B2C) transactions are typically motivated by emotional impulses such as happiness, fear, or anger. Fast food restaurants, for example, target hunger and food preferences. Designer clothing brands target the desire for status.

B2B transactions are more motivated by logic and less guided by impulses, but emotions still play a role in the decision-making process. In fact, according to Bob Lenoard of Find and Convert, B2B brand strategies that connect with buyers emotionally have twice the impact compared to strategies focused on functional value.

B2B branding strategies should help convey expertise, authority, stability, and trust. These are essential brand traits that prospective customers look for when comparing B2B companies.

The scope of branding also varies between B2B and B2C companies. B2C companies tend to have a wider range of customers, requiring a brand strategy that appeals to a diverse group of people. Because of their wide appeal, it’s natural for B2C companies to depend on branding to grow and retain their customer base. The leading soda manufacturers and fast food chains all have strong brands. Consumers instantly recognize these companies and associate specific emotions with the brand. Over time, consumers develop personal preferences for brands, even spending more money on a product simply based on the brand name.

B2B companies target a specific market, requiring branding that demonstrates knowledge of that niche. This does not make branding any less important, but it does shift the focus of a brand strategy. Where B2C brands seek to widen their mass appeal, B2B brand strategy seeks to position a company as the best choice within a narrow field.    

Why Is a Strong Brand Essential for B2B Companies?

While the emotional pull of a strong brand is less noticeable in the B2B sales cycle, it offers many benefits to B2B companies. The key advantages of B2B brand development include:

  • Unified marketing efforts
  • Qualified sales leads
  • Confidence and trust
  • Greater customer loyalty
  • More referrals

A branding strategy brings consistency and unifies marketing efforts. Having a consistent message gives marketers and salespeople a playbook for promoting features or benefits of the company’s products or services.

A B2B brand strategy helps communicate the company’s promise to customers. This keeps the marketing department and sales department aligned, resulting in fewer unqualified leads.

According to HubSpot, misalignment between these two departments costs B2B companies 10% of their revenue per year.

Besides unifying marketing and sales, a strong B2B brand strategy brings in more qualified sales leads. Increased brand awareness gives prospective customers a general understanding of the products or services, helping to qualify leads.

Developing a strong brand also gives customers more trust in a B2B company. Many B2B sales involve ongoing transactions. Customers may need to rely on the company’s services or continue purchasing supplies or products.

A solid brand image provides confidence. Customers know that the company can continue to meet their needs for years to come. This also leads to greater loyalty and customer retention.

Branding also tends to bring more referrals as customers are more comfortable recommending a trustworthy brand to another business.

Essential B2B Brand Development Strategies

According to Marketing Charts, 75% of B2B buyers prefer branded content. It helps with the research process. However, 93% of B2B marketing focuses on the features and benefits of the products or services.

The brand should promote the values and strengths of the entire organization instead of focusing on one or two core products.

Developing a brand strategy gives B2B companies a competitive advantage and the following strategies offer the most effective results.

Outline Your B2B Brand Message

The most successful brands offer clear, simple messages. A brand defines a company and all the products or services offered.

Whether potential buyers land on a website or visit a booth at a conference, they need to instantly understand the message. The brand message should help potential customers understand what you sell and who you sell it to.

What solutions do you provide and who benefits most? To answer these questions, B2B companies need to establish their brand core, which includes:

  • Values
  • Vision
  • Position
  • Promise

A report by the Harvard Business Review found that 64% of B2B buyers cited shared values as their primary reason for choosing a brand. Define the values and vision of your organization and allow them to drive every decision from marketing to product development. The values become part of the brand while the vision defines the direction of your company.

The brand position refers to the unique selling proposition of the company. To create a strong position, identify at least three factors that help your brand stand out over the competition.

The brand promise becomes the main message used for marketing. The message needs to remain clear while illustrating aspects of the other three key components — values, vision, and position.

Create a Customer-Centric Brand Image

The brand position should illustrate the unique selling point of the brand. Many B2B companies misuse their selling proposition to highlight their own strengths, such as the number of years in business or the quality of their services.

Instead of focusing on the company, the unique selling proposition should focus on the customer’s needs, goals, and success. Creating a customer-centric brand image helps drive customer engagement.

According to Deloitte Consulting, customer-centric brands are up to 60% more profitable compared to B2B companies that do not focus on the customer.

This B2B brand strategy starts with customer research and feedback. To become a customer-centric brand, a B2B company needs to understand its customers.

For example, the message service Slack has included customer feedback in all updates since its launch. Using feedback from customers instead of metrics from sales data helped define Slack’s brand as a customer-focused service.

Use Your Brand Message to Deliver an Emotional Response

While the brand image may take years to develop, the brand message is a useful marketing tool that offers instant results. For more effective brand awareness campaigns, use a message that delivers an emotional response.

As discussed, emotion remains part of the B2B buying process. In fact, 45% of B2B buyers cite risk reduction as the biggest factor driving their purchases. Customers want to purchase a product or service that carries less risk. An emotional response helps potential customers connect with the brand. This connection is key to loyalty, retention, and referrals.

Last Thoughts on B2B Branding Strategies

Along with these B2B brand strategies, utilize email marketing, SEO, display advertising, and social media to launch a brand awareness campaign. Use emails, blog articles, and social media posts to highlight the core values of your brand and deliver your brand message.

Branding is not just for B2C companies. The leading B2B organizations have strong, recognizable brands that people associate with delivering superior solutions. IBM, Cisco, Boeing, and General Electric are just a few examples.

To develop a powerful B2B brand, remember to focus on the needs of your customers and use emotion to make a stronger connection.

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Austin Cline is the founder and CEO of ASUN Digital. He frequently writes about brand strategy and digital marketing with expertise in B2B marketing. He has served as a senior director of marketing and director of digital and web for previous marketing agencies and has over 10 years of marketing experience. You can follow him on Twitter at @_austincline or connect with him on LinkedIn by visiting his profile.