March 21, 2014

B2B Branding – Our Two Minute Guide

B2B Branding – Our Two Minute Guide

Folks who spend a lot of time talking about things you don’t really want to listen to are usually not your go-to pals for happy hour. In fact, if you’re anything like us you avoid them like the plague. Yet, a recent study from global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that most companies spend time and money creating a branding message that is far removed from what their clients actually care about. Companies in B2B markets may be tempted to think that they’re spared some familiar struggles from the B2C world, namely the relentless fight to differentiate oneself, how to develop consumer trust, and how to drive sales through marketing efforts. However, the case can be made for branding mattering even more in the B2B realm than in the field of businesses who ultimately cater to end-line consumers.

If you don’t want to be a B2B with a branding message akin to your mother in Des Moines who calls with the latest updates on your high school classmates (something we can safely assume you actually don’t want to hear about), you might want to pay closer attention to your branding message. This wisdom applies particularly as it comes to interacting with fellow companies in the crowded B2B marketplace.

High School Classmate Update Messaging

When it comes to brand imaging, several popular (and thusly incredibly overdone) themes for B2Bs to include in their messaging were environmental impact and potential sustainability, social accountability and global scope. Though these are all honorable goals after which any long-minded company should chase, it turns out that talking about them to fellow businesses ends up making you sound like the adult on the other end of the phone in a Peanuts cartoon. Maybe it’s all that highfalutin honor and the way those themes just drip with do-gooder piety, but whatever the reason, it’s important to know that they are not particularly interesting or stimulating to your clients.

Adjusting your branding message for the B2B market can make all the difference in how your company rides out inevitable shifts in financial markets, consumer preferences, and the global supply chain. Now that you know what types of thematic branding reads like the society pages of the Des Moines Register, let’s look at what actually makes an impact for B2Bs.

Messaging that Matters

If you care about what your business clientele want to hear about, what you do, and what you can do for them, you might want to think about what most interests them in terms of thematic branding messages. According to the McKinsey study, nobody’s talking about how well they manage their supply chains or why their specialized market knowledge sets them apart. That type of messaging sounds less like the teacher from Peanuts and more like Scarlett Johansson’s seductive and irresistible computer companion from the hit movie Her – other B2Bs can’t resist it.

The McKinsey study also pointed out that almost all of the companies sampled didn’t mention one key theme identified as very important by consumers: honest, egalitarian communication between firms. Why isn’t anyone talking about this? I’d want to do business with a firm that talked about these themes in its branding message and then backed it up from initial contact to signing on the dotted line. Wouldn’t you?

These days, B2B marketing messaging is really missing the boat. If companies want to avoid being like two ships passing in the night, action is required to adjust and possibly reimagine messaging. Don’t anchor yourself to a losing strategy or think that because you’re not a B2C, marketing doesn’t matter. The view from the crow’s nest is crystal clear: paying attention to what your customers want to hear makes the difference between closing the deal and getting stuck in the B2B branding doldrums.


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

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