In the world of business-to-business marketing branding can be underrated, possibly because a “brand” can be difficult to quantify. However, B2B brands can use branding to highlight their competitive advantages, win customers, and engage employees — all vital activities for a healthy business!
What is a brand? A logo is not a brand; the logo is an icon of the brand. Arguably, it also is the most visible aspect of a brand’s identity.
A font is not a brand. An advertisement is not a brand. A tagline is not a brand. A social media post is not a brand. A mission statement is not a brand. A brand is not what you advertise.
A brand is how your company serves, whether by service or with a product, or both; who it serves; and how the public perceives your company. A brand is how your company treats its customers, and how it treats employees. A brand is how the company shows up in the community. A brand is how the company behaves as a corporate entity, and how the company leaders behave publicly. All of this contributes to the public’s perception of the company, of its brand.
Creating a unique identity to achieve your organization's business objectives starts with a brand strategy, which is a comprehensive plan to build the brand. An effective brand strategy will impact all aspects of your company and will directly connect the business to your customers' emotions and needs.
The process of building a brand strategy begins with simple questions:
• Why does the company exist?
• Who does the company serve?
• How will the company participate in the world?
While logos are the most visible part of a brand, messaging may be the most vital part of creating a brand, because language is behavioral. Words shape how the company will act. Words used in the mission statement, in ads, on a website, by customer service reps, and everywhere words are used throughout the business. Via its messaging choices, a company can signal within its communications (social media, website, advertising, press releases, newsletters, etc.) the type of brand the company chooses to be.
Different types of companies will have different branding strategies and use different brand language because they participate in business relationships in different ways. Some examples of different types of business and how they languages interact with their brand plans are:
• A transactional company may send customers a Christmas present. Most of its ads would center around value and/or service to customers. It would highlight pricing value. (Most fast food companies fall in this category.)
• A relationship company might have an account representative to ensure consistent interactions with customers. Most of its communications would focus on that relationship, including customer success stories, and when the business went above and beyond what is necessary to service customers. (Zappos is a great example of a relationship company.)
• A values company would communicate how its efforts support those values. For example, outdoor retail and recreation services company Recreational Equipment, Inc (REI), which is organized as a co-operative, closes on the Friday after Thanksgiving, traditionally a major retail shopping day — to promote outdoor activity.
• An employee-focused company would highlight how employees are empowered to serve and delight customers. Virgin Airlines is built on unique and exceptional customer service, which starts with Richard Branson’s commitment to serving employees first because those employees will take care of customers.
Once the branding strategy is established and guidelines are created, branding is carried through with consistency. Consistency throughout all the messaging touchpoints is the first rule of branding strength and transparency. Internal and external communications must match. All customer-facing interactions — transactions, customer service, leadership on social media, advertisements, participation in events — must align with the brand strategy.
Staying true to your brand message is the only way to remain authentic and trustworthy as a business. Companies that are not trustworthy find repeat business and growth hard to achieve, because while it may connect with its customers’ needs, it does not make a positive connection with its customers’ emotions. Even in B2B, emotions determine how purchasing decisions are made — and your company brand has a part to play in determining which emotions customers experience. So, what’s your branding strategy?
Alexandria Trusov is the Director of Marketing at Euthenia Manufacturing Group and a B2B marketing consultant to manufacturers and other B2B companies. Contact her at [email protected] or visit www.truinsightsconsulting.com.