Let’s break a myth
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of branding?
Nike’s tagline “Just do it!”?
The logo of Coca Cola or Apple?
If so, you’re not alone!
When it comes to branding, most people think it’s more suited to B2C companies, and not really relevant to B2B.
Branding is typically associated with emotions, and a lot of people don’t associate B2B purchases with emotions, which is another major reason why they don’t associate branding with B2B.
A common perception is that B2B buying decisions are entirely rational in nature and not driven by emotions or feelings.
Is that true though? Is B2B buying devoid of emotions, thereby making branding the sole domain of B2C? Should B2B companies ignore branding? Not at all!
Branding is just as important for B2B firms as it is for B2C companies, if not more. The fact is, whether you are B2C or B2B, you are ultimately selling to people.
When you’re negotiating a large contract with a target client, you’re dealing with the decision makers in that organization, who are humans...with emotions.
Their perception about you and your company is based not only on the functional/tangible aspects of your products/services, but also intangible aspects of your business, such as your brand’s personality, values, and the level of trust and comfort they feel while dealing with the people in your organization. All this is part of your ‘brand’.
To understand this better, let’s understand what a brand actually is.
What is a brand anyway?
A brand is not just a logo, tagline, color palette or typography. Yes, those things are an important part of your brand’s visual identity, but they are not everything.
Is Apple the most valuable brand in the world just because of its logo? No!
It’s because of the customer experience they deliver, their commitment to offering high-quality products, their minimalistic aesthetic that spans their products, stores and website, their launch events, the personal branding of their leadership, among other things.
That logo is globally recognizable (and desirable) because of all these aspects of the company as a whole.
Apple is perceived as a lifestyle brand, rather than just a smartphone or computer manufacturer.
When it comes down to brass tacks, a brand is how a business or an individual is perceived. It is the first thing people think of when your name is mentioned.
As Jeff Bezos famously said, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
One of the biggest goals of branding, is creating a specific perception about you, so that people say what you want them to say, when you're not in the room.
For B2B businesses, branding isn’t necessarily about being a household name like Nike, Coke or Google (though that’s what you should aim for). It doesn’t even have to mean that you should have the best product or service in the world. Many brands don’t.
What it does mean is that you have to be bigger than the product/service you’re selling. It means that your name should inspire tremendous trust and positivity in the minds of your target audience.
It also means that you should have a clear positioning. In other words, what do you want your business to be known for?
It should be very clear to anyone who comes in contact with your business exactly:
What you offer
Whom they are best suited for(both in terms of the type of business and size)
Why should they buy from you?
By consistently talking about who you serve, you differentiate yourself from other companies in your domain and attract your ideal customers.
For eg. Canva has clearly positioned itself as the go-to design tool for individuals, startups and small businesses that can’t afford to hire expensive designers but still want to create professional designs. The Australian startup has now developed into a global brand loved and used by millions of people. It has an affable brand personality.
By the way, another way of understanding branding is imagining if your business was a person. What kind of person should it be? How should it make people feel? That’s something that you need to consciously decide and work on, based on your company's long-term goals and vision.
Now that we know what a brand is, let’s understand why B2B companies should invest in branding.
Why branding matters for B2B businesses?
Branding helps you cut through the noise & attract your dream clients
Whether you sell a product or a service, odds are that yours is not the only business offering it. Why should people buy from you and not from one of your competitors? What sets you apart from them?
If the answer isn’t obvious, you have a problem.
Given the considerable competition in every industry today, including the B2B space, if you’re not a brand, you’re just a commodity.
Which is why it’s vital for your business to have a unique brand identity to be able to stand out from the noise. The key to this is positioning.
By positioning yourself as a thought-leader or expert in your niche, you can become the first name potential buyers think of, in other words, their preferred choice. This can significantly negate the competition, at least psychologically.
This is particularly important for small and medium-sized businesses, which cannot spend millions of dollars on advertising and celebrity endorsements to build strong brand awareness.
If you are an SMB, you should try to focus on a niche within your industry, clearly define your buyer personas (ideal customers) at the outset, and communicate your expertise and value proposition to your target audience.
Doing this consistently on the right platforms over a period of time would help you build a strong brand identity that would make it easier to stand out and acquire your dream clients.
Remember, it’s easier and more cost-effective to build a strong brand when you are targeting a niche, rather than going after everybody in the world.
As they say, “If you’re selling to everybody, you’re selling to nobody.”
Branding gets clients to pay the price you want them to pay
As we mentioned, if you’re not a brand, you’re a commodity. People don’t pay a lot of money for a commodity. Quite the opposite in fact. When you are a commodity, you open your business up to a lot of haggling.
Since potential buyers think you’re just like everybody else, the choice of whether to go with you, or somebody else, comes down to price. If your price is higher than others, chances are they’ll go with somebody else.
So how do you avoid this? By building a strong brand.
When you are a strong brand in your industry niche, buyers will be ready to pay you a premium, which could be 2x, 3x or even 10x the price others are charging.
Why? Because they trust you and see that much more value compared to your competitors.
The price somebody is willing to pay for a product/service depends on its perceived value.
If you have a strong online presence, a clear brand messaging and positioning, a strong value proposition, superior customer service, and stellar testimonials, your perceived value will be high, and your prospects in turn will be ready to pay more than your competitors for the same product/service, because they’ll feel you are worth that much more.
Branding enhances trust and emotional connect
A lot of B2B companies make the mistake of focusing too much on features and specifications. The reality is, people buy benefits and solutions, not features.
By focusing on the internal problems of your potential clients and highlighting how your products/services can solve those problems, your business can resonate far more with your audience.
This would not only make your business more trusted, but also more loved.
Just think about it - As humans, who do we trust and love more? Somebody who keeps bragging about themself, or somebody who understands our problems and focuses on solving them?
Following the same approach in your marketing and sales would do wonders for your business.
An important thing to point out here is the role people play in building trust and connection.
The truth is, when it comes to B2B, people buy from people.
And that’s one of the biggest differences between B2C and B2B. In case of the latter, people behind the product matter as much as the product, if not more.
If a company is looking to sign a long-term contract for a data security solution for their business, they won’t just evaluate the product, they will also scrutinize the team behind the solution - their skills, domain expertise, experience, how easy they are to work with, how empathetic they are to their problems, how they respond to queries/issues etc.
Buyers take all these aspects into account before doing business with you, and they start evaluating this right from their very first interaction with your team, sometimes even before that.
By highlighting your team’s expertise and credentials from the get go and making them feel special throughout the sales process, you can sometimes edge out your competitors and win very large accounts, even if you lack product differentiation.
On the other hand, you can have the best product in the world, but if your team comes off as arrogant, unempathetic or just bad at listening during the sales process, the prospect is likely to go with somebody else that they feel more comfortable with. This is also a part of your brand.
But the role of people in building your brand doesn’t end at the sale. In fact, how you treat clients matters even more after you’ve closed the sale.
Bad customer experience can ruin all the hard work you’ve done before, and leave clients extremely disgruntled, which is really bad for your business (and your brand).
Just recall the last time you had a horrible experience with a business. How did it affect your perception about the company? Would you like to use them again? Would you recommend them to others?
Therefore, it's not surprising that the most successful B2B brands in the world have amazing people and customer experience.
Branding shortens the sales cycle
B2B has a much longer sales cycle than B2C. From the time a buyer has first contact with your business, it can take months, even years, before you get them to sign the dotted line.
B2B purchases are expensive and carry far more risk compared to B2C purchases, not just for the company as a whole, but also for the people involved. This is why there are often multiple decision makers involved in the process.
Risk is directly proportional to the level of familiarity and trust. The less familiar a prospect is with your business, the less they would trust you. The less they trust you, the longer they will scrutinize you before buying from you, if they buy from you at all.
On the other hand, if you have a strong brand people know about and trust in your niche, half the battle is already won before you have the first interaction with a prospect. As the saying goes - “Nobody ever got fired for buying from IBM!”
Most B2B buyers research vendors online (across multiple sources) before reaching out to them. If you have a strong website and online presence on the platforms your buyers are likely to look you up on, you can gain a lot of trust before the sales process even begins, leaving you with less trust-building to do later on and close the sale faster.
This is where consistently posting high quality content on the right platforms can do wonders for building your brand and helping you establish familiarity and trust.
Branding helps you negotiate better terms with third-party Suppliers/Distributors/Agencies
Most B2B businesses need to work with third-party suppliers in their sales and distribution process. If you are a manufacturer, you rely on them for raw materials, or machinery. You might also outsource certain business processes to specialized agencies for recruitment, international sales, digital marketing, advertising, 24x7 customer support etc.
In such business relationships, you need to negotiate rates and payment terms with your partners. These are largely decided on familiarity and trust (and your negotiation skills of course).
You’ll have to work harder on negotiations if you are an obscure company, and you are starting new relationships, particularly with businesses that are bigger than you.
Let’s face it - Nobody is going to give you a big discount or a line of credit if they have never heard about you. On the contrary, they are likely to demand a sizable upfront payment because they don’t know if you’re going to be able to honor the payments.
Just like your customers, suppliers are also getting more tech savvy. These days, they look you up online, and if you don’t have a proper website, no social media presence or local business listings, they are likely to be skeptical. How do they know your business is genuine?
So you will have a hard time negotiating favorable terms with them. It's only after you do a fair amount of business with them and make your payments on time will they be likely to become more flexible.
Now imagine you have a strong brand that’s well known in your industry niche:
You have a professional website, with great content and testimonials, a strong social media presence with a sizeable no of followers, a ‘Google My Business’ listing with several positive reviews, strong search engine rankings etc.
How much easier would it be to inspire confidence? A lot, right?
These businesses will not only be happy to negotiate favorable terms when you reach out to them, but they will actually start reaching out to you, because you are perceived as an authority in your niche and they would want to work with you. You will be able to build a much better and bigger network that will help scale your business.
Branding helps you attract better talent
Every organization wants to attract great talent. Larger companies typically find it easier than small businesses. Why? Because they have a strong brand.
Jobseekers know who they are and what they do, which makes them easier to trust as employers. Working for a brand also adds more weight to their resume. Plus, there’s always the vanity factor of being able to show off to your friends and family that you are working with a known brand.
Now imagine a scenario where you don’t have a brand (something that a large majority of SMBs find themselves in):
You advertise for a job, say for a mid-level management position on Linkedin and other popular job portals in your country/region. You hope to get some amazing applications over the next few days/weeks, but you don’t get the quality you were looking for. So you settle for what you get, and over time, it reflects in your company’s performance and growth.
Why does this happen? It's because when you advertise for a position online, your target candidates judge your company on the basis of your brand and online presence:
How many followers do you have on your Linkedin page?
How much engagement do you get on your social media posts?
What does your website look like?
What are clients saying about you online?
What have your current and former employees said about you on Glassdoor and other websites
What results come up when your company is Googled
If you have a weak online presence, your website looks like it hasn’t been updated since the invention of the world wide web, and candidates don’t find any social proof that inspires confidence and trust, they will give you a miss and apply somewhere else, maybe a competitor next door who has a much stronger brand.
You don’t need to be a big company to attract great talent. You just need to invest more in building your corporate brand to enhance your public perception and make people want to work for you.
A strong and positive public perception makes it a lot easier to attract (and retain) great talent from your industry, particularly for mid to senior level positions.
Branding strengthens relationships with the press and media
Media & PR is another area where B2B organizations often overlook the importance of branding. If used well, it can be a huge asset for B2B firms, particularly small and mid-sized businesses, helping them reach a wider audience cost-effectively.
Media outlets love to talk about brands their own audience knows and cares about.
Just look up the top media publications (online or offline) in your niche, and analyze the companies they report on. Do you see a pattern?
More often than not they’ll be major brands in your niche. Whether it’s new product announcements, news of expansion, funding rounds, leadership changes etc, larger brands get more coverage. And more coverage means more attention from your target audience.
If you are not a brand and you want your story to be heard, you will need to reach out to the right people in the media and convince them to publish your story. You might even need to pay them to tell your story.
Whereas if you are a brand, they would reach out to you for inside scoop about your company. They will also be more open to publishing stories you want them to talk about - for free.
When you are a brand, you are regarded as an authority in your niche. If a media publication is working on an industry report, and wants to include opinions of thought leaders in your industry, they are likely to approach you, which would further enhance your brand image.
These days, PR and media is not limited to traditional news organizations. It also includes people on the internet - bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers, social media influencers etc.
These people often have hundreds and thousands of followers and working with them can give your business enormous exposure.
If you have a strong online brand, they are more likely to connect with you for interviews and collaborations. So that’s another strong reason for B2B companies to invest in branding.
Branding reduces your customer acquisition cost
Here’s a simple fact: Weaker your brand, the harder and more expensive it is to acquire and retain clients, and vice versa, particularly if you're looking to target large accounts.
This goes back to our earlier point about cutting through the noise. We live in an age where it’s getting harder and harder to get your audience’s attention.
If you can’t get their attention, they will never know about you and what you have to offer. If they don’t know about you, how can they buy from you?
If you're doing marketing the old way, you are either relying on outbound marketing, or running paid ads, both of which cost a ton of time, money and energy.
In both cases, the amount of business you can generate is directly dependent on the time, money and energy you spend, making it harder and more expensive for you to scale your business, unless you receive external funding that allows you to increase your resources (which by the way, also gets easier if you have a strong brand).
Outbound and paid channels come with a relatively high CPL (Cost per Lead) and CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost).
Even after acquiring clients, if you're not able to keep them happy, either because of sub-par products/services, or poor customer service, you're going to have a high churn. This will further increase your CAC, as you would have to spend more time and money to get new clients to replace the ones you lose.
On the other hand, if you leverage content and inbound marketing to position yourself as an authority, your dream clients will come to you organically, because YOU will be their preferred choice, and not just another option.
You won't need to spend thousands on paid media or outbound campaigns. You will be able to get more traffic, leads and clients through owned media (your website, blog, emails, apps etc).
You will have to rely less on third-party platforms and their frequently changing algorithms, constantly fighting with thousands of other businesses for attention.
Building a strong brand brings down your customer acquisition cost significantly, leaving you with more money to invest in better solutions and superior customer experience, which will further strengthen your brand.
If you have read this article till here, you hopefully understand how important branding is for B2B companies. However, strong branding isn’t something that happens by accident, or overnight. It requires a long-term vision, a well-defined strategy and consistent execution.
All the major brands you see and experience, be it B2C or B2B, started out small. It took them years to get to where they are right now. Your business can do it too. You need a mindset shift - go from simply looking to sell a product or service, to becoming a recognizable name a lot of people want to be associated with.
At Allura Digital, we help small and mid-sized B2B organizations build a strong brand that helps them stand out from the noise and attract their dream clients.
Click here to learn how we can help you build your brand online.