Many years ago, a business-to-business client said to me, “Oh, we don’t need a brand, it’s not like we’re selling tubes of toothpaste.” To be fair, at that time, the marketing world was still coming to terms with how brands worked across all industries, not just the packaged goods sector he was referring to. But, the reality is that virtually all industries, whether B2C or B2B, have strong brands that are the leaders, challenger brands that are trying to grow, and weak brands that are on their way out. Companies without brands don’t exist.
Take a hypothetical engineering services firm, for example. It specializes in engineering for bridges. It has experienced engineers who have worked on many kinds of bridge designs and solved many difficult engineering problems. None of their bridges has ever fallen down. They are a good, solid firm. But, here’s the problem—when a contract is put up for bid, there are plenty of firms that can make those claims. Their capabilities are largely the same. What separates one firm from another may very well come down to intangibles, such as the cohesiveness of their team. Or their reputation for working well with their clients and other subcontractors. Or their leadership in engineering knowledge.
The first principle of branding is that brands are about trust. A customer or client trusts that they will get what is promised to them by the brand. That could be the benefits of fresh breath and healthy teeth in the world of toothpaste brands, or it can be that your company will engineer the bridge so it lasts a long time and doesn’t have structural issues. Brands are all about the emotional security of trust, which is also why slogans like “The brand (or company) you can trust” are redundant and meaningless.
The second principle of branding is that people buy brands that make them feel better about themselves. Again, in the case of toothpaste, it can be because fresh breath makes a person feel attractive. Or buying a toothpaste brand that is recommended by 4 out of 5 dentists means I’m being a healthy person, as well as a good parent if I buy it for my kids. For the buyer who is choosing the engineering firm, he wants to feel like he is making a smart business decision for his organization. A good decision will reflect well on him in the future. A bad one could hurt his career.
The trust element of a strong brand is of enormous importance in the B2B world. A contract between two firms may call for an exacting list of specifications and be backed by warranties, guarantees, or insurance. But, the fact is, nobody on either side ever wants to use those guarantees. They are trusting the company they choose to get it right the first time.
This same emotional element of brand plays heavily into the introduction of new products or services, and can help well-established brands enter new markets. To grow, B2B brands often have to branch out. Having a strong brand with good awareness will help new ventures gain traction more quickly. General Electric is the ultimate example of a brand that has established itself as a leader in numerous B2B fields that are largely unrelated, such as locomotives, aviation, health care, and finance. Their consumer brand (which they are trying to sell) is well known, but their B2B brand is the core of their business. Their tagline, “Imagination at work,” speaks to the promise of a brand focused on practical innovation. As a brand strategy, it’s working for GE. As a principle for B2B companies, paying attention to brand will benefit any firm looking to grow.
As published in the Central Penn Business Journal and the Reading Eagle.