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Does a B2B company need a brand strategy?

Lindsay Says

Absolutely yes.

If your business benefits from focus and clarity, then it benefits from deliberately articulating your brand strategy. This is true whether your customers are consumers (B2C) or businesses (B2B).

Many falsely believe that brand is only for B2C companies. This stems from the formidable success of consumer businesses like Clorox, Procter & Gamble, Nestle and Unilever, which used the power of brand to great and visible success in the 20th century. As a result, some equated brand success with B2C success.

But brand fuels success for any business that serves human beings. Since both B2C and B2B companies serve human beings, the principles of brand govern both. It’s not an either-or thing. Whether buying as a representative of a household or of a corporation, a human being is in relationship with your business, and brand represents, facilitates, and reinforces that relationship.

Brand Delivers a Competitive Advantage in B2B

Do you want to be different? Do you want to create value? Do you want to have customers with a high willingness to pay a premium and high loyalty? If yes, you need a brand strategy.

Identifying and articulating your brand is the only way to differentiate durably, regardless of whether you’re B2B or B2C. In B2C, you must utilize brand because it’s often the only way to differentiate among otherwise similar products. Bleach is bleach. Cat litter is cat litter. Garbage bags are garbage bags. In these largely parity categories, brand cultivates differentiation, enabling sizable margins and a wide moat.

But in B2B, many of your competitors still lack knowledge that brand is the North Star. If your competitors aren’t deploying a brand strategy, they’re handing you an unfair advantage. Take it. Consumer products businesses would kill to be in a category where nobody else knows that brand fuels competitive advantage.

Some of the most valuable and value-creating B2B companies on the planet, like Salesforce, Dropbox and Slack, get this. These are companies that both believe in brand and invest in brand. They do this because they are smart. They do this because they understand that their buyers are human beings. They do this because they know to harness an advantage when they see one.

“Brand is not just a logo,” said Marc Benioff, founder and CEO of Salesforce. “It’s your most important asset.”

B2C and B2B Are Vastly More Alike Than Different

Are there differences between marketing for B2B and B2C? Sure. The media mix tends to be trade-focused for B2B and mass-focused for B2C. The organizational structure and demand generation tactics tend to be more sales-focused for B2B and more marketing-focused for B2C. While B2B purchases tend to be collective, B2C purchases tend to be individual. 

But the similarities dwarf the differences. Both B2B and B2C organizations:

  • Need to deliver something differentiated in order not to devolve into a price play.
  • Are fueled by focus. The more focused you are on your value proposition, the more impact you bring the market.
  • Yearn to build cultures of people who find meaning in their work – and know that people find meaning in customer-centric, purpose-driven cultures.
  • Strive to be viable in the short, medium, and long terms.
  • Sell to a whole human being – they know the buyer is motivated by a complex combination of emotional needs, functional needs, and preconceived beliefs.
  • Must bring something of value to the buyer in order to ask for that buyer to pay money for it.
  • Require customer loyalty for thriving profitability.
  • Want to create value as a business, trying to grow and sustain a healthy P&L and high CLV (customer lifetime value).
  • Want to achieve a high ROI on their marketing and sales dollars.

Brand Strategy Is Business Strategy

What I call brand strategy, you may call business strategy. They’re two angles into the same tools of focus and prioritization. A brand strategy pinpoints what you have the most right to bring to the world, and shines the spotlight on that thing. It identifies your competitive advantage so that you readily base your decisions on that. Brand strategy is business strategy.

Does a B2B company need competitive advantage less than does a B2C company? Of course not.

That it’s even a question reveals a misunderstanding about what brand means. Every company needs competitive advantage to thrive. The most sustainable source of competitive advantage springs from the fundamentals of brand: defining what it’s like to be your customer, what’s their unmet need, and what are your strengths to fulfill that need in a unique way. Brand is the distillation of your competitive advantage. Brand fuels success for any company.

That’s brand strategy. That’s also business strategy.

Advertising Is Not Brand

People mistakenly dismiss brand because they confuse it with marketing. Brand is the meaning that your business stands for in the mind of your customer. Brand strategy is the highly intentional exercise of identifying that meaning. Marketing is the activation of that meaning in what you communicate and deliver, and advertising is marketing’s most visible expression.

The most prominent advertisers tend to be consumer packaged-goods companies and behemoth technology and telecommunications businesses with big ad budgets. So many consider brand to be exclusive to those B2C categories.

Advertising is not brand. But it can express brand.

“I used to think that brand was either a consumer packaged goods brand, like a Procter & Gamble soap, or a big company like Microsoft,” Kristen Hamilton, chief executive officer and cofounder of predictive hiring start-up Koru, told me. “I used to think that brand equals advertising, and since we didn’t advertise, brand strategy wasn’t for us. [But] if you have customers, then you have a brand and need a brand strategy. Brand does not equal advertising. Brand is your soul. It’s who are you? What matters?”

A brand strategy allows you to earn your customers’ attention naturally and sustainably. You will not need to purchase their involuntary attention through advertising.

Harness Brand

Whether you serve individuals or businesses, you already stand for a set of associations in the minds of your customers. Brand positioning happens with or without your assistance. Every decision and action you take as a company feeds those associations, for better or worse. But you need not be a passive bystander. Take control of your brand through the deliberate exercise of brand strategy. Do this well, and you will capture the power of brand as a B2B or B2C leader.

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