Branding has always been associated with creating awareness among its target group or differentiating products and services from its competitors. While, business-to-consumer (B2C) SMEs’ key focus is to advertise on social media, there is a misconception among business-to-business (B2B) SMEs that that branding is not important as it all depends on personal relationship and competitive pricing. Such strategy will put a company in high risk. If a salesperson moves to a competitor’s company, the relationship that he developed likely goes with him/her too. As for pricing, it goes without saying that brand loyalty will be near to zero when any business over emphasises on pricing.

In this short article, we will discuss how operational excellence can be a more powerful and sustainable branding strategy for B2B SMEs.

Professional buyers in the B2B segment are more rational and fact based buyers. Some of their key considerations are brand reputation, certification of process and quality, consistent availability of supplies, efficient customer service (pre and after sales) and of course competitive pricing or pricing model. All buying decision will need to be justified no matter how much they like or do not like a supplier or brand.

Demonstrating operational excellence is part of branding strategy. SMEs always claim that they are the best with minimum justification, thus it makes it hard for professional buyers in making decision to choose your brand. SMEs need to tangibilise its claims. Production process and financial performance are two most often neglected areas.

PRODUCTION PROCESS

Ability to develop a quality product today does not mean that you can produce the same quality product tomorrow. It can only be done if certain systems are in place. SMEs can no longer sell by saying “You see, we have good products. We have years of experience doing it”. Instead it should be “We have systematic process of doing it”. Professional buyers need to have assurance that there is consistency in everything SMEs do.

  1. Certification – It’s a disadvantage to not have a process or quality certification by internationally recognised professional bodies as professional buyers set it as a pre-requisite to buy. SMEs MUST invest in getting their processes certified eg. ISO, HACCP, HALAL, CE and many other certification relevant to the industry. Talents, be it technical or business skills must be certified too. Certified products, process and people increase a company’s brand value hence enable SMEs to charge their customers a premium price.
  2. Clinical/Performance test – It is not enough to say that “our product is cleaner, healthier, faster etc”. Tests need to be done by external parties to validate it. Very often, SMEs conduct their own internal testing. It is a good start but may not be enough.
  3. Digitalisation – It can be AI, cloud, cybersecurity, machine learning or any other aspect that can produce factual data for decision making. It makes a great difference when we are able to show a dashboard with real time , accurate data to our customers instead of just saying “we believe that it will work or we believe we can do it”.

FINANCE

Many may ask what has finance got to do with branding? Again, it is all about reputation and confidence. SMEs with sound financial performance will give professional buyers confidence that you will be able to provide continuous supply, upgrade and innovate.

An SME may be able to produce quality product and market it creatively with great brand communication campaigns, but buyers (B2B) may not want to purchase should they have access to details of your financial health. It is now part of procurement processes of many companies to check suppliers’ financial status from CTOS before approving it as a panel supplier. Making sure your company has good credit rating is part of branding.

COMMUNICATING AND MARKETING OPERATIONAL EXCELLENCE

Let’s assume SMEs have done a great job on the above. How can SMEs effectively demonstrate or showcase it to the market? Below are some recommendations :

  1. Corporate visit programmes – SMEs are encouraged to structure systematic corporate visit programmes to allow outsiders to visit its operations and showcase their capabilities such as associations, government agencies, press and chamber of commerce or trade officers from foreign countries. SMEs can conduct a short briefing or a video followed by a tour to “strategic processes” areas where they can showcase the best of its’ products.
  2. Corporate Video – Videos can be a great alternative to corporate visits, less the personal touch and engagement. It might be a slightly higher investment than the common printed company profile but the ROI is high. The key is to find a partner who can understand your business, generate relevant and convincing messages and shoot it professionally. However, duration of the video is also important. The most common mistake of SMEs is having a long video. To them, longer means greater value from investment, but they fail to realise that the longer the video is the lesser the attention. Too much information give lesser take back messages to the viewers.

By Keng Teck Yap, Managing Consultant of Bizsphere Brand and Marketing Group.
Written for Business Today Magazine, Issue November 2019.

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