Introduction to Brand Strategy

Everyday, we conduct various activities that allow us to be exposed to advertisements. But the ones that engage us most are advertisements promoting consumer products i.e. Business To Consumer (B2C). They try rather hard to brand themselves to us.

But do you remember seeing any advertisements that are in the Business to Business (B2B) category? Not many but there are; SME Bank promoting their loans, Lafarge promoting their construction materials and Citylink promoting their logistic services. There will be more as you turn the pages of a newspaper or when you are more observant towards the outdoor billboards.

There have been many instances when senior managements or SME owners told me that “Hey! We are selling commodity or machineries. There is nothing to differentiate and nothing emotional about it that branding or advertising can do. It is all about price and relationship. Branding is just waste of money!”
It is not wrong but these thoughts are only for SMEs which merely want to survive or maintain their market share without the aim to grow further. We are in the opinion that Business to Brand to Business (B2B2B) has always been relevant and important especially to SMEs.

Relationship MUST be owned by company not management

Many businesses believe that relationship is everything to B2B. I agree but this relationship has to be turned into brand attributes owned by the company, not only between the salespersons or management with their customers. If your customers buy your products and services only due to the relationship, your business is in great risk. If your team members leave, the relationship and business leave with them. On the contrary, customers will stay with your company if they believe in your brand – the brand that is built into its corporate culture, processes, promises and delivery.

Rational decision is made with emotional influence

Many companies also strongly believe that a B2B buying decision is made rationally based on merits of quality and price. But we are human beings and no one is 100% rational. We will be influenced by the environment that we live in.

The common process for making such a decicion will be to work within the budget given; get a few quotes from vendors whom we are aware of; gather information about the vendors; have the selection process done ASAP and lastly recommend the one that does not give any problem. Sounds rational, but how do we find such information and shortlist relevant ones when there are so many suppliers out there? What do we do?

First, we try to recall any brands which come into our mind – we choose the brand that has the biggest mind share; look for additional suppliers from directory or advertisement – choose the brand which communicates with you most and in engaging manner; shortlist the ones which are most likely to be able to meet our budget and technical requirements – choose the brand which has clearly positioned their value proposition to us; review their marketing materials to identify the one that gives us higher confidence – choose the profile which we can easily spot their distinctive competencies; get more in depth information or presentation from their personnel – choose the one which offers us a great brand experience; recommend the ones which will not get ourselves into trouble – choose the one that is most branded and affordable.

Our decision will always be influenced by the brand and branding efforts of potential suppliers. What they communicate and how they communicate will influence our emotion and decision. In the early years of 2000, there were many new software houses but most buyers chose IBM for one single reason – “No one will get fired for choosing IBM” – which was a common saying among ICT players. The brand was so strong that people chose IBM even though it was more expensive and complicated to use. We surely cannot deny that BRANDS offer ORIENTATION to our decision making process.

Branding B2B is more than relevant – It is a need

Lets analyse relevance of B2B2B from 2 perspectives: buyers’ internal needs and sellers’ external forces.
As a buyer, we have limited time and budget to source for the best supplier so we need to be efficient in sourcing. We need suppliers to brand themselves actively so that we can find them easily and know whether their offerings meets our requirements. We need the suppliers to be branded, popularly known and trusted by the market so that our boss will have higher confidence in our proposal when he/she is making the decision. At times, we also need our suppliers to be branded so that we can leverage on their strong brand image in the marketplace to enhance our own brand. Good example will be 3M. We might be producing adhesive products but when we say that we use ingredients and adopt technology from 3M, it will boost our own brand’s confidence level.

As a supplier, we face stiff competition in the marketplace and thus need to differentiate ourselves via branding. We might have quality products but in this borderless world, proliferation of similar products is not new anymore. Buyers can get it from anyone, anywhere. We will soon be forgotten if we don’t brand ourselves and engage with our potential buyers. We also need to pro-actively brand ourselves to highlight our capabilities as customers do not know who to look for when they have complex needs. It is done not only to make our products available but to communicate that we have the right solutions for our customers. It is also a reality that if we are not branded, price is the only element which we are able to compromise. Fighting in a price war is the last thing we want in business.

Brand Communications in B2B

Many businesses think that branding is tough even for B2C consumer products. I have to say that branding B2B is even tougher as buyers make decisions for their companies and must be accountable for what they have recommended and decided upon. The decision process is longer and more complicated than B2C branding. Below are some advices on what you can do in B2B branding :

  • Communicate more solutions to your customers than products/services to your customers
  • Communicating your customers’ success is also communicating your success
  • Only attend selected events or go for selected media for a cost effective branding
  • Constant communications & interaction especially on knowledge sharing should be done
  • Share your process and experience
  • Find ways to let others say good things about you

In most cases, the public and media relations are the preferred options to communicate with B2B target groups. They offer higher credibility and space to communicate B2B value propositions and solutions. They are also more cost effective than conventional advertising. The key challenge is in making your messages newsworthy.

The importance of B2B2B is undeniable. The key is the ability to communicate your brand’s Capability in meeting the needs and requirements ; Credibility in the marketplace which gives customer higher confidence ; Culture which demonstrates the positive values of your people and processes. In short, offering a sense of Comfort where the people who make decision for their company know that they have made the right choice and will not get into trouble.

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