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Presidential Politics, B2B Marketing and Staying on Brand

If there’s one thing we’ve been reminded of during this year’s presidential campaign season it’s that words matter. A lot. When a candidate can’t or won’t stay on message, or ineffectively manages his or her “brand,” chaos ensues.

As marketers, of course, we know the importance of staying on message. And we’re trained to understand the value of building and purposefully managing brands. This is especially true for consumer marketing pros. But, reflecting on it, it seems that many B2B marketers are not as dialed in to this reality as they could be.

B2B marketers spend a great deal of time and energy focused on business-critical activities—such as investing in R&D, optimizing sales channels, developing value-added services, and making sure their products are faster, more cost-effective, and more reliable compared to competitors. No doubt these efforts are essential to their success. But at the end of the day, many of these efforts are table stakes. When it comes to truly differentiating their offering, ensuring relevance, and protecting their margins, like traditional consumer marketing it comes down to the strength of the brand.

Experts agree that branding in B2B is important to long-term success. And when you think about it, it just makes sense. After all, when a shopper buys toilet paper or a pair of shoes they don’t like, switching brands is easy, the risk is low. Alternatively, when a business decision maker invests in capital equipment, a logistics partner, or enterprise software, a bad decision can bring the business to its knees and impact revenue and profits for years to come.

The importance of B2B branding is illustrated in a recent McKinsey B2B Branding Survey:

  • Branding drives B2B purchase decisions; more specifically, in the U.S., branding influences nearly 20% of the purchase decision (making it even more important than the sales effort).
  • Well managed branding can protect pricing—premium brands command premium pricing—and, as a result, profits. In fact, strong brands have 21% higher EBIT than weak brands.
  • Unlike consumer brands, B2B brands depend on the totality of customers’ experiences, including product, sales, service, delivery and word of mouth.
  • B2B brands are largely based on past experiences, and establish the expectations for
    future experiences with the company and its products.
  • In spite of what many people believe, B2B branding depends on both rational—and emotional—dimensions.

Once B2B marketers are convinced of the value of investing in their brands, what next? Interestingly, the McKinsey study finds that what B2B companies typically like to talk about—characteristics like social responsibility, sustainability, global reach and innovation—are not really what customers care about. Instead they’re interested in buying from companies that engage in an honest and open dialog, display responsibility across the supply chain, offer specialized expertise, demonstrate industry leadership and fit with values and beliefs. This points to the importance of ensuring an authentic understanding of prospects and customers and what makes them tick.

Many B2B marketers say, “Well yes, I get this, branding matters. But we don’t have the resources to launch a major brand campaign.” The thing is—especially in B2B marketing—it’s not necessarily about the TV spot, banner ad or outdoor board per se. Sure, awareness matters, but managing a brand is about considering every point of contact a company has with its customers and prospects. Is your social presence actively curated and on message? Is the content you develop aligned with buyers’ hot buttons? Can your sales reps effectively articulate your company’s value proposition? Does your customer contact strategy effectively reinforce what your company stands for? And—most important of all—have you established a brand positioning that is:

  • Relevant: Addresses a real market need
  • Distinct: Different from other companies in the category
  • Credible: Makes a promise that the company can deliver on, consistently
  • Benefit-driven: Articulates both functional and emotional benefits
  • Strategically aligned: Captures the company’s long-term vision and strategy

Remember, brands are not optional. Whether or not you choose to manage them is.