It’s not very often that I get to talk about brand when talking about B2B marketing. This world is typically filled with hard-core analytics data and lead funnel metrics that lean more toward science than art. Yet, as a healthy cross-section, it’s always good to look across the fence at our brand-based brothers and sisters to learn a little bit about what we could be doing differently. This is one of those times.
Maybe it’s just my Chick-fil-A. But the incredibly long drive-thru line at Chick-fil-A boggles me as a marketer. I do love a chicken sandwich, but I cannot understand waiting in line – in a car – for 25 minutes for it.
Clearly the drive-through has lost its purpose. It cannot be faster to wait in that line than to go inside. This likely says a lot about our culture (which might take a different post), but clearly the drive-through line is not faster. And it’s a delicious sandwich, but I can’t say it’s that delicious. So what compels people to sit in line that long in a drive-through for a chicken sandwich?
Short of doing some actual research, I’m going to make a hypothesis: it has to do with brand. It has to do with the same thing that holding a Starbucks cup of coffee does for a coffee drinker; the experience associated with the product means something more than the product’s inherent value.
The CPG or consumer packaged goods world thrives on brand. We have our favorites, whether it’s Crest or Colgate, Pepsi or Coke, or some other delightful brand. These brands mean something to us, whether in a way that’s emotional, historical, or sentimental. They hold a value beyond the product or service itself.
Yet the power of brand in B2B businesses seems nonexistent.
The first reason brand development is so hard in B2B marketing is that business-to-business products are typically custom or a high-volume product – or not even a product at all. Because it doesn’t have a mass appeal or a mass offering, there isn’t much community around a product or service. Yes, you may have referrals; yes, you may have a widely-used B2B piece of software, but it’s not a household name. The social sphere around these products are small, so community is harder to establish. Customers have no collective experience with your product or service, which makes establishing a brand harder.
Similarly, another reason B2B brands are hard is due to the fact that few things in the B2B space are emotional. They don’t arouse any major delight or joy. They may bring a sense of convenience or success to a business, but rarely are they at the top of the conversation docket at the dinner table or the cocktail party.
Your friends will not envy you because you have the latest Canon triple cassette copier at your office. They will not be jealous of the CPA you use. Frankly, they may not even care about the options you selected with your VAR for your Microsoft office deployment. The B2B world can be very unemotional.
This is challenging in contrast to our current culture, where brands tend to stand for and actually shape of the personality of the people who buy them.
I’d go as far as to say that people buy brands because of what it says about them more than it says about the brand. Although this is largely semantic, it simply shows the power of a well-established brand and its community building attributes. These don’t exist nearly in the same way for B2B brands.
Now that you’ve come this far in hearing about my philosophy of brand and its comparison within B2C and B2B markets, you’re probably getting to the point of asking – well, so what?
Here’s what: we’ve seen time and time again that B2B companies that move toward establishing and defining a brand win.
Yes, there are sales and buying dynamics that are different in B2B versus B2C. But, essentially, people buy for a lot of the same reasons in both contexts; it’s just that the factors may shift in importance or magnitude. But they’re the same factors.
People desire brands that believe in something greater. People desire brands that have attributes that they desire to.
So what are you doing in your marketing to create a brand that answers those propositions?
Here’s how I see it:
Your product plus your service plus your results times your brand will equal your success.
At this point you might have a great product with good service that’s making a nice profit but fighting every step of the way.
Yet is anyone waiting in a 20 minute drive-through for your product? Is there something about your business that means more to them than your product?
This doesn’t mean you need high morals, although those are good things to consider. But what about integrity? What about honesty? What about a guarantee of success? What about what you do with your profits?
I hope at this point that I’ve made – well, my point. Establishing a brand and pushing that brand will leverage your message further and faster and with greater success. It’s not an overnight endeavor, but it’s worth the investment whether you’re a 16-year B2B veteran or a new piece of software hitting the market.
Build something great – yet build something greater than what you’re building.