B2B Branding Trumps Consumer Marketing Challenges

Brands are about identity. They’re designed to separate entities from one another, like one rancher's steer from another. For business success, they must stand for something meaningfully different from competitors to their audience, community, customer base, etc. True in every business, it may be even more important for the global electronics OEM who are living with short product life cycles, changing customer demands, and more. Highly successful brands, in nearly any category, have clear competitive differentiation in common. That differentiation may have developed by smart marketers within the organization, or over time the market may brand the company for what it does best and provides. See Jack Trout’s “Differentiate or Die” (2nd edition) for the best read on the topic.

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Comparing business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B), some pundits offer that the social network around B2B products is so small that community is harder to establish. My perspective, based on several decades in tech marketing, is that B2B branding can be far easier to establish, if the marketer knows what they’re doing. The limited extent or number of people the market in fact makes building awareness, credibility and community easier and often less costly than consumer marketing. Instead of dealing with communities of millions, global B2B marketers are typically addressing a community of thousands or perhaps 10s of thousands. Those people are also typically easier to identify, understand, and connect with than a vast and variable consumer segment. People in a B2B segment are typically interested in a safe, reliable, respectable entity which solves needs that competitors either are not satisfying or cannot satisfy. Certainly, a company must provide more than only adequate or even great products. Pre- and post-sales support, price, financing, and supply chain flexibility are some of the B2B factors determining customer preference for one brand vs. another. There’s plenty of room for brand differentiation, even though many companies utterly fail to apply it to their marketing.

One of the toughest parts about B2B marketing can be the multiplicity and diversity of purchasing decision-makers who must be sold to close the deal. Those can include people with an emotional bent who just happen like your brand logo or your sales rep, to hard-nosed engineers or purchasing agents with competing brand preferences and work habits, to a C-level decision-maker who’s never heard of your brand but is the one who will sign the P.O. and needs to feel your brand is the right decision.

Lastly, another key contrasting factor around B2C vs. B2B purchase decisions is consumer purchases are most often made by a single person in seconds.  Meanwhile, B2C purchases may take weeks, months or years to reach agreement and action. That can be a very tough road to a sale… lots of slogging uphill. People who you thought were sold on your product change positions or jobs, replaced by people with other preferences or none at all, competitors may have time to undermine your offer or even develop new, more competitive products or services. Those are some the hardest parts of B2B selling. 

Consumer and business marketing are similar in some ways but radically different in others. Effective, competitively-differentiated branding is essential to both. What can a brand claim that’s important to customers that competitors are not claiming or, better still, cannot claim? That’s the challenge for any marketing team. Once discovered, that valued difference becomes your brand’s mantra, repeatedly emphasized in business communications, walked daily by all in the company and if your marketing is effective, expressed by the hard-won customers of your B2B products or services.

7 comments on “B2B Branding Trumps Consumer Marketing Challenges

  1. Al Shultz
    July 7, 2019

    Excellent insights, Ford! Many people, including many professional marketing people, tend to think that all marketing is the same. Thanks for highlighting some of the important differences in B2B marketing — critical to understand if your B2B marketing program is to work.

  2. Ford Kanzler
    July 7, 2019

    Thanks Al! And your depth of tech business marketing experience likely trumps most of EBN's readers. I beleive what's key are understanding the differences, but also the similarities and that consumer marketing tactics may also be effectively applied to business-to-business. Intel's Blue Man Crew and Captain Zylog come to mind. There are certainly more recent ones. But many B2B tech brands still don't have the will to try an entirely fresh approach when delivering their messages. Conservative, copy-cat marketing campaigns don't break through the awareness barrier. Getting inside the minds of your customers very often requires bold creativity, regardless of what promotional area is being applied. Best of all is when the big concept is unified across all a brand's marketing channels.

  3. ChristopherJames
    July 15, 2019

    I don't think branding is a problem. It's maintaining consistency over the years to make sure that your brand continues to stay relevant despite what you originally defined it to be. It's easy enough to say what you want your business to be, but how confident are you that you think it will still be the case a decade down the line?

  4. Ford Kanzler
    July 15, 2019

    Suggest developing a relevant, competitive branding claim (statement of position) is certainly a challenge for many companies, since many never accomplish it. Policing the brand for consistency is difficult as well as maintaing relevancy to your market. Walking the talk is equally challenging. Relevancy can also include re-branding when necessary. But not just when managment gets tired of the positioning claim. Usually that occurs well before the market has begun to understand and value the branding claim. Establishing a brand takes time and many marketing managers think everything can be accomplished in a quarter or two. Minds don't change rapidly. When the market begins defining your business as you have defined it, is when you know you're begining to win minds.

  5. RituGupta
    July 18, 2019

    Thanks Ford for your insight! I definitely agree with what you have to say about this and that's the onus we all have to bear if we want to be “responsible” for our brand image at the end of the day. I think that eventually, the longer we're around, the more resigned we need to be that sometimes we just can't control perception when the people who have the biggest stake in deciding how our brand is seen, isn't us.

  6. Ford Kanzler
    July 18, 2019

    Not too clear on “the people who have the biggest stake in deciding how our brand is seen, isn't us.” Who else would have a larger stake than the company's employees? An organization's public perception is continually shaped by how it behaves and whether it demonstrates what it claims. Some brands have disconnects between the “talk” and the “walk.” That's where things get messed up in the mind of the market. Having employees who are motivated, trained and equipped to perform as the marketing claims, is part of the challenge. Having happy employees who “get” the marketing story, is part of the secret to happy customers. The opposite is also true.

  7. UdyRegan
    July 22, 2019

    It turns out that brands have a greater impact than just for recognition purpose. Branding is actually much more beneficial regardless of the product or service a particular business is selling. It acts as a statement that consumers go for or prefer as compared to other brands. Once a brand has successfully made its mark in the market, consumers are bound to come forward despite not having been advertised on a large scale.

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