Does branding really matter for business to business (B2B) companies? Those who would argue that branding has to place in the B2B space usually argue these points:
- B2B buyers are rational decision makers unswayed by emotional factors such as brands.
- B2B purchases centre around the relationship between the individual sales rep and the buyer; if there is a brand for the B2B business it's created by the sales rep.
- Price is the only thing that matters with a B2B promise: they don't promise to make you 'cool' or 'sexy'.
- B2B products are too complex to be reduced to a tagline.
- B2B companies sell to very narrow audiences, making advertising irrelevant.
Despite these objections, branding does matter to B2B marketers for one main reason: at the end of the day B2B buyers are still people, and people are emotional. People largely make decisions relying on their first impressions of stored memories, images and feelings. These emotions impact economic decision making.
B2B marketers should tap into this by appealing to their prospect's emotional side. In one sense, brands inherently operate on an emotional level by stimulating that part of the brain that stores emotional reactions. By nurturing the right brand associations in your prospects mind, you can begin closing the deal before the selling has even started. A classic example of this is the "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM" tag-line.
Trust can be achieved by being the dominant leader in your market, or (seeing as though that's out of reach for most companies) achieving thought leadership early in the buying cycle.
Hard ROI Benefits of Building Brands
Because brand-influenced emotional reactions impact buyer decision making, those companies with strong brands usually achieve better financial performance. The emotional connections that exist between brands and buyers leads to greater access, lower price sensitivity, better openness, and more forgiveness for mistakes for well-branded companies. In fact strong brands are reflected in these preferential actions:
- Increased willingness to try a product or service.
- Lower time required to close a sale
- Greater chance that the product or sale is purchased
- Willingness to give a larger sum of purchase requirement
- Comfortableness with paying a price premium
- Lowered sensitivity to price increases
- Lowered inducement to experiment with competitive offerings.
It can be hard for a metrics based CMO to prove these efforts to the rest of the executive team, particularly as there is no ready "control group" to test against. One approach here is to measure brand perceptions from target customers, and to correlate their perception with business outcomes. If a positive relationship between initial brand perception and revenue from that customer can be demonstrated, then you're on your way to proving the ROI on brand building.