/ Insights

Let’s Get Personal: Building Better B2B Brands

By Richard Albrecht

Everyone is familiar with the boatloads of money spent building consumer brands.  From Coke vs Pepsi to Nike vs Adidas, the battles between iconic brands are worth billions.  And when people think of branding, they immediately think of business to consumer (B2C) brands.  What most of us don’t realize is that branding can be even more effective and valuable with business to business (B2B) brands. 

B2B branding is not a new concept.  B2B marketers have been branding their products—even commodities—for decades now.  Some of us are old enough to remember the adage, “no one ever got fired for buying IBM.”  IBM’s customers themselves had unwittingly created one of the pillar themes of B2B brand loyalty, and sustained it for decades—a perfect example of old school branding aligned with today’s latest thinking.

Recently, things seem to have devolved a bit in the world of B2B marketing.  Most of the current B2B literature has, unfortunately, focused on ways to articulate functional differentiation. How to Brand Sand

B2C marketers, on the other hand, learned long ago that functional differentiation only takes you so far. Effective messaging taps into emotional needs and personal motivators. Consider these examples:  

If I were in the market for a new sports car, I could probably find a better buy than a Jaguar F-Type.  Still, this #GoodToBeBad commercial does an amazing job of making me forget what will be truly bad—the maintenance costs and hassles of buying an English-made sports car (apologies to the UK J). 

And even though I support showering, scientists have yet to link Dove body wash to higher levels of self-esteem.  That didn’t stop Evolution from taking the nation by storm. 

Despite the disconnect between these products’ functional attributes and their brand messages, these marketing campaigns have been successful.  Their brands appeal to personal emotional needs— status, adventure, and self-worth—in ways that transcend the nature of the products themselves.

B2B marketers often build brand messages around functional attributes, technical specifications, and business benefits. But new research by the CEB Marketing Research Council indicates that a B2B brand’s perceived personal benefits have twice the impact of its perceived business benefits.  Their research also finds that 68.8% of buyers who see personal value in a brand are willing to pay a higher price, while only 8.5% of buyers who do not see personal value are willing to pay a higher price.       

Why would managers in charge of purchasing decisions care more about personal value (professional advancement, social benefits, self-image, and emotional factors) than they would business value (performance, cost, and structure)?  Let’s go back a couple of decades to our IBM example. This apparent contradiction could be explained by the personal risk associated with purchase decisions.  A purchase decision can lead to a demotion or promotion, a slap on the wrist or a high five.  And when there are personal risks, even the most disciplined, numbers-driven manager will feel the weight of the decision.  This is why emotion cannot be ignored, and “no one ever got fired for buying IBM” was such a powerful paradigm.

But how do B2B marketers tap into these emotions to develop compelling, effective brand messages that create meaningful differentiation and, ultimately, lead to increased sales, loyalty, and brand equity?  The answers are found in commercial insights.  Real commercial insights begin with listening.  What is important to your customers?  What are their values?  What makes them smile and what makes them frown? They might not state explicitly their emotional needs and personal motivators, but if you read between the lines, you will find recurring themes amongst your customers.  

Real commercial insights begin with listening.

After developing that new level of empathy, it’s easy to point to the business challenges and pain points most closely related to your customers’ emotional needs and personal motivators.  If you’ve done this well, your messaging and functional attributes will work in harmony to drive results for your business.  

And if you’re lucky, like IBM, your customers will create their own brand adage for you.

Want a more in-depth look at how leading companies are leveraging commercial insights to their advantage? Read the whitepaper from CEB. From Promotion to Emotion

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