B2B branding from the inside

How a B2B company brands itself is crucial to its success in today’s image-conscious world, says Klavs Valskov.

Who are your customers? What are they looking for? What do you do differently, or better than your competitors? And does your staff know how to deliver your brand promise?

Purchasing decisions in business-to-business (B2B) industries are perhaps not as dependent on brands as in business-to-customer (B2C) sectors. But what you represent from your customers’ viewpoint matters, when they choose what company they should pick.

Great brands are built ‘from the inside’ and there is no such thing as a ‘quick fix’ to your brand. Simply because that is your core identity – this is what you want to be for customers, what is making you attractive for investors and what gets your staff up on a Monday morning.

Quick fixes are when you need to handle a crisis and, through competent PR, work your way through an issue. Media relations can certainly help, but it is not where you start when you want to reshape your brand.

A business strategy is always dynamic and should be adjustable for changing markets. But at one point in time you need to lock your target on what you fundamentally want to be.

Once those business objectives are decided, it makes sense to start looking at how the brand can then help deliver business value and essentially sell your products and services more effectively.

To make a brand come alive, people all over the organisation need to breathe and live it. Making sure that it is aligned across countries, cultures, etc., can be tricky.

It requires a powerful global steer through advisories, cascading sessions, discussions and constant internal mass communication, beating the drum to make sure people internalise what the company is about and how they can contribute.

And getting people involved is pivotal. None of us are robots where with a plug-and-play mind-set you can expect others to understand and commit to a certain idea.

It requires real skill and professional craftsmanship to establish global alignment and often top executives actually get disconnected from their staff because they are propelling ahead while the entire organisation is still sitting in the tunnel with no line of sight.

At the end of the day, a strong branding/marketing strategy is all about managing expectations. If you can, upfront, steer people’s views on what your product and service is, then you get very far – also in terms of efficiencies. You will avoid a lot of disputes because customers know what they are paying for – and they get it!

And internally, staff are in no doubt about what kind of customer experience they are part of delivering. That way you avoid too much silo thinking and discussions.

In general, it is not prudent to change the brand promise too often. It is important that the DNA of the brand stays the same while it evolves over the years. Of course, sometimes it can be necessary to get the fundamentals changed – i.e. if the company is about to go bust or the company has a new ambitious strategy to outcompete the market.

In essence, branding/marketing mechanisms for B2C are not very different from those for B2B. It is people making business together and we are all driven to make choices with our perceptions.

Of course, brand makes up a much larger part of the purchasing decision in industries such as cosmetics or tobacco, where it is up to 70% of the reason why we buy a certain product.

In the energy and transport industry, brand counts for about 20-25% of the purchasing decision. A lot less, of course, but one could argue still much too significant to be ignored. And when looking at the landscape of brands in the energy and transport industries there seem to be great potential for many companies to utilise their brand much more effectively, internally as well as externally.

So where to start? Here are five steps to build your brand:

  • Step 1: what do you want to get out of having a clearer, sharper and stronger brand?
  • Step 2: how are you perceived today — both internally and externally? And where are the gaps between the two?
  • Step 3: where are the opportunities in the market to strengthen the brand? (Market, competitive and customer segmentation analysis).
  • Step 4: what is a realistic, authentic and compelling vision for your brand? Test some scenarios.
  • Step 5: piloting, then implementation, including a brand campaign that starts with a thorough internal alignment of staff.

Klavs Valskov

About Klavs Valskov

Klavs is the current board chair for the IABC EMENA Region. He is Head of Brand for GE Oil & Gas and was the Communication Director for Maersk Line from 2008 to 2013.
Follow Klavs on Twitter: @KlavsValskov

Posted in Board blog, Marketing and branding.