When you think of your company’s brand, the first thing that comes to mind is probably your logo or your brand colors, or maybe even your style guide. These design elements are the surface of your brand. But if your company relies on its design to hold your entire brand strategy together, you're doomed. You need to dig deeper and build a strong B2B branding foundation if you want to be an industry thought leader.
The heart of your brand is your reputation: what customers think of when they see your logo or hear your name. Some company executives might think reputation doesn't matter for B2B businesses, but that's where they're wrong. "B2B buyers are still people, and people are emotional," writes Jon Miller for Marketo. "And, as research increasingly indicates, emotions impact economic decision making."
B2B branding is, at its core, about connecting with customers. "More than a great product or service, it's the passion and cause at the core of the company that builds this much deeper emotional connection between the brand and the customer," according to Moz. Without these core values, the design behind your branding is just a facade with no foundation.
How to Approach B2B Branding
Determine and share your brand values
If you don’t know your brand values, you’ll never be able to gain traction as an industry thought leader. Nearly half of respondents to a recent MediaCom survey reported that they were willing to pay more for a brand that supports a cause, and 35 percent of all respondents have bought a brand product specifically because of its values or beliefs.
Your brand needs a purpose. “The starting point of any brand strategy research is to work out what the company stands for,” according to B2B International. “What is the single most important value that the company presents to the world?” It's easier said than done to determine your brand value. Kissmetrics recommends asking yourself questions like “Why did I build this business?” and “Why do I want to help this specific group of people?” The answers will lead you to your brand values, which you can then share with your audience through social media and inbound marketing.
Once you’ve honed in on your brand’s purpose, you can craft brand values and share them with your team so everyone is on the same page about what you stand for.
Don’t make your brand all about you
What should your brand be about if it’s not focused on your company? Ogilvy says that “a brand is a promise to its consumers.” One of the biggest branding mistakes a company can make is being narcissistic: totally absorbed with themselves and how awesome they are.
It’s a common error in today’s self-promotional digital world, especially if you're using social media marketing to promote your company. "When we try to achieve a B2B social presence there’s often a risk that what we transmit about ourselves, even when intended with honesty and integrity, can make us seem narcissistic," according to B2B Marketing. But customers can tell if you’re not putting them first—even if those customers are companies rather than individuals.
You an avoid this narcissism trap by turning the conversation around so the focus is on your customers. What are their pain points? How can you help them? Can you share their stories through social media? Genuinely caring about your customers will elevate your brand reputation and attract more business than going on an ego trip.
Offer stellar customer service
The level of customer service you offer has a direct impact on your brand. A Walker study reveals that by the year 2020, customer experience will be the key brand differentiator, even more important than price and product.
Most companies would love to have a reputation for excellent customer service, but not many are achieving it. Forbes reports that brand loyalty and customer service go hand in hand: “Clients can be perfectly happy with the services you provide, but if they do not feel engaged — or remember why they connected with you in the first place — they may not stay.”
Take the time to create a personalized experience for your customers. Get to know the key people you’ll be working with, and go above and beyond to troubleshoot any problems that arise.
Create a brand strategy
Now that you’ve defined your brand values and made your customers your top priority, you need to create a brand strategy that connects you to the right customers and helps you achieve your long-term goals. This important step moves you from being a reputable company that no one knows about to an industry thought leader customers can't wait to do business with. Forbes notes that a brand strategy is what allows you to “change [customers’] perception so they not only see your content, but also appreciate and act on it.”
Analyzing your competition allows you to make strategic decisions about your brand positioning so you can highlight your brand values and the ways you can help customers make the biggest impact. HubSpot suggests keeping tabs on your competitors to see what they’re up to and which of their marketing tactics are succeeding (or failing). Kissmetrics adds that targeting a specific group of people and telling your unique story are smart strategies to make your brand stand out.
Your brand strategy is the action plan that pulls all the aspects of your brand together and puts them to work. Without it, your customers won't be in a position to take action and make a purchasing decision.
B2B Branding That Puts You On the Map
You need a solid brand foundation that establishes your positive reputation with customers and reflects your company values. Only then will you be ready to create cohesive design elements that will represent your brand at the surface level. Do the work of defining your brand values, focusing on your customers, and offering top-notch customer service. It may not be glamorous, but it will pay off in the end.
Seth Godin said it best: “Design is essential, but design is not brand.” When you create a solid foundation for your brand, the design will be the cherry on top.
When it’s time for a rebrand, don’t choose the first design agency to woo you with a fancy logo and cohesive color scheme. Go to the pros who will help you develop a strategic brand from the ground up. Use these tips to learn how to choose the right B2B marketing agency for you.