Is branding required in the B2B context? In the B2C context companies like Coca-cola and Pepsi persuaded consumers that sugar water with some acids and coloring was better than water, and the in-thing to keep sipping all the time. If branding worked for them, it must have some relevance in the B2B context as well. At the same time, surveys have shown that most industrial brands are just labels and do not really have strong correlation with the qualitative attributes of the product.
Studies show that Business buyers are not necessarily value driven, but individuals in the Decision making units who aim to reduce risk and simplify evaluation by going in for brands that they resonate with. B2B decisions entail personal risk to the Decision maker. If things go wrong, their credentials in the company are at stake, and they could even suffer job loss. Hence a B2B brand not only needs to demonstrate business values, but also personal values. Hence the marketing message must have a rational as well as an emotive appeal. In fact, very few industrial buyers will change suppliers for small price differences. They would rather buy peace of mind. They may rationalize externally, quoting price, performance and features as important. But if we dig deep, they are actually buying trust, comfort. For example, when a corporate signs up with Taj Group of hotels, the decision makers in the administration department have a comfort that their top management will be taken care of at the hotels where they stay, and that there will be no reason for complaint.
Brands help as a means of communication of benefits and value. They help to set expectation on the product or service. The SERVICE QUALITY MODEL is of great importance here. Perceived quality of a branded product is higher than an unbranded product. In the B2B context, a brand achieves greater information efficiency and risk reduction, while in the B2C context there may be more of image value benefits.
However, B2B Branding approach needs to be holistic. There are two broad principles B2B must adhere to. Firstly, alignment. It has to message the right values to the customer as well as incorporate internal values and needs to be marketed within the organization, so that all are in sync. The spirit of the brand has to come across all functions in an organization and very importantly in marketing and sales functions. Consistent and effective marketing to build the brand on functional (like features, benefits), economic (price, time etc) and emotional parameters (like trust, peace of mind, solidity) has to happen.
Secondly, consistency. Often companies talk past their customers, and there is divergence between the core messages companies communicate and the brand characteristics that customers value the most. While companies may project a social responsibility angle, customers may be valuing efficiency or reliability. Hence a disciplined communication of values and messages is important.
When industrial companies benefit from business to business branding, it is often by accident rather than design. However, with a little extra effort and cost, the effect could be much improved loyalty, greater profitability and higher valuation of the firm. Finally, the most successful B2B brands have always kept it simple and stupid (KISS).
RM Sanjay, Director(Sales & Mktg Practice)