There is perhaps no word, concept or idea thrown around with more confidence and less insight than Brand.
If you ask Chat GPT to define it, you’ll likely get an answer close to: “how someone feels about your company”. It’s defined as “the felt impression of a business among customers and the public” in the book 101 Things I Learned In Business School, and over the last thirty years, branding pioneer Marty Nuemier has been guiding the industry as a whole to recognize Brand as an organic, ethereal and most importantly, impactful element of any company under the main supposition that “Brands are perceptions, they exist only in the mind of the customer.”
And while I have issues with this and these definitions, today I want to discuss how the detriment in this definition leaves no room for understanding, articulating and planning for the vast differences between Business-to-Business and Business-to-Consumer brand goals.
Trying to subtly influence “the felt impression of a business among customers and the public” is an incredibly complex task. We are discussing consistently unpredictable market conditions and an often economically irrational human mind. With B2C Branding, we’re working on influencing the singular consumer’s decision, and can do so with marketing ploys, campaigns and coupons.
But unlike B2C Brands, B2B Brands involve and influence multiple people and minds within the same organizational system.
B2B Brands are communicating information from one complex system – our business – to another entirely uniquely complex system – another business. Each of these systems have their own web of stakeholders, people and influences. Knowing that there are five stakeholders within the organization responsible for a B2B decision, we then know our brand problem is five times more complex, and needs five times the time, investment and energy. Along with this, B2Bs require long term solutions between two businesses that are meant to last for years and often decades.
The simple fact that B2B Brands influence multiple people and minds within the same organization makes them exponentially more complex, valuable, and risk-prone, and needs to be addressed and incorporated into the process in branding B2B companies moving forward. Using a B2C Brand strategy to attract another Business is like trying to catch an elephant in a mousetrap.
It is also Mr. Nuemier’s and most consultancy firms’ belief that the most important Brand goal needs to be “Differentiation”. To stand out from the crowd. To Zag when others Zig. My position is that for B2B brands, the #1 goal needs to be Trust, and that authentic differentiation only can occur once we’ve focused on consistently repeating a singular, simplified message.
It may seem obvious at first glance, but Trust is the most important earned element for any B2B business interaction because of the increased scale of consequence in a B2B decision vs B2C. These large-scale partnership choices can cost a company hundreds of hours of time and millions in risk mitigation, and all have incredible financial, social and market consequences and need to be treated as such. Almost all of the human beings within the Big B need to trust the other B before anything moves forward.
In the B2B Brand space, this trust is earned through Consistency– consistent language, messaging, metaphors, tone, visuals, conversations, assets, response times, brand promise, values etc. Humans brains and the market are pattern seeking machines, so B2B trust is built and emerges with consistent, predictable behaviors, actions, messages and patterns.
It’s important to keep in mind that this level of consistency necessitates that what we’re communicating is decidedly simple. B2B businesses often solve business problems with complex service & value offerings. It is a lack of clarity that creates brand problems for most B2B companies – because the solution to the complexity in B2B branding is simplicity.
Consistency is only made possible by having the utmost clarity into your business’s Brand, but gaining this level of transparency and clarity within a B2B brand system is extremely difficult and intensive. By understanding the complexity in your business and the consistency required, you can influence your B2B Brand so that it generates the right patterns for the right businesses. In getting to know yourself, you are influencing how an entire organization “feels about your company”.