How to rescue B2B from indifference
Richard Buchanan, MD and co-founder of brand consultancy, The Clearing, explores how ‘B2B’ has become three of the most reviled initials around and exposes the secrets of how to properly execute B2B branding.
The role of emotion
The world of B2B decisions is often described as arid, unlike consumer buying decisions. But we’re missing a crucial point: anything that happens in B2C happens quickly. Nothing in B2B is quick. Procurement is detailed and thorough and exhaustive and slow. About 18 months slow. Sometimes 36 months slow.
Much of that time is spent forging a relationship between buyer and seller. And buying on a relationship means emotion - more profound and far-reaching than choosing the latest Minecraft edition.
The superficial view equates speed of buying with emotional content. But relationships of trust, shared expertise and mutual respect for each other’s roles are the key to good business - plus a fair amount of people do business together simply because they like each other.
So, if we accept that B2B isn’t an emotional wasteland, what’s the message for branding within that sector?
Understand the nature of the beast. Recognise that there are several layers of relationship, with potentially hundreds of people selling products, and hundreds building relationships with each other and their peers in their own and other companies. Each needing their own compelling and clear message.
Logistics businesses Yusen and Menzies sit firmly inside the B2B sector, with their focus on moving goods from place to place. But neither Yusen’s offer to “create better connections” or Menzies promise of “your tomorrow delivered today' are a rational buy. They’re not even especially about the service they provide. They are a promise which elevates and expresses a perfect version of your expectations.
A B2B promise is more essential, far-reaching and fundamental than the consumer version. One talks about your toast, your jeans, your streaming device, perhaps your car in ways that are often wilfully pompous and opaque. Business talks about what makes the world work.
Being truly different
B2B categories tend to congregate around the same messages and positioning, and the same five values – 80% of the FTSE 100 share at least one value, making them hard to tell apart or remember. This means more opportunity to stand out and create your own clear, defendable territory.
Consumer is seen as the glamorous side of branding. It's what people buy, see and have heard of – in our industry, it delivers a sort of glitterball fame that attracts talent. But B2B is where the money and opportunity lies - though less immediately glamorous, it’s where you find true difference as well as create something genuine and valuable.
The sweet spot
What's essential for every B2B brand is how it lives internally, and how you communicate what is differentiating about it and how that difference is delivered.
But B2B brands also need to work hard externally to make it clear what they’re about, because they lack the accrued momentum of consumer brands. No cutting corners with content either – the audience knows the truth and if what’s being offered is worthwhile. If anything, this audience is the most discriminating and informed you’ll ever find.
And always ensure internal and external meet in the middle because that’s where success is made.
B2B is emotional
We all need to have a more emotional commitment to a business brand than a consumer brand, especially one we work for or on. Because what we’re dealing with are people's real futures and livelihoods. Attracting them and building something that they want to be a part of requires not only a proposition that people can get excited about, but absolute clarity of vision and strong leadership that'll work hard on the inside as well as the outside.
B2B brands are more emotional, compelling, involving and interesting because they're more important in more ways. The neglected B2B sector deserves brands that express this, not dismisses, or ignores it. Consumer brands, fun as they are, attractive as they are, desirable as they are, part of life as they are, in the end are less important and so less genuinely emotional. Harsh but true.