Vincent Roffers, partner and head of strategy at independent brand agency Agenda, discusses the difficulties B2B brands face, before offering advice on how they can make their brands unmistakably ‘you’.
Let’s start with a challenge. A hard one.
Pretend for a moment you’re opening a store and can only put three things in it that would make it unmistakably your brand. I said it would be hard, so your logo and any flagship products or offerings are off the table. What would you put in the store?
Tiffany’s has their iconic color.
Nike has “Just Do It.”
McDonald’s has the smell of their fries.
Apple has their product packaging.
Netflix has their “tah-dum” sound.
But what about B2B brands? Realistically, it’s much harder to get there because of the frequency and depth of your customers’ brand engagement. In fact, most B2B brands are having a hard time not just looking and sounding like everyone else. Seriously, how many use blue as their primary color and talk about innovation, connection, transformation and/or customer-centricity? A lot.
Part of the challenge here is so many brands want to be someone else. The number of times I’ve heard something along the lines of “look what IBM is doing, if we could just do something like that…”. The problem of course is that on a scale of 1-10, IBM is capable of being a level 10 version of IBM, whereas those looking to emulate are probably clocking in around a level 5, at best.
That’s why we encourage, implore and forcibly push our clients to be the best possible version of themselves, rather than trying to be like someone else. This is truly the only path B2B brands have to get to a place where they can be unmistakable.
Ok, so you’re getting on board but probably asking how the heck do we get there? At Agenda, we call it “Finding your awesome.”
Step 1: Force yourself to be different
This one seems tough, but it doesn’t have to be. You just need to wake your mind up to what context you’re operating within and what you reeeeeeally can’t say if you want to stand out. Don’t worry, we make it fun at least.
Believe it or not, we play one of my favorite rainy-day games as a primary source of inspiration. One you’re likely familiar with which has you guessing something with a bunch of off-limits words. That’s right, we play Taboo.
Basically, we put the challenge to senior leaders to write a pitch for their brand without the most commonly used words in their competitive space. This invariably brings a smile to faces and someone saying, “oh boy, you made this really difficult.” We do, and it’s on purpose.
The good news is this simple exercise has yielded some of the most fruitful, divergent thinking we ever get from senior folks. It’s also kinda fun when a C-level leader catches themself using a couple off-limits words by mistake and is like “ah shoot, I used this, that and that…I really thought I could do it” as they’re talking through their pitch. But it’s all in good fun and people enjoy being taken out of their comfort zone for a bit. It also demonstrates just how easy it is to fall into long-held, undifferentiated places.
Step 2: Make hard, decisive choices
I’m a firm believer that if we don’t put real, tangible choices in front of our clients, we aren’t doing our job. And I’m not talking about the choice between using “10 years” or “a decade” and the like. Way too easy.
No, these choices must have some degree of pain to them. Something must feel like it’s being taken off the table for it to be a real choice. Something that prompts initial disagreement and leads to fruitful discussion.
So, we do just that. We put a set of false choices in front of our clients where they are tasked to decisively take a stand, even though all are likely desirable. For example, what do you want your customers to value more in the future: your products or your people? Or, what do you most want to be known for: your ingenuity to create or your know-how to execute?
Providing a forum for having these difficult, divisive conversations – ones that, frankly, aren’t often had – is not only valuable for our clients, but critical in speaking, looking and acting in a way that’s very authentic and actually different.
Honestly, neither of these steps turn out to be as simple or straightforward as they may appear, but they are worth it. They do require senior leaders’ willingness to put in the thought and the work. They do require a bit of disagreement and discomfort.
But, we find time and time again that the combination of forcing your mind into different places and then making the hard choices gets us to something more memorable, more unmistakable. It’s how we help you find your awesome.
So, you thought we were done? I’m not letting you off the hook that easy. Now that you’ve had a few minutes to think about it, what’s in your store?