Often B2B companies, e.g., software, professional services, finance, technology, etc., don’t see the need for or value in investing in their brand. The companies that agree with this are your best competitors, because they are wrong.
Here is what they believe—and it's not correct! Take advantage of their mistakes.
#1 - A brand is just a logo, everything else is just fluff
The prevailing thinking is that a brand, for the most part, is equal to a logo. The reality is that a brand is the sum total of visual, verbal and experiential elements shared with customers. Consistency is key to conveying a strong message, and it’s commonly understood that good marketing thrives on consistency. Consistency inspires customers to feel trust and confidence. Since consistency is so important, it follows that visual identity and verbal strategy should work together, not contradict each other. That includes the name, tagline, logo and color palette, as well as the font, iconography, tone of voice, key messages and portfolio organization, to name a few elements that are often overlooked. The risk of treating brand as just a logo is that you miss out on making the other elements work in harmony to reinforce what your brand stands for. If the pieces aren’t designed as a whole, they probably won’t work together.
#2 - Brand is only for B2C companies, so for B2B marketing logic outperforms emotion
Business marketers often disregard emotion and treat brand communication as an exercise in logic. The misperception is that having a brand is helpful for sales that rely on emotions, not those that rely on logic or rational decision making. But B2B brands do benefit from leveraging emotion in their marketing. When two companies offer a similar functional benefit, brand can help make one be subjectively assessed as higher quality. That’s how some brands get people to pay more. For example, McKinsey’s brand perception can justify its premium pricing based on brand behaviors that reinforce leadership - e.g., only the top students are hired from the top schools, the company publishes thought leadership content (like their own Harvard Business Review), etc. And while McKinsey offers similar services compared to other management consultancies, others can only charge 1/10th the price. Even in B2B markets, people are doing the buying, and people want to feel good about their choice, which is ultimately underpinned by an emotion.
#3 - A brand doesn’t generate ROI, so it’s not worth the investment
A publicly held company CFO’s job is to maximize shareholder value and ensure that money spent is financially productive. Typically brand is seen as an expense, not an investment, and one that doesn’t create real value. While there’s truth that investing in a brand is putting money behind an intangible asset, a recent study of 50,000 public companies demonstrated that businesses who operate with a brand meaning framework generated ROI of +400% vs. the S&P 500 (Source: Grow, Jim Stengel). By one definition, a brand is the encapsulation of the value a business and its employees seek to create for its customers. Having a clear purpose is beneficial on two fronts; it can increase commitment employees feel - influencing their effort and dedication, and enable sales people to easily and succinctly convey the strongest reasons why one option is better than another. One large professional services company, internally known as “the largest consulting firm no one’s ever heard of” had just this problem. An employee survey showed that there was no one, agreed upon way to describe the company. This lack of cohesion flowed from the employees to the market place, making this firm's benefit and messaging hard to convey, diluting its marketing efforts. Less effective marketing generated weaker results, and the reverse became true once the company aligned on a single-minded brand purpose.
#4 - A brand is something you “set and forget”
Nobody likes to do work that seems redundant or wasteful, which is why so many people don’t redecorate their homes. But a business has to keep up with the times, and often this means that a brand that was once powerful may no longer be as appealing. Technology has increased the pace of change, and there’s an ever accelerating cycle driven by innovation and faster adoption rates. It’s been 10 years since the iPhone launched and behaviors have changed dramatically, just look at how people date, shop, socialize, and travel, to name a few. While technology may not fuel the need for a brand to change, it certainly means that time changes perceptions for what is normal. It follows that what made terrific sense for a company’s reason for being may not necessarily be as relevant today. IBM used to focus its purpose on selling computers, now it focuses on its people and delivering exceptional client service with the aim of being essential to its clients. Accenture used to brand itself as an information technology consultancy; the old logo was Ac, or "A to the power of C" using an exponent treatment to promote a sense of “energy and high-tech savvy”. In January 2000 Andersen Consulting changed its name to Accenture (accent + future), and now it is known as a company that implements and executes ideas, captured in the tagline "High performance. Delivered.” As companies innovate their products to get ahead of or just keep pace with customer needs, they also need to take a step back and look at how the brand is perceived in the market place and whether any dissonance may be holding them back.
#5 - A brand is not helpful to a complex company
A common objection is that products or services are too complex to simplify under one brand name or idea. Often that is why companies choose to allow different business units unique names or to go to market without the full power of a single brand. But what this does is dilute efforts, resulting in inefficient marketing spend, tactics and plans that are mutually exclusive and not collectively beneficial. General Electric (GE) is an example of a company that defies the logic of being too complex for one brand or idea. Using a master brand strategy, GE conveys that it’s not a massive conglomerate across aviation, digital, healthcare, lighting and energy, to name a few, but that it is a company that uses the power of humans to imagine and build amazing innovations.
The key takeaway is that brand is not solely beneficial to consumer oriented companies, but rather an on-going strategic initiative that can help strengthen a company’s marketing and sales to ultimately deliver tangible benefit. Dismissing brand as a hurried task and relegating it to a logo created by “a cousin who took some graphic design classes” is a risky way to treat such an important asset and will hinder marketing and sales efforts.
Sandra Creamer has spent her career focused on business transformation. She's worked at Fortune 100 technology companies, a top CPG company, and several NYC based consulting firms, doing branding, marketing and innovation for many recognizable brands. In her spare time, Sandra teaches at Columbia University in the MS Program for Applied Analytics.