When I say “brand”, what’s the first one that pops into your head? Chances are it was McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, or Facebook. All B2C brands.
Branding is often thought of as a B2C thing, and of reduced importance in the B2B world. But that’s wrong – branding is just as important for B2B companies.
By the end of this post, you’ll have a clear idea how to build a B2B brand that your customers will love.
How to Build a B2B Brand that Customers Love
1. Build a Quality Product
No matter how awesome your branding is, your products need to back it up. Otherwise, all that branding effort is for nothing.
Here’s an example of a B2B company with an incredibly successful brand: Intel.
They aren’t a B2C-focused company – they sell computer components to manufacturers. Yet the end-user demand for their chips caused them to become the gold standard … so much so that their customers advertise for them.
“Intel Inside” can be found on just about every PC for sale out there.
Admittedly, they’re a somewhat non-standard case, as they’re an ingredient brand, which falls somewhere between true B2B and B2C, as the end-users are aware of (and place value on) Intel’s products but aren’t actually involved in the purchase decision made by the PC manufacturer.
Takeaway: Your product needs to be able to impress on its own, and be genuinely valuable. Everything your potential customers engage with – whether it’s your product itself, your website, your social media graphics or posts – all need to work together to promote the brand as a whole.
2. Stay On Top of Trends
Let’s look at another example of excellent B2B branding: Salesforce.
In many ways, Salesforce is a great example of a B2B brand in general, and of SaaS in particular. Particularly in the software sector, there’s been a shift in branding trends.
The old, stuffy B2B vibe is on its way out, and the friendliness and more casual, colorful attitude of B2C is making its way in. Salesforce’s cute cartoony mascots and graphics are a great example of this.
Of course, their actual ad and website content are still polished, smooth and professional, but their simple, colorful design gives an immediate sense of approachability and friendliness.
Takeaway: Be mindful of what’s going on with your industry, and make sure your branding is on top of it. Rework any old-school, stilted or stuffy language. Check and see what style of graphics the heavy hitters in your industry are using, and model your approach after what works.
3. Service is Part of Branding Too
Earlier, I mentioned that branding applies to everything your customers can engage with. This should include your customer support and service, too.
It’s happened to all of us at some point – you’ve made a purchase, you’re happy with the product and the sales process was smooth. Something comes up and you end up phoning support to try and solve it.
What happens next can make or break your entire view of the brand.
Here’s a real-world example: some time ago, I ordered some dice from a top-tier, well-known brand that tends to be the go-to for a lot of people. A number of my friends had purchased from them and had great results, so I opted for them too.
I expected about a month’s wait before my order would arrive. Three months later, I reached out to support to ask what was up.
Turns out I’d picked the wrong shipping option, but that only explained a month of the delay. The company hadn’t even shipped my order yet, and couldn’t offer any reason why.
The representative I spoke with was rude and dismissive, giving me an answer that boiled down to “we’re the top brand in our sector, we know what we’re doing, tough luck.”
Needless to say, I requested a refund. That experience immediately negated all the positive things I’d heard about the brand, including personal word of mouth from my friends.
Before interacting with support, I was entirely on board with the brand. Now, I discourage anyone who asks me from ordering from them.
Takeaway: Your support team are a huge part of your customer retention, and play heavily into your brand identity as well. You don’t want anyone saying “well their products are great but their support is terrible”. That sort of negative word gets around and can be very difficult to bounce back from.
4. Social Media is Major
In today’s B2B world, brands have a real voice. Social media is top notch when it comes to building your brand image, and it’s just as important for B2B as for B2C.
From a pure lead-generation standpoint, your target audience spends time on social media, so why shouldn’t you?
In terms of branding, how you go about social media activities can play a big role. Here are a few brand-building ideas:
- Show your company culture with pictures of office events and team activities.
- Highlight community engagement by sharing how your brand gives back to the community.
- Share industry-relevant news and other articles that aren’t necessarily from you but that your target audience would find interesting.
Social media is a crucial factor in business success today, and there are many ways to make it work for you. It’s particularly suited to building a brand image.
5. Take a Stance on Something Important
We’ve seen a whole lot of this recently. One well-known example is Gillette’s “The Best Men Can Be” ad campaign, which took a very strong stance on an important topic:
As such things often are, this campaign was divisive. A deep dive into just how effective it really was is beyond the scope of this article, but from a pure branding view, it did the trick – it certainly generated a lot of attention. Much of it, however, was negative. It quickly became one of the the most disliked videos on YouTube.
New York magazine’s Josh Barro compared it unfavorably to another take-a-stance campaign: Nike’s “Dream Crazy” campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, who sparked a controversy when he took a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. He argued that Nike’s ad was successful because it was “uplifting rather than accusatory”.
If you’re going to take a stance on a social issue, be very mindful of exactly what you’re saying. Be crystal clear in your message. It’s very easy for someone to misinterpret something in this vein, and you might end up in damage control mode if you do it wrong. Be aware that people will pick it apart.
It’s a power move for branding, but it comes with plenty of risk as well as reward. The more polarizing the issue you choose, the more likely you are to alienate some of your audience (those that disagree with your viewpoint).