Why B2B brands should do more brand building
With research pointing to its role in driving competitive advantage and market share growth, B2B brands need to invest in brand building more than ever.
Historically, received wisdom has seen business-to-business (B2B) marketing budgets largely supporting the conversion of warm targets into customers with factual product and service communications taking centre stage. There has been a reluctance to invest in costly brand building campaigns, more usually associated with the business-to-consumer (B2C) sector.
The attraction of the B2B approach – marketing investment focused on clear, short term targets resulting in more easily attributed, and higher, return on investment (ROI) – is understandable.
But the warm targets have to be found and nurtured in the first place. A 2018 report by Demand Gen found that 78% of B2B buyers consume more than three pieces of information about a brand before contacting the sales department. This alone is a strong argument in favour of brand building. With 2020 planning in full-swing, here are some others reasons B2B brands should be give real consideration to brand building activity.
For the majority of B2B brands, acquiring new customers represents a significant step change in growth, but it’s costly in comparison to selling more to existing customers. It’s also harder to directly attribute the ROI of the longer-term brand building needed to source these new customers. Interestingly however, a recent study by Marketing Week found that B2B brands who outperformed their competitors over a two year period were twice as likely to allocate 60% or more of their budget to achieving long term marketing goals.
Creativity and brand storytelling are integral to the success of marketing activities…business buyers are inextricably linked to their emotions and personality, they can’t leave them at home when they come to work to buy products and services.
This is corroborated by a report from the B2B Institute and LinkedIn, including research by advertising stalwarts Les Binet and Peter Field. They have shown that B2B brands which set their share of voice above their share of market are likely to grow; for example, a 10% extra share of voice leads to a rise in 0.7% of market share.
In a nutshell, making more noise than competitors in way that is positively noticed by the target audience will result in growth which should help to soothe those holding the purse strings.
And whilst brand building awareness is usually associated with new business, it also has the added bonus of reassuring existing customers that they’ve made the right decision. The importance of this after-sales element shouldn’t be underestimated given the longer B2B buying cycle and larger financial commitments involved.
It might seem an obvious statement but the B2B sector still involves people communicating with people. Creativity and brand storytelling are integral to the success of marketing activities. As Peter Field highlights, business buyers are inextricably linked to their emotions and personality, they can’t leave them at home when they come to work to buy products and services.
Logical, factual product or service messaging have their place but are far from the sole motivators to complete a sale. The most effective B2B marketing taps into the emotions of their target audience. For example, Ford’s commercial division tapped into British patriotism to encourage small business owners to buy into their extended range, positioning the brand as the backbone of Britain.
Successful storytelling requires a true understanding of the motivations and preferences of a brand’s target audience. As we demonstrated through our work with Vario, the first step in creating emotional currency with key stakeholders is audience research and persona development. Only with authentic understanding can you create branded marketing collateral that will resonate.
According to the Binet and Field research, if a buyer likes a brand, they’re more likely to have favourable beliefs about its benefits, and they’re more likely to want to believe the product messages that are delivered during the transition from warm target to customer.
Expertise in the B2B sector, once initial due diligence has been completed, is assumed, meaning there’s little to differentiate between one brand and another. The ‘how’ of working with a brand is much more interesting to the buyer: what is it like doing business with that brand? Is it purely transactional or does the brand genuinely care that their customers are delighted? Again, the argument for more emotional engagement through brand building with the target to clinch the deal becomes more appealing.
There are plenty of channels through which a B2B brand can develop its storytelling; but in recent times social media has made it easier and more acceptable for B2B brands to communicate the ‘how’ of doing business. Not only does it offer a highly accessible opportunity to demonstrate a brand’s values and show brand personality with ‘behind the scenes’ content, it’s also cost effective. Done well, it’s a key tool in communicating points of differentiation.
Perhaps then, the difference between the marketing of B2C and B2B brands is less stark than we sometimes might think. At the end of the day, people buy from people and the role of emotions in the decision-making process shouldn’t be underestimated so it pays to make the brand story count.