I do consider myself a “brand geek.” If there is such a thing. By that, I don’t mean that I define myself by the brands that I purchase or wear or support. By that, I mean that branding is the single topic that captivates me — no matter the audience or the environment. In fact, the more bizarre the audience and the environment, the richer the dialogue. Perhaps one of the best opportunities is to run across one of those stalwart deniers who claim they are completely impervious to brands. I consider it a personal challenge to help them dive deep into their souls to uncover the truth — that they too are subject to the allure, the promise, the ease of branded decisions. And most of the time, they are.
Recognizing the Power of a B2B Brand
Given how many of these “deniers” there are out there, it isn’t surprising that in our B2B world, the value of the brand can be overlooked. I’m sure many of you — like me — exist in strong companies driven by one particular area of core competence or differentiation — and this area doesn’t happen to be marketing (or branding). In fact, most of the B2B companies with which I have worked are solidly positioned on operational excellence, sales effectiveness or product superiority. Marketing, as a function, doesn’t top the charts. The chart-toppers are the product development team, or perhaps the operations team, or even the sales force. Marketing can sit somewhere towards the mid- to low ranks, next to our favorite neighbors — finance and HR.
But what most of these organizations fail to realize is that the brand itself is precisely and exactly WHY these other areas can continue to receive their accolades, their recognition, their big budgets. You see, without the ability to accurately capture the value creation — and a consistent message on the promise provided — these actions would go unnoticed and unrewarded. In today’s world, I would argue that the value of a good B2B brand is far more important than a good B2C brand.
Brand = Confidence = Sale
When I worked at Videojet (a Danaher company), we went through an extensive repositioning exercise to refocus on the true value of the products and services we provided. In a quick summary, Videojet makes the printers responsible for placing batch codes, expiration dates, etc. on consumer packaged goods. It is a simple, small device — but the failure to place an accurate code on each and every item flying down a manufacturing line results in product that can’t be sold. What we found is that at the heart of the decision process, we uncovered fear. Fear of failure. The individual responsible for making the decision of which ID equipment to purchase simply cannot make a mistake. Making the wrong purchase means downtime on the line. And that’s costly — to the company and to the career of the decision-maker. For the decision-maker, we uncovered that “risk mitigation” came in one form: a brand. Only with the support of the brand can that decision-maker have confidence not only that (1) they are making the right decision to support production (and their career), but also that (2) in the event something goes wrong, it would be the fault of the brand itself and its failure to live up to the promise. It would NOT be the fault of the decision-maker.
Of course, that very brand promise is founded on the success of our top dogs — and in the case of Videojet, these were the product developers and our production processes, each working in tandem to ensure we delivered excellent, effective product with amazing consistency. But capitalizing on that promise — such that the brand alone becomes the very reason the decision-maker can have peace of mind — that’s the job of the marketer. And I love that job.
Not all B2B purchases carry such weight. But I can say that the decision of which shoes to wear, which soda to drink or which cell phone to purchase all pale in comparison to the implications and results of poor decision-making in the business environment. It is with this knowledge that I take my passion for the brand with me to work in my B2B world. While not always blessed with the most lavish budget or the most well-staffed department, the marketing team in a traditional B2B organization is truly the unsung hero. But of course, what do I know; I’m just a brand geek.