I was conducting some client research for a commercial product, and the salesperson I interviewed said something that made me cringe. “Brands don’t matter anymore in B2B sales.” Though I did recoil at the notion, I have to admit that he made some really valid points. Google makes it easy to search for the lowest price. Reduce purchase decisions to that and brands start to look shaky.
But there’s another side to the story. I contend that the cultivation of brands is more important than ever. It’s the only way any product or service can survive for the long term.
Branding is likely one of the most misused terms in our industry. Everyone thinks they know and understand branding. But here’s a quick refresher course just in case.
First, what a brand isn’t.
A brand isn’t a logo. It isn’t a typeface or grid. Those things represent a brand, but alone, they are not a brand.
What a brand is.
A brand is what your company stands for, and how the public perceives it. It’s an ideal or set of attributes. It includes everything from what your product or service does to the experience of doing business with you. It permeates every aspect of your operation. There are many other dimensions to a brand. But most of all, a brand has to be true.
Where does branding start?
Like most complex challenges, there are a few simple steps.
First, decide who you are.
Again, sounds easy enough, but this always involves deciding who you aren’t. That’s the most difficult part, because as much as you would like to imagine otherwise, there are customers out there who just aren’t that in to you. On the positive side, this is the opportunity to decide, with laser focus, who you matter to most. And more important, your value to those people.
Every touch point in your organization is an opportunity to reinforce your message. From the logo to the corporate website to the way the phone is answered, you have to construct an identity that is consistent, and compelling to the people you need to connect with.
Building a brand that people connect with takes time and repetition. And consistency, to repeat that last point. It’s a steady effort that takes time. And everyone involved in steering your brand has to occasionally take their foot off the gas and make sure all the elements of your identity (that logo, web site, phone message, etc.) match the truth about who you are.
Having a strong brand will not solve all your marketing problems. And yes, it takes work and resources. But it is your best defense from being reduced to another vendor of commodities.