Why Branding Is Important to B2B Companies, and the 5 Characteristics of Successful B2B Brands

Some of the most valuable brands in the world are primarily B2B brands, including names like Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Cisco, Boeing, GE, Siemens, DuPont, Oracle, SAP and FedEx. Despite this, many executives in B2B organizations still think that branding is something that is relevant to consumers, not organizational buyers.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

More and more, we are learning from fields like neuroscience that humans make purchase decisions largely based on emotional variables rather than a rational assessment of factual information like price, features and quality.

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Consider the following infographic:


Image source: https://marketeer.kapost.com/b2b-purchase-decisions.

Companies that have realized the power of emotion in the B2B purchasing decision spend a significant amount of time, energy and budget on relationship-building. Consider pharmaceutical sales reps or customer service managers in the excess and surplus insurance industries, to name just two industries. In an otherwise commoditylike, highly competitive space, the softer elements of reputation and how someone feels about a company and its representatives can and often will tilt the balance in their favor.

A study by a research team at Harvard Business School (HBS) (https://hbr.org/2007/11/how-to-build-a-b2b-brand-1) identified five characteristics of the most valuable B2B brands.

  1. Executive leadership recognizes that a strong brand buffers the company from risk and PR crises while also aligning and energizing staff and other stakeholders.
  2. Executive leadership is a passionate cheerleader for the brand.
  3. The company’s brand architecture is a master brand, where there is one dominant brand (e.g., FedEx, IBM).
  4. ROI on marketing investments (as opposed to “costs”) is considered measurable and is, in fact, measured.
  5. The company’s brand is consistently managed across all communications channels and geographies (websites, collateral, divisions, countries).

B2B companies in a highly competitive market, or those that are trying to achieve a price premium, should look to brand-building. While some may still think of logo change, that is not what we mean. Building a brand means establishing a specific set of perceptions, emotions, beliefs and attitudes (something we call PEBAs) about your company among your target customers and other stakeholders. These can include taking a competitive position, showing personality and stating a particular worldview, to mention a few options. These PEBAs are achieved through consistent messaging and specific company actions and behaviors, not a facelift of the logo. No wonder, then, that the HBS study found that executive leadership must believe and drive this brand-building for it to be successful.

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Frank Schab
An experienced marketing and branding strategist, Frank has been helping clients optimize the value of their brands through insightful analysis and effective strategy for more than three decades. Along with holding positions at General Motors and Pfizer, Frank served as a Managing Partner at Interbrand New York and VP of Global Brand Research at Opinion Research Corporation before co-founding Six Degrees. His brand-building work in various sectors including hospitality, medical device, pharmaceutical, automotive and technology has taken him to 17 countries on four continents. Frank holds a doctorate in psychology from Yale University and speaks fluent German.

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