Does branding really matter?

Cutting through the hype, for the mid-market B2B brand.

Overview

Branding is made famous by huge multinationals selling consumer products, but that’s not the only place it matters. Even when it comes to your midmarket B2B brand, branding should be an important part of your business considerations – but there are some distinctions.

In this article we look at what – on a practical level – you really need to pay attention to when building your brand. 

does brand matter

"Reassure consumers or clients about your quality – especially when they don’t have the time, resources or inclination to do proper research. "

Refresher – what is branding?

Branding is about creating a distinctive identity for what you do and what you are as a company. The ability of powerful brands to grab a bigger share of consumers' or clients’ wallets, can give them great value. When Philip Morris bought Kraft, a food company, in 1988, it paid four times the value of Kraft's tangible assets. Most of that 75% extra was spent on Kraft's powerful brands. Similarly, when Nestlé bought Rowntree it paid more than five times the book value of Rowntree's assets. Most of that extra (almost £2 billion) was the cost of Rowntree's well-known names, such as Polo, Kit Kat and After Eight.

Why care about your brand?

  • Reassure consumers or clients about your quality – especially when they don’t have the time, resources or inclination to do proper research. This allows you to charge a premium.
  • Easier introduction of new revenue streams. If you already have a strong brand it is often easier and less expensive to introduce new revenue streams – people trust your brand, so they’ll trust your new initiatives.
  • Competitive edge or market differentiator. Your brand is what differentiates you out in there in the market – especially important if what you do is almost identical to your competitors.

The 6 things you really need for a strong brand

A strong brand with long-term viability can guarantee healthy revenues and profits for your organisation. It’s built from the bottom up, but it can be incredibly expensive to create and maintain. So we’re cutting through the hype. As a B2B mid-market business, here are the areas you most need to focus on. 

Think about your brand as your company’s paintwork, landscaping and ornaments – they really set the tone and give an immediate impression. They’re critical, and in many cases can protect the future of your business, but they’re nothing if the foundations of your company are rotten.

Your advertising and brand may say, “Trust us”, but are you making your customers believe? If clients are left on hold for a long time, or experience communication break downs, poor delivery, errors or inconsistent service, no amount of cunning advertising or beautiful design is going to make up for it. For example, Uber’s friendly, for-the-people brand position is being undermined as more reports of its toxic work culture emerge.

That means that at your core, you need to be a business worthy of your brand. That may mean taking a hard look at the performance of your people – and how you’re supporting them. You may need to be honest about where you could improve and take steps to change things. If the issue is caused by overwork, understaffing, or inefficient processes, a rethink of your technology might be in order. If your culture is underperforming, unhealthy or toxic, you need to bring HR on your branding journey.

Spark is an excellent example of a brand overhauling itself internally, before bothering with the external. Before rebranding, Telecom NZ could be counted as one of New Zealand’s most hated brands, with regular network outages, a bungled XT network launch, clumsy communication, confusing billing, and poor customer service. The overhaul started well before their 2014 rebrand, which the company’s then CMO Jason Paris called “a business change, not just a name change.”

Your employees are walking, talking embodiments of your company. Savvy companies have noted this, and made steps to ensure that their employee brand isn’t just inextricably linked to their external brand, but that their employees are totally sold in, too. American shoe company Zappos achieves this in part by putting new employees through a week-long training, and then offering each $1000 to quit. The idea? If they’d rather the money than the chance to work at Zappos, then they’re not right for the role – and Zappos would rather know right away. Interestingly, about ten percent of new call-centre employees take them up on their quit-now offer.

Along the same line, your mission, vision and values need to come off the board room walls and into everyday practice. They should be what’s driving your brand externally, so they need to be at the heart of your BAU internally too – business tools, not “branding” tools. 

Patagonia does this well – they’re passionate about outdoor activities, and want their people to be as well. Employees are welcome to leave the office to go surfing, hiking or whatever outdoors – they can even grab an office-supplied Patagonia-branded towel on their way out. In this way Patagonia stays true to their founding mission while also letting their people try out new gear. 

First, make your brand distinctive and part of who you are as a business. That means choosing colours, design and packaging that resonate with customers subconsciously, and supporting that with marketing – images and words, jingles and tag lines that stick in the mind.

One study suggests that with a distinctive brand, you don’t need to have a unique position in the minds of your customers. For example, a customer may rate you just as trustworthy as your competitors, but will choose you because they recognise your distinct brand. Begin by comparing your brand ID to your competitors and asking, “Does it stand out?” If it doesn’t, how can you achieve distinctness in a way that still connects to your core brand mission? For example, adding a yellow starburst to a financial services logo would be distinctive, but probably odd enough to be brand damaging.

Delve into your reason-for-being, plumb your culture or the way you work for something you can use to stand out from the crowd. KiwiBank wasn’t the only Kiwi-owned bank in NZ when it launched, but certainly played on that fact to bring a fresh, totally Nu-zild difference to a market dominated by staid, fatherly international bank brands. 

Branding is about creating a relationship between your company and the consumer – that idea isn’t new, but these days, brands are creating that relationship in new ways

Traditional branding was about jockeying for position in consumers’ minds – being their first choice, most easy to recall, or the category leader. New research published by HBR shows that more modern brands (mostly digitally based) go further than that. They’re focussed on positioning their brands in the lives of customers. Interactions are not necessarily intended to get a purchase – rather it’s about being part of their every-day, making things easy, educating and supporting, seemingly with no agenda.

While the research is more focussed on B2C consumers, it’s easy to see that this approach works for B2B businesses too – especially given that they tend to work with higher-value transactions and longer sales cycles. 

Your relationship may be strong with your consumer, but it’s not monogamous. A recent report, which studied UK consumer behaviour suggests that aiming for consumer loyalty in the way we’ve traditionally done it will be, for the most part, a waste of time. It found that 61% of respondents had switched from one brand to another in the last year – despite loyalty programmes.

Instead, the research suggests investing in activities that increase goodwill – replacing tit-for-tat loyalty programmes with moments of delight or value-adding services. 

In his new book Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman states that 95% of consumer purchasing decisions are made by the subconscious. That means logical arguments for why your product is better are far less likely to be effective than making your consumer feel something.

So if you could have your target feel one emotion, what would that be? By embracing the importance of emotions and the impact they have on your brand, you’ll begin to tap into that unconscious mind and more strongly connect with potential customers. 

"That means that at your core, you need to be a business worthy of your brand. That may mean taking a hard look at the performance of your people – and how you’re supporting them."

Change your branding for a changing world

The world is undergoing breath-taking change in all sorts of ways, so it’s not likely that something as seemingly mundane and ordinary as branding should be exempt. Gone are the days when just a memorable logo boosted your market share. Now you need to move from being a passing acquaintance of your potential customers, to becoming a beloved member of the family.

To support that, and to make your marketing worth the money, be sure your company culture, processes and straight out worthy-ness are all your brand claims them to be. Only then can you reach that subconscious decision-making level, and find your place in the hearts of your customers.

moving target