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The essentials of B2B branding

With the landscape more complicated for B2B brands than ever before, there’s much to consider when it comes to developing your brand. But what are the absolute must-haves and what are the key risks?

We often think of brands as being a very business-to-consumer phenomenon but there are lots of great, famous business-to-business brands. Adobe, GE and McKinsey are just three examples that spring to mind.

Whether your brand is targeting consumers or other businesses, your audience is still people. Therefore authenticity is critical and the key tenets of branding still apply.

When it comes to the essentials, there are three things you must put in place.

Brand strategy

A brand strategy is essential for the business to define and deliver a highly valued and differentiated promise. The strategy can be framed as a brand onion with multiple layers, brand pillars building a brand house or even bouncing balls. Whichever way you choose to visualise it, the key building blocks of a great brand are typical:

  • Brand vision – a shared definition of success or reason for being
  • Brand positioning – how we need to be perceived to beat the competition
  • Brand values – the things that matter most to us and that shape our actions with all stakeholders
  • Brand purpose – the (ideally world improving) driving idea behind our brand; our defining point of difference

A brand story

Branding is about consistently articulating what a company stands for and ensuring at every point of customer contact the organisation can deliver on its brand promise. Branding is about authenticity and is much more than a logo and a look and feel. Truly great B2B brands are grounded in a strong idea expressed consistently in everything they do internally and externally. Ideally, these great brands engage with their talent and customers with the same story. They communicate a brand story that inspires and motivates both audiences.

Identity system

You need a brand identity system – visual and verbal – that provides consistency, recognisability and sets the tone. It should also put in place the guidelines to enable brand management protocols.

All businesses are unique, even if the products and services they make or sell are similar to those of their competitors. The official differentiating signature is brand identity. A strong brand identity is always based on the brand essence or idea and is made up of five elements – logo, font, colour, image style and language. The elements in the brand identity don’t necessarily need to have equal prominence but they all have a role to play in creating a clear and consistent image of your brand.

These three areas are must-haves. If you’ve already mastered them, turn your attention to areas of brand disconnect. Too often brands fail to connect on the vital areas of promise and experience, brand and culture.

The source of the disconnect often stems from the friction between differentiated brand ambition and delivering familiar, intuitive customer experience. Brand experience needs to strike a balance and authentically deliver against customer’s expectations while building on the brand story.

Any disconnect between brand and culture must be dealt with. If the brand outwardly espouses progressive values or the importance of sustainability and well being, these must be infused within the internal culture. A strong brand helps attract talent and the employee value proposition ideally connects to the brand purpose and is based on a truth about the culture.

Ultimately B2B brands must be authentic. Failing to deliver on this can have damaging effects on your brand’s internal culture and inevitably your reputation externally.

If you can nail these essentials and the top areas of brand disconnect, you’ll be on track to positioning your B2B brand in an authentic, world-class way that inspires people.

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