In his introduction to April’s Referrers’ and Thank You Lunch, align.me’s Co-founder and Executive Director, Brett referenced the stage musical Les Mis for its excellent branding.
Part of what makes Les Mis so memorable is its striking colour, music, and movement. Every time the curtain goes up, each audience member, new or old, sits in their chair and expects to see a brilliantly produced performance. The Les Mis brand is a ‘promise’, and the cast and crew for each city’s Les Mis production deliver on the promise in every performance.
So, much like this iconic musical, B2B growth businesses need to prime their audience to know exactly what to expect when they interact and engage with them. Our lunch was focused on this topic, led by align.me Co-founders Hugh Macfarlane and Brett Bonser, and Tony Banks, a Creative Director formerly of M&C Saatchi Melbourne. We brought together this group of business leaders from across Australia, New Zealand, and Asia to share insights on how to build and position their brands and the importance branding plays in B2B.
Why brand is so important today
Many consider B2B branding secondary to anything else in the business, especially when compared to B2C businesses where branding is used to draw attention and make a sale.
The longer, more complex B2B sales funnel and buyer’s journey doesn’t seem to lend itself to eye-catching and memorable brands – but it is in fact critical for B2B businesses to focus on building brand and positioning in today’s market.
Brett started us off by reminding us that most B2B buying motions are very ‘self-served’. He shared that:
- 79% of buyers wait until after they’ve fully defined their needs to engage with a vendor
- 44% of millennials prefer no sales rep interaction at all in a B2B setting
- The average number of customer stakeholders involved in the B2B buying process is 6.8
So, with the market more clogged than ever, and with buyers far more hesitant to reach out before they’ve made a decision, it’s vital to create a brand that positions itself well and can engage potential customers early.
So how can B2B businesses build up their brand to stand out in the crowded field?
Firstly, let’s define brand and position
If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you’ll know that Hugh is passionate about helping B2B growth businesses build up their brands and position themselves in their markets.
In fact, he’s written a case study into our own branding – with some great insights into the history and evolution of align.me – that demonstrates his own unique take on brand and where B2B businesses should prioritise it.
During the lunch, Hugh shared these views in more detail and gave business leaders and advisors a framework for thinking about building brand and positioning businesses.
Before we dive any deeper, we’ll share Hugh’s definitions for four specific terms:
- Your brand is what others think of you
- Your position is whether they think about you at all
- Branding is what you do to change what they think about you
- Positioning is what you do to change whether they think of you
We’ll share some examples of the nuances between brand and position – consider what these all say about (the rhetorical) you or brand:
Your brand (what others think of you):
- “I’d have expected better from you.”
- “I didn’t think he had it in him.”
- That’s exactly what Elaine said you would say.”
Your position (whether they think about you):
- “I know someone who can help, let me make an introduction.”
- “I think I have just the wine you’re after.”
- “I’d have thought BMW was more your style than Lexus.”
When you put these concepts together, it becomes clear why Hugh challenges the notion that B2B businesses should prioritise their brand – because it doesn’t matter what they think about you if they’re not thinking about you at all.
It’s critical for growth businesses to position themselves in their brands by:
1. firstly, getting on the list of brands for those chosen categories in their customers’ minds;
2. then, earning the right spot on that list; and
3. then, worrying about what that same audience thinks of them.
Simple positioning, then nuanced positioning, then brand. So how can you start understanding and improving your brand and positioning?
Unravelling the complexity of B2B brands
B2B brands are complex, because they are created by the aggregate of 1,000 small steps, unlike consumer brands which are largely formed by artfully taking just a few big steps.
These steps in your B2B brand include:
- Your website
- Your LinkedIn company page
- What your salesperson says in the email they send immediately after their meeting(s)
- How your referrers describe you when introducing you
- The proposals you put forward
- Whether / how quickly / how you respond to enquiries
- How you respond to ‘tricky’ billing or delivery issues
- The services you choose to offer and those you choose not to
- Who you hire (and fire / promote / don’t)
These all matter and together they form a promise that your brand makes to its market. B2B businesses need to take accountability for all of these touchpoints, and not just the larger (sexier) ones – which we’ll discuss in further detail below.
Perceptions are formed by repetitious exposure to multiple credible sources. – Cubit Media research
Bringing your B2B brand to life
Tony started off by telling us that while the foundations of brands are usually made by linear and logical thinking, it’s the branding that utilises a bit of your right brain (the creative, out-of-the-box side) to be a little playful or to evoke an emotion, which make the brand memorable.
One way to do this? When creating your brand, treat it like a person.
Humans all have unique personalities that are (in most part) consistent every day. Giving your brand a personality – whether it’s clever or confident, or any other number of traits – will breathe life into it.
Outside of personality, you’ll also need to make sure that you have a unique visual identity. The elements that make up your brand identity include your name, logo, tagline, colour palette, typography, imagery, and voice.
Businesses should be aiming to use elements that “stick”, something unusual and that stands out amongst their competitors – for example, Tony created Bank Australia’s tagline (“The bank Australia needs”) to make it unique amongst other banks that stick to traditional messaging and highlight its focus on responsible banking.
This leads us into the next step – making sure you can position yourself correctly and deliver on your brand’s promise.
Three actionable steps to position your B2B brand
Most brands will have an outline of their mission, values, and goals – whether it’s on a piece of paper, strategic plan, or in a brand book (more on this below). These will describe what the brand stands for and wants to be known for.
But as Hugh said earlier, it doesn’t matter what people think of you if they don’t think about you at all. This is where branding and positioning come in – and understanding where your brand sits will help you shape your next steps.
Hugh shares a simplified 3-step plan below:
1. Define the audience with whom you want to be positioned
Firstly, businesses should clearly define the audience with whom they want to be positioned and the categories in which they want to hold a position.
2. Research your current brand and position
You should then research (or guess if you can’t afford the research) how you are currently positioned and what that audience currently believes about you. Both. This can involve formal research, or simpler steps like looking at reviews and speaking with your clients (or your team members who are in regular contact with clients).
3. Identify the steps and messages to reinforce or change these perspectives
Depending on what you’ve found in your research, you’ll then be able to come up with messages to reinforce or change these perceptions, and a plan to get those messages to market.
Your plan can look a little like this:
- We need to say these things
- And show this evidence
- To position in (or move into this position within) this category
- And so that they believe these things and no longer believe those
Looking after and delivering your brand promise
As you forge your brand’s personality and follow your branding action plan, you need to make sure that every touch point delivers on the promise. This is key, especially for businesses in their infancy that want to build trust with consumers.
Some of the best brands are the ones that have been consistent throughout their existence – Shell, Apple, FedEx, and Nike, while others like Microsoft have changed their brand promise but have done so gradually. The brands that change their visual identities often or drastically only serve to confuse audiences and highlight their uncertainty.
So, to be consistent, Tony recommends appointing a brand custodian to look after your branding.
And one thing that your custodian needs to create and maintain is a style guide or brand book for your brand. More than just a collection of logos and colour palettes, a style guide should include a specific statement about the promise your brand wants to make together with your values, tone of voice, the imagery you use, and your brand’s professional standards.
This guide can be used by every employee at your business to help maintain consistency, drive positive experiences for the customers, and better understand the company’s values – just make sure it’s accessible to them all.
Strong brands create value for their stakeholders
We want to thank Tony for sharing his time and valuable insights with us, and the assembled leaders and advisers that shared their own time with us to listen.
Just as we’ve emphasised the importance of how our referrers describe us to others, it’s also important for us to thank them for their referrals. And align.me does this by hosting quarterly referral lunches that provide a great space to share knowledge, create value in return, and generate further networking opportunities.
If you’re keen to learn more about building your B2B brand, you can view our other blogs on brand for more insights: