Better B2B Branding

In B2C (Business to Consumer), the brand is and has long been a vital component of all sales and marketing efforts. The Nike Swoosh™, the Coke brand, and the Apple brand are literally worth billions of dollars each to their respective companies. Brands matter in B2C because it is impossible to reach directly all the possible customers of your particular product or service. As such, marketing and brand building are done with the aim, as Peter Drucker says, “to make selling superfluous.” That is, to get new customers to come to you to buy for the first time and to get current customers to come back to you to repeat buy.

In B2B (Business to Business), sales and marketing usually involve direct sales efforts, trade shows, and marketing literature. The power of a B2B brand is often an after-thought. Yet, a strong company or product brand is a vital part of a B2B sales and marketing effort, especially in attracting new customers for the first time.

  1. Think of your own experience if you are going to buy a business product and/or service for the first time. As you search the Internet or thumb through a buyer’s guide, you have too many choices. Everyone claims to offer quality, value and service; but, you do not believe any of it. Who do you buy from? Most likely, the company with the recognized brand name that you trust.
  2. Think of IBM in the mid-1970’s to the mid-1980’s. The power of IBM’s B2B brand was summarized in the expression: “you will never get fired for buying a computer system from IBM.” Think of the billions of dollars in effortless sales that this statement and IBM’s brand brought to IBM.


What is a Brand?

A brand is a statement of the identity or image for your company, product, or service. The brand is your determination of what makes your product unique and what it stands for.

  1. Southwest Airlines is “the low fare, reliable airline.”
  2. FedEx was (until recently) “when your package absolutely positively has to be there overnight.”

Both of these brands are effective because they are simple and define in concrete language what you can expect when you deal with these companies / products. These brand statements are also credible because they do not over-promise. And, they are focused; they focus on narrow wants of customer and do not claim to offer everything to the customer.

The goal of successful brand-building is three-fold:

  1. Strengthen awareness and recognition of your company, product or service
  2. Create positive attitudes and perceptions in customer’s minds
  3. Build and maintain trust that the company will deliver on the promise implicit in the brand

To realize these goals and to build a better brand, you need to stick, align, and deliver:

  1. Have an appropriate, easily understood brand that “sticks”
  2. Align all employees in the company to ensure that they focus on delivering the brand promise to the customer
  3. Deliver on the brand promise to the customer


Have a “Sticky” Brand

The key to any brand, marketing material, tag line or company image is to be understandable and memorable – to “stick.” There are countless books on making things “stick.” I would recommend Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Don’t (Chip and Dan Heath).

To summarize their concepts, to make your brand stick, it should be simple, concrete, and believable.

  1. Simple
    1. Short
    2. Contains only the core promise of the brand
    3. Communicated in language understood by an eighth grader
  2. Concrete
    1. Specific
    2. Targeted to say what you deliver
    3. Tangible and, if possible, visible
      1. Avoids abstract words
      2. Avoids ambiguous words
      3. Avoids words that have lost all sense of meaning; e.g. value, quality, reliability
  3. Credible
    1. It is believable that you can deliver on the promise
    2. Your promise is targeted to the core promise of what you can deliver
      1. Southwest is the “low fare, reliable airline.” It is not the “low fare, highest quality, and most luxurious airline.”

Unfortunately, it is quite hard to find good B2B brands that “stick.”

FedEx and its tag line are one positive example.

Another one that I like is: “We exist to provide the highest quality equipment support solutions and offer innovative, flexible technology delivered with unmatched speed and Fanatical Service ®.” Although not perfect, this brand statement has some unique words that make it slightly different – “we exist”, “Fanatical Service®.” Also, its promise of flexibility, speed, and Fanatical Service® make this brand effective in aligning employees to ensure their focus on the brand promise. Note that this brand statement is not promising low-cost because that would not be credible.

In significant research over the last week, I have looked at countless B2B company websites and advertisements. Alas, the overwhelming majority had either no brand statement or had brand statements that just do not “stick.”

  1. “Your turn-key business outsourcer”
  2. “A Tradition of Reliability”
  3. “Deliver Quality”

Reader Participation Time: If you have or know of a good B2B brand statement, please share it. I will publish the best 5 – 10 in a later blog so that all readers can benefit by seeing good examples to emulate.


Align Your Company to Deliver

You want your brand to “stick” not only for your customers or potential customers, but also for your employees. It is your employees and your team that will ensure that your company will or will not deliver on the brand promise. In order to deliver on the brand promise, the brand statement needs to be understood, and it needs to be a top priority for your employees. Only with a simple, concrete and credible brand statement and endless communication, will your organization be aligned so that everyone from the top down keeps the brand and the brand promise front of mind.

To see how well aligned your company is, try a little poll in your company. Ask employees at all level of your company two questions:

  1. What is the brand statement of the company?
  2. What does this brand statement mean to you in your day-to-day job?

You may get a lot of different answers on question number one and a lot of blank stares on question number two.

What is needed is to have everyone know what the brand statement is, know how important it is to the company, and know what they need to do in their jobs to ensure that the company delivers on the brand statement.

Think of FedEx once again. While FedEx is certainly not perfect, their brand promise has been infused through the company well enough that any front-line employee knows that if he or she has to choose between spending an extra $50 or jeopardizing the overnight delivery of a truckload of packages, they would spend the $50.

This is the alignment that is required to deliver on your brand promise.

Marc Benioff, CEO of, puts it this way. “People who work for you represent your brand. You want them to present themselves, and represent you, in a certain way. Whether employees realize it or not, everyone in a company interfaces with customers in one way or another, and their attitude will affect the brand. That’s why we work so hard to make sure we have the right people representing our brand, and that everyone is in alignment once they get here.” 


Deliver on the Brand Promise

The key element in any brand is trust; trust that the company, product or service will deliver on its brand promise. Without delivering on the brand promise, the trust is lost and the brand loses value rapidly.

  1. What would be the value of FedEx’s brand if it only successfully delivered 50% of its packages in the time promised?
  2. What is happening to the value of the Toyota brand as recalls continue and quality problems persist?

To deliver on your brand promise, ask yourself some questions:

  1. Are your employees aligned to deliver on the brand promise?
  2. Is the promise implicit in your brand considered to be one of the top priorities in the company?
  3. Do you measure how often you fail to live up to that brand promise?
  4. Are you listening to your customers (directly and through social media) to understand how they perceive your brand?

If you did not answer yes to all four questions, you are in danger of not fulfilling the brand promise to your customer.

  1. You are at risk of losing the trust of your customers
  2. You are at risk of becoming just another company that talks a good game, but does not deliver
  3. You are at risk of having your customers consider all your brand building and marketing as just more corporate PR and lies.

All of your marketing, advertising, and brand building, brilliant as they may be, will be for nothing, if you do not deliver as a company on your brand promise.

To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, “your company’s actions (in delivering on the brand promise) speak so loudly that your customer cannot hear what you are saying.”


Until Next Time.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Business Acumen, Sales and Marketing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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