Do you recall the last time a B2B brand really impressed you? It’s not surprising that most people can’t answer that question. Even if you can come up with an example, there is a good chance that you were only slightly impressed or were maybe also let down by the brand in the end.
Let’s say you received an email from a brand that enticed you to click with a catchy headline and delivered content that was industry-related and insightful. Then, you visit their website but find yourself struggling to navigate your way around, or you visit their Twitter page thinking they'd offer this same valuable information via social, only to find out they haven't posted since 2014.
The business-to-business world is fragmented, and inconsistency in branding has been a challenge facing B2B brands for decades. It's easy to jump to conclusions and say “well, it's just a B2B brand, it's not like buyers are basing their decision on the brand over the quality of the product or service.'”
And perhaps five years ago that would have been true, but let’s face it: B2B buyers have changed, today is there really a difference between your B2B buyer and your average consumer? In the past, it was safe to say that buyers were hyper-focused on the sales process and the quality of the purchase. If the product made sense and was going to take their business to the next level, it was a done deal.
Today, it’s an entirely different story. The role of the B2B buyer has evolved along with the rest of the world, and importantly, power has gradually shifted to the hands of millennials. Despite 73% of millennials making purchasing decisions, we are still seeing the world of B2B approach these individuals as if they are the same buyer from 5, 10 and even 20 years ago.
So it’s no surprise that marketers are missing the mark when it comes to this new generation of buyers—millennials don’t make their purchasing decisions the same way their parents did, even in B2B. The all-encompassing world of consumer marketing has changed their perceptions and millennials want a quality product, an experience, a story with emotion: a brand, and not just in their personal life.
We know who the new buyer is, and we know what they’re looking for in a purchasing decision, so why hasn’t branding become a priority for B2B organizations? Do marketers not understand how their buyers are changing, do executives not buy into the importance of branding, or is there a fundamental roadblock in the nature of B2B marketing that’s driving the prevalence of inconsistency in B2B branding?
If the executives aren’t buying into the importance of branding, maybe it’s time we did a better job of explaining just how critical branding can be to an organization’s success. Branding is at the core of how people react when they think about your name, product or service because of what they see, hear and feel when they interact with your brand. This means all marketing efforts (social media, email marketing, sales collateral, video, etc.) must fit within brand guidelines and address the needs of potential buyers, all while trying to stand out from the competition.
Some large tech organizations in the B2B space, like Intel and Oracle, seem to have a handle on branding, and they make it look easy, so why don’t we see more of it in the B2B space? The answer is simple—it’s much easier said than done.
Sales are king in B2B
Business-to-business industries are so sales-driven, that is the way it’s always been, and most organizations aren’t showing any signs of changing their approach. Many leaders, unfortunately, don’t value the individual role marketing plays in the organization, and more often than not the marketing team becomes an extension of the sales team.
But as these roles of buyers continue to change, a sales pitch is only going to take these industries so far. Millennials don’t want to be pitched; they want to learn—which is a connection many marketers in the B2B space fail to address.
Too many priorities, one marketer and zero budget
If marketers do find the right way to connect with their buyers, they’re still facing a significant challenge—they wear too many hats within their roles. Not only do they have to come up with all of the creative ideas, but they also have to execute them promptly with limited resources and a stringent budget.
It’s no surprise that some things slip through the cracks as marketers are jumping from one project to the next without any room for failure. When content is required, and the turnaround is tight, it’s understandable that B2B marketers don’t focus on developing strategic content that fits into the brand - instead, they’re just delivering what’s been asked of them because that’s all they have the time and resources to do.
Unfortunately, marketers get stuck balancing a bunch of spinning plates, and priorities can shift—this renders some aspects of brand strategy untouched or neglected, which can leave the audience without the full picture of a brand.
The B2C intimidation
Some marketers might feel overwhelmed and shy away from taking risks merely because they don’t feel there is room for creativity in B2B.
The B2C world is well known for dominating organizations that have a firm grasp of branding. Walmart, Starbucks and Coca-Cola have indeed shown the world what true branding should be. This might intimidate B2B marketers with an impression that branding doesn't apply to them—and they must rely solely on their product or serve to paint the whole picture.
Inconsistency is branding is a product of the fragmented nature of the B2B business. Every department often works in a silo or is wholly driven by operations, and as a result, sales. When marketing collateral is created and passed through the organization, it’s easy for the marketing department to lose track and struggle to control how the content is used. Ultimately, B2B companies survive on sales closing leads, and marketing should play a vital role in that process.
Regardless of the challenges facing B2B organizations, it’s essential to develop and maintain branding consistency, as the negative impacts have the potential to destroy the brand’s reputation for good.
When a brand is all over the place in their content, design, and messaging, it can be difficult for customers to understand what the business is about really. As a result, customers will struggle to see what makes one product or service superior to another, causing your brand to lose its competitive edge.
Unfortunately, there are many B2B brands viewed in this category, as HubSpot reveals that only 50% of B2B marketers are treating visual content as a priority. With such a large percentage of B2B brands underutilizing digital and creative strategies that millennial decision-makers look for, there is a clear disconnect that only marketers can solve.
The moral of the story is maybe B2B organizations don’t prioritize branding, but their consumer markets do. There are many solutions and tools out there for B2B marketers to utilize; it’s a matter of understanding who your audience is, recognizing the importance of branding, and realizing where your brand is falling short.
The statistics are hard to ignore—23% of average revenue increases are attributed to brand consistency. Now, this doesn’t mean that all of a brand’s efforts need to look identical. As long as a standard is set and executed, then messaging and visual appeal will come across to establish audience trust.
B2B marketers, are you ready to take back control of your brand? It’s time to recognize where we’ve missed the mark, but even more importantly, where we have the most potential.
Ryan Gould is vice president of strategy and marketing services for Elevation Marketing in Mesa, Arizona.