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The meat of the brand that B2B marketers always forget

Think of your brand as a sandwich with three layers

Business-to-business (B2B) sales can be tricky, but not if you envision your brand like a sandwich. More importantly, don’t forget to focus on the often forgotten middle part of your brand where all of the tasty connections are, writes Carbon Design founder Scott Gillum. Here’s what you need to know.

Think of your brand in three pieces, or because it’s almost lunch time as I write this, think of it as a brand sandwich.

The top layer is what you would commonly think of as corporate branding – brand attributes, value, positioning. The middle piece, or meat of the sandwich, is the connection between your brand and your products or services. The bottom layer is the customer experience – sales, product and service.

As a customer, you experience these three brand experiences at various points in the buyer’s journey – before, during and after the purchase decision. Metaphorically, customers are taking a bite out of the brand sandwich and getting a flavor of each level.

In order to move a prospective customer along this journey, the brand sandwich needs to be cohesive to provide a consistent experience and taste. For many B2B organizations, the breakdown occurs in the middle of the sandwich – the meat.

Why? For one, the corporate brand is highly visible and warrants the attention it receives. It’s for your employees, investors and customers. Given the energy and effort dedicated to getting the brand positioning, messaging and campaign correct and launched, most feel the job is over.

The problem is that the middle meat of the brand, which connects the brand direction and the company’s offerings, is often forgotten or missed. Part of the gap exists because of the way marketing is organized. Corporate marketing owns and is responsible for the brand. The middle brand often lacks an owner.

A few years ago, Cisco created a beautifully aspirational brand campaign for its internet of things (IoT) offering. Called ‘Tomorrow Starts Here,’ the positioning was so good that chief exec John Chambers said he could see them using it for the next 10 years. Except for one thing – sales, business partners in their case, didn’t know what to sell.

The brand message was so high level and futuristic that the partners didn’t know which Cisco solutions would enable the IoT future. Eventually, the company was able to connect the campaign by organizing their partners into three roles aligned to envisioning, enabling and expanding the IoT solutions:

  • Cisco’s envision group included large consulting firms that could articulate the solutions and sell the concepts – e.g. what is a ‘connected transportation system.’

  • The enablers were industry-focused value-added resellers (VARS) that could design and build a specific solution once designed, such as ‘a digital healthcare system.’

  • And finally, the expanders that were mostly distributors that supplied the IoT solution builders with products and solutions once they were being adopted.

For each group, they built specific sales and marketing materials using the new branding and positioning but, most importantly, the connective tissue built by mapping the current set of products, solutions and services into this new future vision. The bottom-up approach gave partners a roadmap. It connected products they were selling currently with a realistic view of a new solution to come.

The lessons learned, a good brand positioning and message should be aspirational and challenge the organization to fulfill its promise. The shelf life of a rebranding effort should be at least three to five years, and, in the Cisco example, 10 years.

To realize the return on the significant investment in the new branding, organizations have to connect it to the products and services currently being sold. If you have ever led a successful rebranding project, only to hear negative feedback from the sales organization, know that you have missed addressing the middle brand.

Making customers hungry for your new brand sandwich is critical, but if you don’t connect it to your current solution set, it’s going to taste a little bland, and sales will be asking, “where’s the beef?”

Scott Gillum is founder and chief executive at Carbon Design.

To dig even deeper into the top B2B trends, tune into B2B Worldfest November 9-10.

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