As a business owner or marketer, you can choose one of two paths:
1. You can build a successful BUSINESS by getting more customers or
2. You can create a BRAND by gaining raving fans.
One is not better than the other, but number 2 makes number 1 much easier!
When we talk about ‘brands’, we very often think about companies like Nike, Apple, and Gucci.
We associate them with status, beautiful design and maybe even their mission to change the world.
On the other hand, most B2B companies that sell consulting, business services or technology to corporate clients, don’t consider branding as an essential part of their marketing activities.
B2B branding seems to be unnecessary for products and services that sell to ‘businesses’.
However, in times of increased competition, less organic reach on social media and Google’s voice search, branding becomes a critical driver for growth in any industry.
The terms B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-consumer) are a bit misguiding as there is only H2H (human-to-human).
And human love products and services that they can identify with.
In this article, you will learn the critical steps to kickstart your B2B brand building strategy and turn your boring company into an exciting brand.
What is B2B Branding and What is the Difference to B2B Marketing?
Let’s avoid boring definitions ala Wikipedia for a second…
With a simple Google search, you will find multiple definitions of Branding.
Pick the one you like the most. The way I want to explain it is with an example like this:
What the graphic illustrates is the difference between marketing, advertising, and PR to branding.
Branding is, therefore, the activities to establish a specific image of your company in your customer’s eyes.
The goal is, of course, to create an image that you want them to associate with you, so you can:
- Build trust
- Increase prices
- Attract more visitors
- Drive more sales, etc.
B2B branding merely is branding for companies that sell directly to businesses.
So how do you start building a brand for your company that doesn’t sell exciting and beautiful products?
1. Start With “WHY”
In his famous TED Talk, Simon Sinek talks about the importance of the golden circle.
The ‘Why,’ ‘How,’ and ‘What’ of any successful business brand.
Here’s the concept:
Everyone in business knows WHAT they do as well as HOW they do it.
However, here’s the thing that very often distinguishes the ordinary business from the extraordinary one:
Exceptional businesses also know WHY they do what they do.
To grow your brand, you have to get clear on:
- Your purpose
- Your beliefs
- Your cause
What is the reason your brand exists, and why should anyone care?
Once you figure this out, you can come to grips with not only communicating your ‘Why’ but become the perfect embodiment of it.
In case you are interested, here is Growmodo’s purpose. ✊
You probably want your ideal customer to have your company on top of mind before making a buying decision in your industry.
However, being in their hearts will turn them into advocates.
In this, the old saying is true. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.
When it comes to brand building, everything starts with your WHY.
2. Understand That Design Matters
You might not have been born with an amazing sense for beautiful web design talent, but you should be aware of the many reasons why design matters and that it can have a significant impact on your business’s success.
“Design is not only what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs
In 2005, The Design Council studied 63 publicly traded companies and discovered that companies that focused on design outperformed other companies on the FTSE (Financial Times Stock Exchange) between 1995 and 2004.
They also calculated that “every £100 a design alert business spends on design increases turnover by £225”.
Most people judge your company’s credibility based on a look at your website. I know, it’s harsh but also critical to growing a brand for your company.
However, when it comes to your web design, make sure you not only focus on beautiful but also customer-centric design.
At the end of the day, you want to grow your business and generate qualified leads.
3. Be Consistent, So People Recognize You
To be remembered and recognized by your target customers, you need to be consistent in your branding.
For that reason, you should create a style guide (or brand kit) that establishes a standard for all your brand communications, including writing and design.
It summarizes everything your brand stands for and how you want to be present your company to your customers and other organizations.
This is an excerpt from the former Medium style guide:
It doesn’t mean that you will never change your brand design.
Even Medium in the example above has a different logo now.
However, set design and writing standards for your B2B brand will save you a lot of time and frustration once you start hiring content marketers or outsource web design.
Moreover, they will love you too for that. 😍
MailChimp did a great job compiling a content style guide that not only their employees can access, but also other companies as an example for their style guide.
4. Tell An Engaging Brand Story
Every successful brand has a story behind it.
However, it’s not only interesting to know where you come from but more about the mission you’re on with your company.
It functions as a guideline and influences every decision you make in your business.
“Your brand is a story unfolding across all customer touch points” – Jonah Sachs.
A great example is Time Warner Business Class.
Time Warner Business Classused video stories from some of their small to medium-sized business customers to describe how the partnership changed their business lives.
5. Be Authentic!
When you find your ‘why,’ you see something else that will help you to build your brand.
The good news here is that creating an authentic brand doesn’t always demand a revolutionary, breath-taking idea.
It would be best if you merely had something special that leaves the competition tossing.
Here are some ideas:
Stand for something – Be about more than just your product or service. Stand for something greater than yourself – an idea, a movement, etc.
Be rebellious – Be seen to oppose the status quo. Make people think.
Be entertaining – Cut through all the noise by delighting people with a fresh, engaging voice.
Be passionate – Nothing speaks more powerfully than passion.
Someone who talks about this a lot is Gary Vaynerchuk.
With his show, DailyVee on Youtube, he walks the walk and documents his journey of building a billion-dollar empire so he can eventually buy the New York Jets.
To wrap this up…
Be you, do you and show up as your true self.
Only then can also your audience appreciate you.
6. Know Where You Are At
Before you can come up with a growth strategy for your B2B branding, you first need to understand where you are in terms of brand awareness and perception.
You want your branding strategy to be based on data-driven decisions.
So what is a better way to start than asking your current customers?
You will learn:
- What is your brand recognition like
- How well established is your brand in the hearts and minds of your customers?
- Are people responding to your brand message? If not, why is that?
Use your metrics to find out the answers.
- Is it a marketing problem?
- Website problem?
- Product problem?
- Customer journey problem?
If people are responding to your marketing,
- What exactly are they responding to
- Is it your logo?
- Your customer service?
- Your social media pages?
- Your product?
Use customer surveys to get into your their minds and figure out on what stage you’re failing to communicate your brand message.
After questioning your existing customers, you can move on to your email subscribers and social media followers.
The more data you have, the better you understand how people think about your company.
Get also a general overview of conversations on the web in which your brand is mentioned.
You can use tools like Mention to get notified every time someone mentions your brand name.
You can then jump in to provide value or answer questions.
Mention not only allows you to track your brand mentions in real-time but also to analyze your competitors, find influencers and provides you with customized reports.
7. Use Influencer Marketing
Social media hasn’t just revolutionized our social lives; it’s dramatically transformed marketing, as well.
If you believe Gary Vee, social media is the current state of the internet.
It is the place where you can get the most attention for your content and brand.
But the game is played differently than a couple of years back.
As the organic reach consistently declines on pretty much all major networks, you need to be more creative to get your audience’s attention.
Today, celebrities and social media influencers have a massive impact on their audience and their buying behavior.
85% of technology buyers prefer 3rd party opinions when evaluating a vendor, which they are open to discovering on social media
Working with brand-friendly influencers gives you unique possibilities when it comes to brand building.
Here are few of the benefits of using influencers for your B2B branding campaigns:
- It’s a form of social communication and more trustworthy
- It’s native advertising and flies under the radar of regular paid ads.
- It’s powerful, word-of-mouth brand building.
- It can get your brand trending, and it can get more people talking about it.
- It can help your SEO
Finding influencers to promote your brand is not very hard, but managing and scaling these relationships can take some time.
How to Find B2B Influencers to Promote Your Brand
There are a couple of tools you can use to find the influencers that can potentially skyrocket your brand awareness.
It’s pretty straightforward, type in some popular niche-related hashtags into Linkedin and see who shows up.
Use it as a starting point to find someone that you think might be a great brand ambassador for your business. From here, it’s a pure hustle.
Send them an InMail message or cold email and ask them if they would be interested in promoting your products.
Please don’t get frustrated when you don’t hear back from them straight away. Follow up multiple times to close the deal.
Discovery by Buzzstream
Discovery is a free tool, created by the guys at Buzzstream, a content marketing tool that helps you build and manage relationships with bloggers, influencers and journalists.
The great thing about this tool is that it gives you more details about the content a particular person published and how many shares s/he gets on average.
Most people think more about Instagram in relation to Influencer marketing, but Linkedin is on the rise.
PulseAbility is a relatively new platform that helps B2B companies to connect with Linkedin Influencers and create campaigns for products and services targeted towards business clients.
The platform also provides you with several metrics to make sure that you work with the right kind of influencer who has a high engagement rate.
For marketers who not only want to find influencers but also automate the outreach, Ninja Outreach is the right tool for you.
You can not only search for influencers, but also influential blogs, companies, and articles in your space.
It lets you create contact lists and provides you with templates to reach out to them in the most effective way.
Building relationships with influencers are super time consuming, and you should use any opportunity to automate the process.
If you are only interested in the outreach automation part, you can also use a tool like Lemlist.
8. Leverage Partnerships
Join forces with other businesses in your industry.
This is something that many companies do, and they do it for a good reason. It works.
Design a mutually beneficial arrangement where you promote their services in return for the promotion of yours, etc.
Joint ventures like these can have a significant effect on your brand for minimal cost.
One of the most known partnerships is between McDonald’s and Disney.
The Happy Meal helps both companies to build their brand and attract customers, even though they are in entirely different markets.
Also, be honest, who didn’t love to get a Happy Meal as a kid?
For you, as a B2B marketer, three types of partnerships can grow your brand.
- Awareness Partners
- Brand Partners
- Functional Partners
The goal of the awareness partner is to help you increase your brand visibility and name recognition.
It usually serves as a distribution channel for your products and services.
PR can be an example of this kind of partnerships, but make sure that your campaign is aligned with your overall brand story and not only for publicity sake.
Brand partnership, if done correctly, can lead to massive business growth.
It will help you evaluate your legitimacy by shaping consumer opinions through the association with another brand.
Content co-creation is one example of this kind of partnership.
Here is an example of an infographic from litmus and Vision.
Litmus and Vision are both in the email marketing industry, but not competitors, so it’s an excellent opportunity to join forces, provide valuable content and expand their brands.
The third category of brand partnerships is functional partners, where both parties create integration with their products and improve product value.
Think of app integrations for a SaaS product.
Slack, for example, is one of the most popular team communication apps. One of the reasons why it’s so popular is the ability to connect Slack with a bunch of different apps.
Even as a small startup, you can tap into that network and position yourself next to more prominent brands.
9. Use Guerrilla Marketing And Go Viral
Guerrilla marketing is ‘low-cost’ marketing designed with maximum impact in mind.
You do something unexpected to gain mass attention.
Whatever you decide based on your particular brand, you’ll do well to include the following elements:
- Surprise – It should be unexpected
- Your mission – It should speak to your vision and values
- Creative – Be different. Originality is king
- Talk worthy – Will people want to talk about it?
- Shareable – Will they want to share it? Is it unforgettable?
- Emotive – The best messages touch a chord somewhere in the audience.
A famous B2B Guerrilla Marketing campaign was the “End of Software” demonstration of Salesforce.com
Unfortunately, Guerrilla Marketing is not always cheap.
But combined with the power of social media, PR and a little bit of luck, your campaign can go viral overnight.
10. Focus More On Providing Value Than Selling
As I mentioned before.
The way we find brands, interact with them and consider buying their products and services has changed a lot in the last years.
In 2016, already 30 percent of internet users used ad blocker software to prevent websites showing advertising on their screen.
What does it mean for your business?
Even if you have a bunch of money in the bank to spend on display advertising, you will have a harder and harder time bringing eyeballs to your products and services.
People are sick of getting sold to without having any relationship with that company or brand.
So, there you have it.
I hope this guide helps you craft your B2B branding strategy and gives you ideas on where to get started.
If you think your web design sounds like a good starting point, we’d be genuinely delighted to help.