Despite conventional wisdom, brand is a difference maker beyond the B2C space. B2B brands have the power to influence people; done well, they encompass all the traits that make a company special. Your brand is your insurance policy against competing solely on cost, and it keeps you top of mind with existing and potential customers. Add it all up and your brand is instrumental in improving your bottom line! How? Why? Buckle up and let’s take a look. 

What’s special about B2B?

The reason B2B advertising is different from, say, selling milk or shampoo, stems from the cost per unit. In your day-to-day life, it’s not the end of the world if you buy the wrong bottle of shampoo – you can go back to the store and get a better brand next time. Make the same mistake at work, however, and your career might go sideways. You’re dealing with budgets in the office that, per project, most likely eclipse the highest one you’ll ever see in your personal life – your house! 

Thinking that B2B is less important than B2C is, frankly, bullshit. What you buy on behalf of your company is perhaps the most important purchasing decision you’ll ever make.

The beauty of working in B2B is that you get to use both sides of your brain. Not only is it an intellectual challenge to understand on-prem vs. in-cloud; you also have to rely on creativity to express the difference in layman’s terms and retell the benefits not in terms of speeds and feeds, but as a story that appeals to the person whose business problem we’re solving.

What is brand?

The other component of this is your brand (yes, I can sense the alarm bells going off as you read that word, but bear with me here). Your brand is not just a logo or your colors. Your brand strategy delves into how you’re different and what your positioning and value prop is. It’s the reason why the world needs you, and how you tell the world you exist. Some pretty big stuff – not decisions you leave to the interns!

Your brand is how you differentiate yourself from the rest of the market. Apart from price, it’s how we choose one service over another: United over American. Whole Foods over Safeway. Palo Alto Networks over Zscaler or Atlassian over Asana. Maybe the reason we don’t think brand matters in B2B is that brand was originally used to help consumers pick a product as alternatives increased – think soap and Procter & Gamble. But even in the B2B world, there are very few areas where you face no competition; as a result, differentiating yourself is crucial. Even if you have no direct competitors, keep in mind that your buyer (a CTO, for example), is not only responsible for purchasing say ERP solutions, they are also looking at security, networking, internal communication, and more. Their list is endless, so their attention is limited.

Your logo is part of your brand, of course. But your brand is also your values. It’s how your users feel after interacting with you. It’s how your product looks and works. It’s your mission and your vision. Your brand is the summation of all your parts – including your employees. Without a brand, Coca Cola is just brown carbonated water.

Another thing to consider, your brand is the reason why people come to work for you. Even with the Patagonia-vest recession in full swing, you still have to fight for the best employees who make the greatest difference; the ones that are comparing your offer to Airbnb’s and thinking about how excited they’d be to tell their friends where they work. To paraphrase Professor Scott Galloway, the products you buy and the brands you associate with signal your identity to the rest of the world (and give people a reason to want to associate with you).

But the perception is that brand doesn’t matter in B2B!

Why do we think brand only matters if you’re Apple or Old Spice? Why do we have a belief that B2B purchasing decisions are made more logically than other purchasing decisions? Maybe it’s because, in a logical world, they should be! In a textbook world, you’d buy the fastest, cheapest, best-performing option after carefully evaluating all the factors in, say, a spreadsheet.

It’s important to realize that we are driven by emotional motivations. Even in B2B.

But the truth is we get influenced. Even in B2B. In 2018, someone somewhere started to use Slack, then I had a line of creatives outside my door asking to use the same cool technology as their friends. We pick the latest technology because it makes us look smart; it makes us look like we understand the future; and sometimes, we pick it because it seems safe. Hence the ‘nobody ever got fired for buying IBM’ sentiment. 

How does brand influence the bottom line?

The consumer world is full of commoditized examples. And the B2B world is no different: PCs, spreadsheets, MarTech technology, you name it. Once you operate in the commoditized world, however, it’s a quick race to the bottom. So what’s the answer? It’s hard to find business people who love to work in Salesforce. In fact, it’s clunky and tricky to navigate. Yet, people pay a premium for the software. Salesforce are B2B brand geniuses going all the way back to the No Software campaign that paved the way for the SaaS companies of today. It all comes to life at Dreamforce and by going there, you’re part of the club. There’s safety in that. 40,000 people in one city for one conference can’t be wrong!

Having a strong brand is like an insurance policy. It prevents you from having to compete on cost alone, which we all understand is a losing game. It also means your buyers will allow you the occasional misstep (Hello, Apple Newton!) without losing affinity for the rest of your products. 

But most importantly, a known brand means that when the time comes for your audience to buy whatever you’re selling, you’ll remain top of mind. And that helps push the purchasing decision in your direction.

Cover image source: Mihail Tregubov