B2B Branding in the Age of Customer Experience

Why customer obsession is critical in B2B — and how branding can help
hand holding growing plant

Forrester researchers published a report about a new customer-centric era in business. As part of DeSantis Breindel’s ongoing relationship with Forrester, we’ve reviewed the report to summarize key findings for our readers — and offered our own analysis about what this change means for B2B brands. 

Customer experience is king

Over the past five years, a power shift in the marketplace has taken off. Control traditionally held by companies and corporations has started to transition to the hands of the very people those organizations serve.

Welcome to the age of the customer. According to “Leadership in the Age of the Customer,” an April, 2016 Forrester Report written by James L. McQuivey, the most successful enterprises will reinvent themselves to systematically understand and serve an increasingly powerful customer. Factors like hyperadoption (consumers’ growing tendency to try new products and services), digital disruption, and a fresh focus on customer experience across all categories feed off of one another — creating a cause-and-effect cycle that puts customers firmly in the driver’s seat. Together, these factors are redefining business as we know it, and making the customer king across both B2C and B2B markets. Indeed, the Forrester report explains, “The only business strategy left for companies … is to serve customers at a level that borders on obsession.”

What does it all mean for B2B organizations?

Customer-obsession isn’t an option. It’s inevitable. This shift is more tangible and immediate for consumer-facing companies — businesses that are operating in relatively simple categories and whose customers can easily and quickly upgrade to a better offer when their needs aren’t being met. Consequently, the transition to a customer-obsessed model has occurred more rapidly in the B2C space.

In the B2B space, industry regulations make it harder to innovate, discouraging newcomers from disrupting the space and ultimately reducing competition—so moving to a customer-obsessed model becomes less pressing. At the same time, B2B product complexities make it easier for companies to lock in customers for the long-term—again making customer-obsession less of an imperative. But while this transformation isn’t as urgent for B2B enterprises, it’s no less necessary. B2B businesses are not immune to the evolving landscape—nor should they think of customer-obsession as a distant, down-the-line objective. As buyers receive better experiences from their consumer brands, these new “standards” will also carry over into B2B terrain. Forrester reinforces this idea, writing, “Ultimately, the pressure to move to customer obsession will come from your customers, whose expectations have been set by companies like Amazon and Uber.” For many B2B enterprises, this ripple effect is traveling fast — emboldening clients to demand more and equipping them with the leverage they need to spark real change.

Can branding enhance B2B customer experience? 

For years, B2B companies could get by describing only their “what” — their offering, services, or products. But in the age of the customer, this tactic no longer holds up. Now, it’s not enough for B2B businesses to merely define what they do. Instead, they have to look beyond and build a brand around their “why” — by explaining what’s in it for clients. Today, customer benefits are a vital piece of the puzzle…and B2B ventures have to position this at the vanguard of their communications.

This is where branding plays an essential role. Customer experience cannot be delivered by brand alone—but the message of customer experience can be. Once a B2B enterprise has embraced a customer-obsessed approach, they will need to articulate that to their audiences. Brand can help them achieve this, elevating customer experience so it shines through in all visual and verbal content. 

B2B customer-obsession in action: Three case studies

1. Digital security driven by end-user expectations

A leading digital security company, OneSpan (previously known as VASCO) offers fraud prevention, transaction management, and eSignature solutions — among other services — for their clients. From insurance to healthcare, their 10,000+ customers come from highly regulated industries. And the majority are financial services firms, including more than half the world’s top 100 banks.

The financial services industry is highly regulated, making any changes—including customer-centric ones—harder to implement. For years, end-users had blindly accepted this limitation. But in recent years, these customers started demanding more. Bank of America’s customers, for example, want their mobile banking app experience to be as smooth and effortless as ordering from Amazon—while also maintaining an incredibly secure portal where their transactions can take place. As a result, many of OneSpan’s clients found themselves having to adjust to new expectations of their end-users that have been set by unregulated organizations. And now, consumers aren’t willing to trade off ease-of-use for security—both of these features have become table stakes.

Facing substantial requirements from their own consumers and pressure from fin-tech startups looking to capitalize on better customer experiences, OneSpan’s clients were left with no other option: they had to commit to customer obsession. Which meant OneSpan did, too. That’s where DeSantis Breindel came in. Our work helped elevate what the organization was already doing right—enabling bold digital transformation and delivering strong digital security in a seamless manner. From creating eSignature solutions that facilitate online mortgage applications to developing identity management tools that provide safe, easy access to online government services, emphasizing the end-user experience was necessary for OneSpan to continuing winning with their business partners.

2. Harnessing the human benefits of a healthcare technology company

When four leading players in the fast-growing healthcare payment technology space joined forces as Zelis Healthcare, they needed a new identity — one that could serve as a rallying cry for themselves internally while also resonating with their external audiences.

As we conducted interviews with their clients, one theme continuously floated to the surface: experience. While many praised their products, it was Zelis’ customer-based approach that fueled these clients’ enthusiasm for the company. Across all of our research, clients spoke about the positive feeling their interactions with the Zelis team gave them. From their appreciation of Zelis’ ability to “make it work” no matter the request to the peace of mind they received from Zelis’ constant communications, these memorable experiences rose above all other aspects of the business.

As the Zelis rebranding process progressed, DeSantis Breindel decided to make this insight the crux of the new company. We worked to capture the distinct feeling clients gained from their first-hand interactions with Zelis and translate that essence into a brand. Founded on an invitation to “Experience Zelis,” this idea echoed across all elements of the company—from voice to visual identity.

To support the new brand, we developed extensive digital materials grounded in Zelis’ passion for providing best-in-class client experiences. Our next step was to organize training sessions and workshops to ensure the company’s sales department had a full understanding of the new brand story, so they could learn how to effectively engage with clients. And finally, we delivered the marketing tools—from modular presentation slides to FAQs—that their team needed to continue expressing this message of customer experience far into the future.

3. An energy conservation company factors customer experience into their equation

Cenergistic, formerly known as Energy Education, was already the nation’s leading energy conservation company, primarily serving school districts across the United States. But they wanted to expand beyond their current base into new markets. This goal couldn’t simply be achieved through a rebrand. To successfully reach new audiences, Cenergistic would have to upgrade their customer experience to match their high-tech, high-touch brand.

At DeSantis Breindel, we helped Cenergistic understand what their clients would need throughout the customer journey. We prompted them to consider the information new prospects would want to know. And we encouraged them to think critically about the materials they offered existing customers. These questions inspired Cenergistic to completely reinvent their sales and service delivery model, making it more customer-oriented. This customer-centricity came to life in many ways—whether through a lead qualification tool that targeted clients in more personal ways or in a customer portal that offered easy data visualization. And the results paid off: once they made customer experience a priority, Cenergistic’s close rate increased even more, with sales across new verticals continuing to grow.

So, what’s the bottom line? B2B companies may work with other businesses, but at the end of the day, their clients are still people. To avoid being left behind in an increasingly customer-obsessed marketplace, these enterprises will have to adopt a more customer-centric approach—and make sure their brand is aligned to it.

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