There’s been a fundamental shift in how business is conducted. Businesses can use LinkedIn, blog posts, and social media to reach customers in new, unexpected ways, and the purchasing process itself has become more informal. Rather than relying on the formal pitch and conference call, companies are constantly interacting. They’re looking to form relationships that extend beyond the course of one deal — true partnerships that encourage shared success. Yet the increase in digital ways to connect and build relationships requires businesses to become more “human” and truly reflect the authenticity customers demand.

Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, people are looking for trust, guidance, and above all, authentic connections. Unable to deliver sales pitches in person, companies need their brands to reflect these values and facilitate that sense of personal connection. Now more than ever, B2B branding is critical to building relationships in new and productive ways.

Successful B2B branding brings the humanity of a company to the fore, giving life to what may be perceived as a faceless institution. These brands create genuine connections for customers, appeal to the emotions of business buyers, and create positive associations before the buying process even begins. A well-crafted and articulated brand strategy builds trust with customers, securing the company’s status as a partner and capitalizing on the relationships that make the B2B business hum. Branding provides the framework to communicate an authentic story that unites offerings and generates buy-in from internal audiences, who live and breathe the brand every day. 

B2B branding appeals to buyers’ emotions in the purchasing process

It’s a misconception that B2B brands are all about price and functionality. For B2B companies, brands need to resonate emotionally as well as intellectually.

Think about it. A B2B buyer may not be rewarded for making a good purchasing decision – it’s what’s expected of them. But a bad purchase can tarnish their reputation and threaten their job security. That is a crucial difference between B2B and B2C decision making. If a consumer buys a tube of toothpaste that just is not doing the trick, they can switch to another brand. They’re out a few dollars, and they might have to make another trip to the store, but the negative consequences are minimal.

There is much more at stake in B2B purchases. B2B decisions are inherently more complicated and interconnected. Implementing a new software system, for instance, draws on resources across the enterprise. The cost of the purchase is only one factor. The company has to devote resources to installing the software and training employees on how to use it (and train IT on how to respond to the inherent glitches along the way). Because of this, there is a higher degree of reputational risk in purchasing a B2B product, and brand is crucial to mitigating this risk in the eyes of customers. It’s why B2B brands must communicate trust, confidence, and authenticity.

Buyers want to know that their purchase will reflect well upon them, which is why successful B2B companies use the power of brand to form deep and lasting emotional bonds with customers, partners, and others.

B2B branding can help build positive brand associations in these customers’ minds and make an impression before the formal RFP process even begins, where B2B buyers are often overwhelmed with choices, information, and data. It’s more than the buyer can ultimately evaluate, leading them to subconsciously default to emotion to make the end decision. In fact, in Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman’s book, How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market, he writes that 95 percent of our purchase decision-making takes place in the subconscious mind.

The buying process can be a search for a justification for the initial emotional decision. Companies can use this to their advantage, leveraging brand to appeal to the emotional side of these decision makers and break through the clutter.

B2B branding establishes a trusted partner position

Successful B2B businesses are perceived as more than safe bets. They’re seen as strategic partners that value collaboration and mutually beneficial relationships. Trust is crucial to achieving this. The brand must create trust in the minds of customers to instill that perception of partnership.

One of the most effective ways to build connection through branding is to lean on the strengths of the company’s people – those who truly determine the authenticity of the brand promise. Successful B2B branding allows companies to demonstrate their humanity. The brand should frame the business story to go beyond numbers and ROI and encompass the overall value the partnership can provide. It serves as a source of inspiration for internal audiences, who ultimately carry out these day-to-day interactions and deliver this message, making a stronger, more authentic, company.

At DeSantis Breindel, we worked with the global payments technology company Verifone to build a brand that highlighted the value of its people. Our brand research for Verifone revealed a disconnect in the market. Verifone and its competitors all showcased product features, but we learned that, during a time of technological disruption, what customers really wanted was a roadmap for how to invest in payments technology. We drew upon Verifone’s best asset — the knowledge and expertise of its people — to demonstrate to customers that Verifone was ready to meet this need. The new brand is built on the strengths of Verifone’s engineers and product developers, emphasizing that it’s not about “the box” at the point of sale; it’s about the people behind the box. Verifone’s new brand capitalizes on customers’ desire for connection in the marketplace and a partnership that goes beyond a tangible solution. As a result, customers now view Verifone’s people as long-term, collaborative partners, and Verifone as their strategic partner to navigate the future of the industry and provide insight on key business decisions.

B2B branding provides a unifying framework

A successful B2B brand also ties all business offerings together into one compelling story. As companies grow, their offerings often become more disparate. A solid B2B brand disseminates the larger corporate positioning through all levels and sectors of the business, connecting each piece and presenting a unified company message.

When four leading companies in the healthcare payment technology space came together, they needed to position the new entity as a healthcare IT powerhouse. We worked with the new company, which we named Zelis, to reflect the strengths of the individual companies while telling a united story about a greater value-add for clients. The new brand, “Experience Zelis,” clearly articulated the company’s dedication to delivering an exceptional customer experience.

With a new company name, an expanded suite of products and services to offer, and a new brand leading the way, the Zelis sales team needed a framework for approaching the marketplace to communicate their new positioning to current customers and prospects. We worked with the sales team to provide with tools to share this greater value proposition, demonstrate the possibilities to the client, and make them feel supported at each stage in their journey. The story is not just about each individual offering, but rather about the culture of service and innovation within the company that fuels continued success.

A strong, authentic brand connects people within the company to an overarching purpose. With a clear understanding of the company’s positioning and vision, each employee understands how they can work together to improve customer experience. Not only does this boost morale, but it also encourages multidisciplinary collaboration, generating more learning opportunities for employees and more holistic, dynamic results for customers. Customers, prospects, and recruits see authenticity rather than a corporate entity with disparate offerings, and they feel more compelled to engage.

Bottom line: B2B branding builds value

Effective B2B branding is critical for creating business success in today’s connected but often depersonalized age. Some of the most well known B2B brands are not exclusively consumer-facing — Goldman Sachs, SAP, and IBM. According to the Economist, more than 30 percent of the stock market value of companies in the S&P 500 Index can be attributed to their brand, and a McKinsey study found that brands with strong reputations generate 31% more return to shareholders than the MSCI World Average.

Strong brands reflect strong companies, letting the work and behaviors of the company speak for themselves. Buyers are more willing to pay a premium for strong brands because they believe there is less risk associated with the company. In addition, buyers are also less sensitive to price adjustments from companies with strong brands, and are less likely to try out a competitor. A strong brand provides customers with a constant reminder of the value of their affiliation with the company.

Ultimately, brands matter because they communicate authenticity and strength. They allow companies to connect with customers at an emotional level, providing a priceless competitive advantage and creating immense value.

To learn more about how B2B branding builds value, contact us.

About the author

Kiley Burns

Kiley Burns is an Associate Strategist at DeSantis Breindel. She fuses strong business acumen with a passion for creativity to uncover what makes clients unique and develop new, innovative ways to refresh and evolve brands.

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