Why are B2B brands so damned predictable?

It's time to shake things up. It's time for B2B brands to stop being predictable and start being exciting.
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Many B2B companies are in a state of sedation. Management lacks the courage to shape and conquer a unique and differentiated position in the market. Paradoxically, this is where the fight for the minds of the customers must be won – and where you can measure the quality of your efforts on the bottom line.

One of the biggest headaches for any company is how to successfully stand out among the competition. A recognizable brand with clear values is exactly what determines whether customers prefer one brand to another. But strangely, a large part of the B2B landscape has surrendered and backed out of the fight.

Do you recognize classic B2B values like emphatic, proactive, present, and strong-minded? Well, that’s because they are symptomatic of the problem. They are all fine adjectives but you can apply them to 80% of B2B companies – and they reveal absolutely nothing about the company’s distinctive characteristics.

And without defining characteristics, how will customers think of you when they are ready to buy?

You get what you put in

The issue arises because way too many B2B companies lack the courage to individualize and be different. To stand out and take a stance that the others won’t. As a result, the companies that dare to exhibit the courage to differentiate will be in a much stronger position in the fight for customer awareness.

So, what does it require to take control of how your customers perceive your B2B brand – and not least, to set the course to gain a stronger position in the market?

Brand positioning is about focus. About setting the direction. And about taking careful aim. Naturally, this involves deciding against a lot of things and often, this is the greatest barrier. Many executives are afraid of excluding parts of their market by adopting a clearer position; but you can never be everything to everyone – if you try, you end up with an unclear profile that is so wide it loses its impact.

However, if you have the guts to adopt a clear position, the advantages are obvious: you will gain greater relevance for your target audience, clearer differentiation in the market, and increased brand awareness – and in turn, improved sales promotion. You see, your customers will attribute new value to your brand and this will allow you to compete on parameters other than price alone.

Get in the game and rally your marketing department with the most important question on your agenda: How do we take a stronger brand position?
Mette Hejl CEO & Partner

A playful industry giant

Even if you can’t tell the difference between a bulldozer and an excavator, you will probably have heard about Caterpillar and their sub-brand, Cat. Today, Caterpillar is one the world’s best-known industrial brands, but it hasn’t always been this way.

In 2014, the company changed its style and the brand posted a video of five heavy-duty vehicles playing Jenga with 250 kg wooden pillars. And later, they released another video in the same spirit where they ran over 600 of their ultra-durable smartphones with a four-ton construction vehicle. Today, the videos have 5.1 and 1.5 million views, respectively – and more have been produced since.

And how did they succeed?

Well, both videos support their brand promise ‘Built for It’, developed by Ogilvy & Mather New York, and succeed in creating new brand awareness and in exposing the brand to a much larger audience than before. For example, Caterpillar now has more than 100 Cat branded stores and sells more than 25,000 branded products – from phones, watches, and clothes to toys.

The recipe for a strong brand position

Caterpillar clearly has more muscle and money than most B2B brands. However, that doesn’t change the recipe: a strong brand must be cultivated from three decisive elements: relevance, differentiation, and credibility.

— Relevance is crucial to the success of your brand efforts. If the brand isn’t relevant for your customers, your company will never enter into their consideration. With sharper marketing messages, a clearer red thread across touchpoints, and more targeted messages, your brand will appear much stronger – and will therefore be more relevant and attractive to your primary target audience.

— Differentiation is about standing out from the crowd and showing that you offer something that the others don’t. Emphasize your value propositions and unique strengths, so your customers will never question why they should do business with you – and not your competitors. Fundamentally, it’s about having the courage to be something that others aren’t. If you don’t differentiate, you will never be noticed.

— Lastly, you need to ensure your credibility. Do you walk the walk? If not, your customers will quickly see right through you and your efforts will fade and ultimately won’t matter. If you talk it, you must walk it. Simple as that.

Even if you find yourself in a B2B setting, remember that your customers are human beings just like everyone else. They want to be entertained, surprised, and engaged. B2B marketing doesn’t have to be mind-numbingly conservative or even flat out boring. Actually, it should to be the exact opposite.

Because so many companies lack the courage to be different, it’s still relatively simple to stand out. All it takes is the courage to take that first step, but that’s not necessarily one that your marketing department will take on its own. It takes authority and direction, and most importantly, it involves a break with the status quo that must ultimately come from top management.

Brands make up the foundation of any company’s identity – both the internal understanding and the one based on the perception in the market. Brand work requires your company to go all in, and that requires management to take the lead.

Get in the game

Successful branding is about standing out. In the choir of companies trying to be the ones with the highest quality, best products, and greatest services, a few always stand out. Those with a strong brand.

Essentially, you want to be perceived as the most relevant and credible partner in the market. To be top-of-mind when your customers call potential partners to do business. Because there lies the difference. The one that defines whether it’s your phone that rings next time your customers are ready to buy.

So dear executive, it’s time to eliminate the dusty, boring, and conservative parts of your brand. Get in the game and rally your marketing department with the most important question on your agenda: “How do we take a stronger brand position?”

A strong position is never given, it’s always taken. But it requires a determined effort – even from top management.