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From B to B or Not to B? That is the Question.

Does a human being benefit from your Business-to-Business (B2B) product or brand? To survive the future you need to be a Business-to-People (B2P) brand. While your brand might be only an ingredient or strategic component supporting another brand, eventually it will reach a human being.  But more importantly, every brand affects the world we live in so at the end of the day, you are dealing with humanity. The most dramatic change to cause this shift is the free flow of digital information (and digital misinformation). The number of stakeholders you had to worry about in building and maintaining your brand was easily managed years ago but today this isn’t no longer true.  If you start now you can build goodwill along the value chain and maybe you can be immunized against negative attacks in the future. But the biggest reward is more profits.

 

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Moving Brands from B to C

 

In a B2B study done by Siegel+Gale, they state that “Most business-to-business companies still debate the ultimate business benefit of building a strong brand…” The first problem is many business-to-business (B2B) companies don’t think they need a brand as they don’t deal directly with everyday consumers. If this was true there wouldn’t be so many memorable and powerful B2B brands existing today such as Boeing, SAP, Intel, Cisco, IBM, Siemens and General Electric, to name a few.

 

The line between B2B and B2C has blurred and the boundaries are quickly disappearing. The internet has created a new consumer that wants and needs to be informed. Joel York marketing software expert describes the consumer as “more connected, more impatient, more elusive, more impulsive, and more informed than its pre-millennium ancestors.”

 

But what hasn’t changed is the risk level between a B2B and a B2C. Most business buyers follow a rigorous procurement process that is steeped in analytics, data and facts. The buying process is based on a rational decision making process based on quality, features, functionality and price. Buyers review all of the product specifications and technical details, past history and performance measurements, etc. The purchasing process is longer and may require contracts and large quantities based on a specific time period. Where does branding fit into this process?

 

In a study done by Zahra Seyed Ghorban and Dr Margaret Jekanyika Matanda at Monash University they found that most procurement managers go through a hierarchical ‘Think-feel-Do’ sequence where brand perception is the starting point. One manger explains it as “Knowing the brand and having good perceptions, good attitudes, and associating to that brand all are prior to establishing relationship. The relationship comes after.” They also discovered that emotions played an important role in the purchase decision even in highly formalized B2B procurement processes. This would explain why Boeing launched its new 787 the Dreamliner to the general public with a record order of 50 aircrafts from All Nippon Airways. Since then, 59 airlines have ordered over 1,000 Boeing 787s, making it the most successful aircraft in Boeing’s history.

 

 

Cisco System’s Advertising Director Julia Mee says “the lines have blurred so much between B2B and B2C.” To survive B2B marketers must “Think about who the customer is and what do they want to hear from us.” At the end of the day she says “Our customers are thinking about us as just a brand—they are not differentiating it as B2B or B2C.”

 

No surprise it’s all about connecting and engaging with people on many levels not just a highly emotional video with pretty pictures and a great sound track. There still needs to be substance to support the brand image. Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner is a great example. If you visit their website they have everything there to satisfy the left-brain and the right-brain, from the engineer, to the purchasers, to the pilot, to the passenger in business class, to the poor guy at the back of the plane.

 

It must have been very hard for all of the Boeing aviation engineers to sit back and abstain from adding all of the technical mumbo jumbo into the sound track.

 

Moving Brands from B to P

 

There are several marketers like Bryan Kramer, a social business strategist, and Jonathan Becher, CMO at SAP who believe that B2B marketing is no longer relevant. Kramer says marketers need to move away from the complex business vernacular full of acronyms, scientific and technical terminologies too complicated for the average person. His solution is to speak Human-to-Human (H2H) where the communication is simplistic and more emotional. Becher was instrumental in shifting SAP’s brand positioning from talking to other companies to focusing on people. “It’s not just ‘business runs SAP’; it’s also ‘life runs SAP.’ You can sum up the change as moving from B2B to P2P—people to people,” Becher said.

 

The trick is engaging people to wanting to consume your boring B2B brand messages. Volvo Trucks wanted to communicate their transport truck’s Dynamic Steering system to demonstrate the precision and directional stability. A topic everyone needs to know about – right? Well, check out the B2B video with Jean-Claude Van Damme. Over 83 million people have watched it!

 

 

The Web Video Marketing Council, together with survey partners ReelSEO and Flimp Media conducted a B2B Video Content Marketing Survey in 2015 with over 350 B2B marketers who confirmed that 73% of them believe that video positively impacts results and ROI. No surprise 96% are engaged in video content marketing. But remember human attention span is only eight seconds. You have a better chance to attract a goldfish which has an attention span of nine seconds.

 

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While many B2B companies realize they need to be customer-centric to compete in today’s market, few have figured out how to put this model into use. It’s important for B2B brands to understand it’s not just one video that will make the brand connection unless you’re Gangnam Style (2.5 billion views). You need many touch points to build a brand. The hardest part for most B2B brands is to focus on a promise that people care about. It isn’t easy for most large corporations, as they organically grow from one innovation to the next or acquire one business to another. How does a mega corporation align the many innovations, products and services to a common, meaningful message that people want to listen and relate to? One of the great values for B2B branding is to define the brands ultimate promise to everyone including your employees. The perfect test – if they don’t believe the promise who else will?

 

 

Doug Webster VP of Service Provider Marketing at Cisco explains “We can’t just say it provides 322 terabits per second of processing. What we need to say is that 322 terabits per second is enough for every man, woman and child in China to be on a video call at the same time.” I’m not sure I want to be on that call.

 

 

A Brands Social License to Operate

 

The need to expand beyond the traditional stakeholders (like customers, employees and shareholders) isn’t about growing the business, it’s more about ensuring the brand doesn’t face any roadblocks along the brand journey. The sphere of a business is getting more complex. Today, you need to concern yourself with a multitude of target groups.

 

As San Jin Park VP of Global Marketing Operations at Samsung Electronics said “the most prominent brands in the future will be those which build networks.” The problem today is the network is everyone. The social license isn’t controlled by the company, it’s the community-at-large that can determines a brand’s fate. A lack of trust in any brand, including a B2B brand, can result in regulatory delays, market access issues and unfavorable legislation, all of which affects the bottom-line. John Morrison author of the book The Social License: How to keep your organization legitimate says a number of factors damaging trust is transparency, accountability, clarity about benefits, and adequate due diligence. He cautions that “Consent is also an essential component. It is a mistake for any company to proceed on any activity without securing adequate social permissions.”

 

It will be the end-user and the general public who will determine your brand’s destiny based on your social license to operate. NGOs understand this. It’s no longer about science and legal requirements but about perceptions and how your brand is perceived.

 

Monsanto’s Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) seed is a great example of not gaining the general public’s social permission before launching a revolutionary technology on an ill-informed public. Had they talked more about the millions of people whose lives could be saved from starvation the brand outcome could have been significantly different. Intel made the brilliant move to tell the general public that you can’t buy a computer without the horsepower of a Pentium processor. Consumer’s bought their story and in turn only bought computers with an Intel Inside. On the other hand, Monsanto, one of the most hated companies, kept the end-user in the dark and subsequently NGOs defined what GMO was. Unfortunately, a great technology that can help feed the world is struggling because the public support just isn’t there.

 

At the End of the Day

 

If your B2B is ultimately focused on the betterment of mankind you should use every opportunity to get your brand message out and tell the world your story. Everyone wants to back a winner. Duracell understood this and tied their brand to life-saving tools that required a battery. Their very successful campaign “Trusted Everywhere” was based on the premise that devices that are important to consumers can be trusted to work when powered by Duracell batteries.

 

Every ingredient in the value chain has a brand story of why it’s important. If you can ensure your employees live the brand and you have a dialogue with the communities you live in, you have a great foundation. Getting your story out to a broader audience takes time, conviction and commitment. And in some cases its a snowball’s chance in hell!