Thinking B2B: Creating a B2B brand
by Warren Moss (@warrenmoss) In order for an agency to create a fit-for-purpose B2B brand, there are two mandatory requirements: trust between brand and agency, and meaningful face time with the people who work at the company, the management team behind the brand and past, current and potential customers.
Recently, there was a pitch for the rebranding of one of the country’s largest B2B businesses. Each invited agency was asked to submit a proposal on how to approach the rebranding, from which the company would select two ‘finalists’. These would then each get three hours with the brand’s exco team to get insights, from which they’d propose the rebranded solution and present, with one agency selected as the pitch winner.
We looked at the process and decided not to participate — not because we don’t like pitch processes but because we think, when it comes to a B2B branding process, that the vital elements mentioned in the intro should be part of the process to allow the pitching agencies the opportunity to deliver the best possible work.
Trust is the strongest currency: pay an agency in trust and you’ll get the best work. Trust empowers the agency to be bold and leaves room for mistakes. In a trusted relationship, mistakes are tolerated and accepted; in a low-trust relationship, the agency plays it safe because there’s the constant fear that it’ll get fired tomorrow if it gets something marginally wrong. Trust means there is no fear and it fosters strong communication.
Face time is important because it allows the team working on the brand the tie to forge a deep understanding of the DNA of the people behind the brand. A B2B brand has to be an emotional and visual representation of the people behind the company. The past, current and future clients must inform where the brand is going, certainly, but there must be a significantly higher weighting towards an understanding of the people who operate the brand. People who get up and go to work because they love it have a special affinity for the brand. What better way to foster belief and buy-in for the brand than have them as part of the process of establishing its personality, its feel, its DNA?
I’m not talking about token involvement. Spending real time with them is important, to get a meaningful understanding of what makes them tick, what their ambitions are and what their lives look like. Anthropology is a great way to inform that approach.
B2B brands have an audience of thousands, not millions; most management teams aren’t bigger than 15, and those are the people who need to believe in a brand. One of the pivotal elements of B2B marketing is therefore shaping communication that shows how a product or service may solve a potential customer’s need — something which is only possible when the team behind the brand understands that need.
We had a rebranding experience like this a couple of years ago. We managed to spend deep and meaningful time with the CEO, CMO and exco, the employees, the intermediaries and some of their customers. If I look at that brand now, it’s directly representative of the team members who run that company. If you opened the CEO’s bedroom cupboard, it’d look like the company brand palette: professional, considered, premium, and thoughtful. The CEO and team personify the brand, brand represents them and their passion, and that’s why its successful. People who work there wear company pins on their clothes because they’re so proud of what they’ve helped make the brand; there’s even a shop in the office that sells company-branded products…
The CMO recently surveyed employees and partners, asking what they think of the brand, and an unprecedented 92% came back and said they love it. That’s because it was built for them, not their customers — and there’s a knock-on effect. Pride acts as a motivator, which is directly related to a positive growth in business performance. We’d never have been able to give voice to their personality if we’d only have been able to spend a couple of hours with them in a boardroom.
If we accept that, in B2B, the brand is the direct manifestation of the values of the people who work there, it makes sense that in order for the agency to create a proper brand solution, it needs meaningful and deep access to the employees, management and customers, so it can extract the true values of the brand and understand its DNA. That requires meaningful engagement with the people who drive it and total experience of the brand itself.
You need to get into the heart and headspace of a brand to deliver an experience which targets the brand’s own potential customers in a significant way.
Warren Moss (@) is the CEO and founder of Demographica, a multi-award winning full service agency that specialises in the B2B category. He is the chair of both the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa (DMASA) and the Assegai Integrated Marketing Awards (Assegais), as well as the only African to judge the B2 Awards, which recognise the top performing B2B marketers in the world. Warren contributes the monthly “Thinking B2B” column, which looks at the latest trends in B2B communications and explains why it is fundamentally different from B2C comms.
— One subscription form, three newsletters: sign up now for the MarkLives newsletter, including Ramify headlines; The Interlocker, our new monthly comms-focused mailer; and Brands & Branding, launching soon!