Thinking B2B: Differentiating B2B from monolithic B2C brand structures
by Warren Moss (@warrenmoss) I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how so many B2B brands, particularly in South Africa, are part of a monolithic brand structure — a structure where the B2B entity is the smaller part of a dominant B2C entity. As a result, B2B entities of monolithic brands often struggle to differentiate themselves from the dominant B2C entity.
For example, Absa, Standard Bank and Nedbank all have pretty sizeable corporate and investment banks (CIB) but the marketing communication is dominated by the retail (B2C) banking brand. Vodacom, MTN and Telkom all have sizeable B2B components of their companies, but these are often lost when compared to the B2C component.
In South African banking, FNB doesn’t have a CIB. Well, actually, it does but it’s a standalone brand: RMB. In that scenario, RMB has to spend money on brand awareness whereas CIB arms of the other banks don’t have to — but that does help set it clearly apart as a B2B brand, where the others may struggle to separate themselves from their ‘parent’ brands. It’s the same with the telcos; they’re all consumer-retail businesses with a business component: Vodacom and Vodacom Business share almost identical CIs, as do MTN and MTN Business, and Telkom and Telkom Business.
On the one hand, there are major pros to being part of this type of monolithic structure; there’s a benefit from the halo effect of the mother brand. When Nedbank advertises a brand campaign, Nedbank CIB benefits from that. The same target market sees Nedbank branding as a consumer so, when the CIB arm reaches out to it, it’s already attuned to the brand’s presence. From a brand perspective, it means not having to spend too much money on creating additional brand awareness for the B2B component and it should spend its money on revenue generating engagements instead.
Looks exactly like B2C advertising
The con, on the other hand, is that there’s very little differentiation for targeted B2B engagements. With the brands, so similar, B2B advertising — at first glance — looks exactly like the B2C advertising. If you poll people around whether Standard Bank, for example, has a CIB, many have no idea because of the way the brand is communicated. That’s not a criticism of the way Standard Bank does its branding, because it’s a larger differentiation issue for almost all B2B brands which share real estate with a sister B2C brand.
From the marketer’s perspective, is being part of a monolithic brand easier to scale? Yet having that ‘bigger picture’ hanging over a brand often means challenging restrictions that make doing business in your particular market difficult, for reasons more applicable to B2C than B2B.
With that in mind, I’ve been trying to decide whether B2B brands which are part of such monolithic structures should fight harder for their own identities, and I’m honestly not sure of the answer. If it’s a major problem, how do we make it work?
It might come down to whom the B2B brands are targeting. If they’re targeting SMEs (SOHOs and freelancers included), these aren’t businesses with complex purchase journeys and procurement processes that B2B marketers can target. When it comes to making purchase decisions, SMEs behave like consumers, in that the decision-makers generally go into stores and respond to special offers.
If the target market is anything bigger than SMEs (the rest of the market), then I think there’s a strong business case for the B2B part of the monolithic brand to have its own identity. Why? Because the way a B2B brand communicates with its target market (when the target market behaves like a business) is substantially different to the way brands communicate with B2C customers, thanks to the multifaceted purchase journey and the complexities in the decision-making unit.
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.
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