There are few companies today who neglect branding in the Business to Consumer (B2C) arena. These companies understand the importance of targeting consumers and appealing to them through the brand. However there is a debate to whether branding is necessary in the Business to Business (B2B) industry at all, and if so should marketing the brand to a business be considered the same as to a consumer?
“Branding is about taking something common and improving upon it in ways that make it more valuable and meaningful” (Bedbury, 2002)
Branding is not just a logo, tagline, jingles etc. it is an intangible concept. A brand is a guarantee of quality, a promise, it represents origin, performance and benefits. A brand is the totality of perceptions; from everything you see, hear, read, know, feel, think etc. about a product, service or business. It holds a distinctive position in customer’s minds based on past experiences, associations and expectations. A brand reduces the decision-making process.
Although there are still businesses in the B2B industry who believe that their product is unique enough to sell without pushing the brand (and therefore leave their future to chance), large organisations have built a stronger brand through their holistic branding approach. The aerospace company Boeing hired Judith A. Muehlberg as the head of Marketing and Public Relations and in a meeting she mentioned branding. Immediately a senior manager stopped her and said “Judith, do you know what industry you’re in and what company you’ve come to? We aren’t a consumer-goods company, and we don’t have a brand”. Thankfully since then, Boeing has taken on board the essence of marketing, implementing worldwide campaigns, relocating their offices, and creating marketing campaigns for their new product launches.
Companies targeting B2B customers who understand their brand can utilise it to compete on aspects other than price. Businesses with a strong brand positioning benefit from higher returns, better share prices (Kotler and Pfoertsch 2007), the power to command a premium price and a competitive advantage. In fact if we look at the top B2B brand performers we have Caterpillar, GE and Hewlett Packard. These companies are not only recognised by businesses but also the general public. This is because these companies understood these benefits in branding and focussed their marketing on pushing the brand.
Branding Differences for B2B and B2C Industries
So we can see that branding has relevance in B2B industries, but is there a difference between marketing a brand to a business and to a consumer?
Well thanks to Pfoertsch et al. (2007) there is a nice table which compares B2B and B2C marketing characteristics below:
|Aimed at intermediate value provider||Aimed at the end-user|
|Two way relationship||Transaction or on directional ‘relationship’|
|Small focused target market, small number of customers||Mass market, large number of consumers|
|Buyers can most effectively be reached through specialised media||Buyers are reached through mass media|
|Multi-step buying cycles||Short sales cycle|
|Relatively complex product offering||Relatively simple product offering|
|Never on impulse||Purchase can be an impulse|
|Marketing is about educating||Marketing is about convincing|
|Brand is about the first impression; it opens the door but does not sell||Brand can be the reason to buy|
From this we can see the significant differences in marketing to these industries. The complexity of completing a sale in a business is a result of multiple professionals making decisions, compared to the consumer market where typically the Decision Making Unit (DMU) is much smaller. Consumers rarely have to defend their own decisions and are swayed by emotional justifications, although a certain degree of rationality behind a purchase can make a customer feel better. Additionally customers buy into status and prestige (such as a customer buying a Burberry cap for the “chav” cult status it represents) which the brand delivers, and in certain cases the brand can be the only selling point. This is not the case for businesses. Professionals are expected by their peers to behave rationally and are unable to make emotive reasons a justification for investment. There are decision making processes and therefore it is usually down to multiple people to act as a DMU; for which the term is known as the Buying Center. There are six roles in the Buying Center which are listed below for you:
- Initiators– define the buying situation and start the buying process
- Users– actually use the product
- Buyers– commit the organisation to spend money
- Deciders– have the authority to choose among potential product offerings and vendors
- Influencers– add information or constraints in the buying process
- Gatekeepers– control the flow of information into the buying process
As shown in the table, the brand is about the first impression and it will not sell on its own. The product must be relevant, the quality satisfactory and the marketing must be informative and educational. Marketing to businesses involves a two way relationship and this is most reliant on the people who represent the company and speak to the business customers. Therefore the marketing literature that a company will have invested in (such as leaflets, price lists etc.) will not be enough. Training is an essential tool to build a successful relationship with businesses. The long term buying process that businesses must lug through need to be used as opportunities to build that relationship and increase the brand image so that once the Buying Center is ready to make a decision they have the knowledge to approve the purchase, but also the emotional connections to drive an extra incentive to sway the decision.
Having read through a ridiculous amount of journals, articles and evidence, I come to the conclusion that marketing a brand to a business is extremely different to marketing to a consumer. It is not as simple as generating a nice emotive attachment to the brand in the B2B industry as it is in the B2C one. However with products becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish from one another, it’s even more important to have a powerful brand. And to end, with wise words from Pfoertch et al. (2007) “Clear definitions of brand strategy are a basis for successful management”.