I get so many B2B brands tell me, “That may work for a consumer-driven brand, but can our brand be loved?” I can hear the doubt and insecurity in their voice. I believe the best B2B brands must deliver on a promise, build a reputation for something specific over time, and create a deep bond with their most cherished customers.
If the best brands win because of the passionate and lasting love they have established with their most cherished customers, shouldn’t that be even more important for a B2B brand?
Brands must treat their most cherished customers with the respect that establishes trust, enabling consumers to open up to a point where they replace thinking with feeling. The logic of demand evolves into an emotional state of desire, needs become cravings and repeat purchases progress into rituals and turn into a favorite moment in the day. Customers transform into the most outspoken and loyal brand fans and ambassadors.
The fundamentals of brand management matter more now than ever. Old-school marketers learned the 4Ps of product, place, price, and promotion. It is a useful start, but far too product-focused. New-school marketers have to deliver on customers insight that connect, both functional and emotional benefits instead of features, and focus on building a culture that delivers exceptionally happy customer experiences.
What is a B2B brand?
In the diagram, you will see seven types of brand models. For business-to-business (B2B) brands, we will cover four primary types:
- B2C thru B: Sell your products through a third-party partner, whose reps then sell your brand to consumers.
- B2B Products: Sell your products as an ingredient or component your customers will use to make their brand better.
- B2B Services: Sell your services to companies or individuals at the company who want help to achieve success.
- DTC: Sell your products directly to specific B2B customers who are using the product in their jobs or companies.
B2B Customers have changed
It takes a smart strategy to balance the rational and emotional management of the brand-to-customer relationship. The most beloved brands are so exceptional because of how well they treat their most loyal customers. They make them feel loved. The customers of today must be won over. They are surrounded by the clutter of 5,000 brand messages a day that fight for a glimpse of their attention. That is 1.8 million per year or one message every 11 waking seconds.
Even B2B brands must compete for your customer’s attention, as customers are continuously distracted—walking, talking, texting, searching, watching, replying—and all at the same time. Even at work, your customers are checking social media feeds and looking at their phone on a regular basis. In a cluttered media world, customers glance past brand messages all day long. Their brain quickly rejects boring, irrelevant, or unnecessary messages. To succeed, B2B brands must capture the customer’s imagination right away, with a brand idea that is simple, and unique. It must create as much excitement as a first-time encounter.
Customers are tired of being burned by broken brand promises. Once lied to, their well-guarded instincts begin to doubt first, test second, and at any point, they will cast aside any brand that does not live up to the original promise that captivated them on the first encounter. A brand must be worthy of love. The best brands of today have a soul that exists deep within the culture of the brand organization.
Brands must be customer focused. The brand’s purpose must be able to explain why the people who work behind the scenes of the brand come to work every day so energized and ready to over-deliver on the brand’s behalf. This purpose becomes a firm conviction with inner motivations, beliefs, and values that influence and inspire every employee to want to be part of the brand. This brand conviction must be so firm that the brand would never make a choice that directly contradicts their internal belief system. Customers start to see, understand, and appreciate the level of conviction with the brand.
Brands must listen, observe, and know the thoughts of their customer before they even think it. Not only does the brand meet their functional needs, but the brand must also heroically beat down the customer’s enemy that torments their life, every day.
The best brands must show up consistently at every customer touchpoint, whether it is the promise the brand makes, the stories they tell, the innovation designed to impress customers, the happy purchase moments or the delightful experiences that make customers want to tell their friends and colleagues the brand story. The customer keeps track to make sure the brand delivers before the customer is willing to commit. Only then will the customer become willing to open up and trust the brand.
The integrity of the brand’s soul tightens the customer’s unshakable bond with that brand. Brands have to do the little things that matter, to show they love their customer. Every time the brand over-delivers on their promise, it adds a little spark to the romance.
Over time, the brand must weave itself into the most critical moments of the customer’s lives and business, and become part of the most cherished stories and memories within the customer’s heart. In today’s cluttered brand world, the pathway to brand success is all about building relationships with your most cherished customers.
A brand idea must be interesting, simple, unique, inspiring, motivating, and own-able. The brand idea must attract and move customers
The first connection point for customers with a brand is that moment when they see a brand idea worth engaging the brand. The brand almost jumps off the screen of a presentation, grips the audience’s attention through content communications, or compels customers to click on a demonstration video. The brand has to generate interest very quickly.
When the brand idea is interesting and simple, it helps the brand gain quick entry into the customer’s mind, so they want to engage and learn more about the brand. With the B2B customer bombarded by 5,000 brand messages every day, the brand has only seven seconds to connect or else customers will move on.
That is why the brand idea should be unique and ownable to stand out amid the clutter, and the brand can see enough rich potential to build their entire business around the idea. The idea should inspire the team working behind the scenes to deliver amazing customer experiences. The idea must be motivating to customers, so the brand can move customers to see, think, feel, or act in positive ways that benefit the brand.
You have only seven seconds to connect with customers
A brand idea must have enough longevity to last 5 to 10 years and enough flexibility to show consistency no matter what media options you choose. The idea must provide a common link across the entire product line-up. Everything you do should deliver the brand idea.
The brand has to show up the same way to everyone, no matter where it shows up. Even as the brand leader expands on the idea, whether telling the brand story over 60 seconds, 30 minutes or over the lifetime of the brand, it must tell the same story.
When the idea works best, the most far-reaching sales rep, the scientist in the lab, the plant manager, or the customer service rep must all articulate the brand idea, in the same way, using the same chosen words. Every time a customer engages with the brand, they must see, hear and feel the same brand idea. Each positive interaction further tightens their bond with the brand.
Use your brand idea to organize everything you do
As a brand leader, you have five customer touchpoints to align and manage, including the brand promise, brand story, product innovation, the path to the purchase moment, and the overall customer experience. The brand idea map shows you how to align all five customer touchpoints.
- The brand promise connects with customers and separates your brand from competitors. The promise must position the brand as interesting and unique, utilizing brand positioning work to define the target market, the balance of functional and emotional benefits, along with key support points.
- The brand story helps the brand stand out from the pack to gain the customer’s consideration for purchase. It must push customers to see, think, feel, or act differently than before they saw the brand message.
- Innovation must help the brand stay on top of the latest trends in technology, customer need states, distribution, and competitive activity. A brand cannot stand still. The brand idea should act as an internal beacon to help inspire the product development team to come up with new ways to captivate customers.
- The purchase moment transforms the awareness and consideration into a purchase. The brand idea ensures everyone along the path to purchase delivers the same brand message, using retail and selling strategies to influence customers.
- Create customer experiences that overdeliver the promise, driving repeat purchase, and future customer loyalty. When you partner with HR, the brand idea inspires the culture and organization, influencing hiring decisions, service values, and motivation of the operations teams who deliver the experience.
It takes a strategic mind to figure out brand love
To show the differences in how customers feel about a brand as they move through five stages, I created the brand love curve. It defines customers’ feelings as unknown, indifferent, like it, love it and onto the beloved brand status.
For unknown brands, the strategic focus should be to stand out so customers will notice the brand within a crowded brand world. For indifferent brands, the strategy must establish the brand in the customer’s mind so they can see a clear point of difference. At the like it stage, the strategy is to separate the brand from the pack, creating happy experiences that build a trusted following. At the love it stage, the focus shifts to tugging at heartstrings to tighten the bond with the most loyal brand fans. At the beloved brand stage, the strategic challenge is to create outspoken, loyal brand fans who are willing to whisper to their friends on the brand’s behalf.
Five major brand strategies help move your brand from one stage of the brand love curve to the next.
- For unknown brands, the strategic focus should be to stand out so customers will notice the brand within a cluttered customer brand world they live in, where they see an estimated 5,000 brand messages per day.
- For indifferent brands, the strategy must establish the brand in the customer’s mind, so they can see a clear point of difference over other potential brand choices in their consideration set.
- At the like it stage, the strategy is to separate the brand from the pack, creating satisfied experiences that build a trusted following over time. Only after they trust the brand, customers begin to open up emotionally.
- At the love it stage, the strategic focus shifts tightening the bond with the most loyal brand fans.
- At the beloved stage, the strategic challenge is to create outspoken brand loyal fans, who are willing to serve as brand advocates willing to provide testimonials for a brand, that their peers will see.
The B2B Brand Love Curve
20 activities matching up to the brand love curve
The brand love curve should guide strategic and tactical decisions that go into the writing of your annual brand plan. Here are 20 potential brand activities that match up to where your brand sits on the curve and how to move your brand to the next stage.
This type of thinking can be found in our B2B Brands playbook
Learn to think, define, plan, execute and analyze your brand
- You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies.
- To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept.
- For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans.
- To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around creative content marketing and media choices.
- When it comes time for marketing analytics, I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.