A revolution to humanise B2B brands
A fundamental shift is occurring in business that’s having profound implications for B2B brands. Despite the focus on digitalisation and the Industry 4.0 movement, we’re operating in a human era, where personalised experiences are expected. Customers are demanding companies to be more transparent, empathetic, open and authentic; to be less corporate and more, well, human. We’ve seen how this mentality has impacted the biggest B2C players, from Apple to Unilever, British Airways to Visa, and how they’ve reshaped their brand proposition to appeal to today’s consumers.
For B2B companies, especially those operating in sectors such as engineering, manufacturing and logistics, the concept of ‘brand building’ is often lower down on the marketing priority list. Even those who can see its potential to drive commercial value often face a series of obstacles, often stemming from a lack of stakeholder buy-in. But, with the pace of disruption in the consumer landscape starting to catch-on with large B2B organisations, those who don’t start focusing on brand may lose out on loyalty. People are accustomed to personalised experiences in the B2C space and are expecting a similar ‘human-to-human’ connection in their professional business relationships. Whereas B2B sales were grounded in one-to-one, in-person connections, the pandemic has seen a seismic shift into digital commerce. And digital can be a bloody battleground for market share.
Crafting a brand narrative
It’s no surprise that brand building in the B2B sector can push comfort zones. It takes time, and goes against the natural inclination to focus on tangible, shorter term results. Often, it’s the path of most resistance. Digital-first businesses may be birthed into the market with a brand, but legacy operators have a much richer story to share. It just needs to be told effectively. And those that do so, will undoubtedly come out on top.
Start with a brand narrative; this should signify to the external world what your company is all about. Every organisation runs on three levels: what we do, how we do, and why we do it. The first two relate to the ins and outs of daily workings; the products or services we sell and the way in which we make them. B2B brand messages tend to be led with this point of view, tapping into the part of the brain responsible for rational and analytical thought. The part that helps us understand facts and figures, features and benefits. But, speed and cost are no longer the primary reasons buyers choose a business partner.
The decision-making process has gone far deeper. taking into account sustainability and carbon initiatives, ethical practices and business culture. B2B buyers don’t forgo their personal values when they come to work and buy products and services. “Buyers need to feel inspired and connected to the brand they’re working with. We tend to think that B2B communications are aimed at businesses. But, ultimately, they’re targeted to the people behind the businesses,” said Jake Welsh, Executive Creative Director at DEPT®.
“The way people interact with B2B brands is increasingly similar to how they engage with consumer-facing companies, meaning creative storytelling and brand advertising will go a long way in influencing buyer choices. Product messages on their own aren’t enough; humans are drawn to narratives and hardwired to make emotive decisions.”
Lead with the ‘why’
To inject passion into your business story, lead with ‘why’. Develop a narrative around the purpose of your company. Uncover shared beliefs and what motivates employees. This message needs to be authentic, so dig into the past and re-surface those pivotal moments that enabled you to succeed..
Here are five questions to stimulate your thinking:
- What inspired your business idea?
- What’s interesting about your founding story?
- Where do you add the greatest value?
- Why are you in this line of business?
- How has the business evolved?
Don’t be afraid to get answers from various departments and long-term customers who may view your business through a different looking glass.
By focusing on the ‘why’, the business is positioned to inspire, instil trust and earn long-term loyalty. Whether we like to admit it or not, humans are not entirely rational beings. If we were, we would never take risks due to the chance of failure. But we do, every day. The part of the brain responsible for this behaviour is the limbic system. It controls those strong ‘gut feelings’ that can’t be fully explained. Clearly articulating a business purpose taps into this psyche. The narrative gives your employees and partners a way to connect with you on a personal level and view your business as a living, breathing entity.
Let’s take a look at how some of the global giants have framed their messages. Notice the focus on people and wider society:
- 3M: 3M is the innovation company that never stops inventing, because we’re passionate about making progress happen. We keep our customers competitive by tapping into our collaborative culture to provide a never-ending evolution of ideas and technologies to solve the world’s most critical problems.
- PayPal: Fueled by a fundamental belief that having access to financial services creates opportunity, PayPal is committed to democratizing financial services and empowering people and businesses to join and thrive in the global economy.
- Unilever: Unilever’s mission is to add vitality to life. We meet everyday needs for nutrition, hygiene and personal care with brands that help people feel good, look good and get more out of life.
Cultivate long term relationships
When you align with your customers on an emotional level a ‘feeling’ of a true alliance is sparked. This bond is much stronger and meaningful than any affiliation based on product features, production process or time to market. At the end of the day, B2B buyers are looking to forge a partnership that they’re proud of.
This is achieved by moving away from a product-first sales approach and humanising your message. When you understand the challenges the industry is facing, you’re able to put forward the best solution and develop a genuine connection with your customers. The days of formal sales pitches and service calls have been replaced with daily interactions in the context of strategic, collaborative, long-term relationships.
The time and cost implications of switching service providers can be high, therefore a purchase choice in B2B is rarely a one-off or entered into lightly. Listen to how your customers are progressing and become part of their journey, whether that’s evolving software systems for order replenishment, or introducing a sustainable product or packaging alternative. Find ways to support the core principals in your brand message.
Commit to it
Defining the brand narrative is the beginning of your branding refresh. It should shape the rest of your positioning. Everything that your company is involved in needs to relate to this principle to communicate a clear, purposeful public image. Ensure it is included in all of your social media profiles, press releases, marketing collateral and so on. Remember that any supplementary messages must associate with this and not stray back to the ‘what’ and ‘how,’ as those details can be discussed further down the relationship, once the customer has developed an emotional connection with your brand.
By committing to focusing on your brand, your business will benefit in ways beyond the top line. From winning and retaining new customers to securing the best talent in your industry, by developing and communicating a vision that people can identify with and believe in can only be a force of good for your organisation.
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Executive Creative Director
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