I regularly hear from B2B leaders who are wondering whether they should invest in their brand positioning, or if they’re off the hook since they’re not a consumer business.
I have two responses to this question.
The Simple Answer
Brand positioning is simply business strategy that leverages the insights of the person making a purchase decision – whether that is a person within a business, or a person buying for her household. So the B2B brand vs. B2C brand is a false dichotomy. It doesn’t help you decide whether to invest in brand positioning.
If you want to grow your business, and if it is a human who is purchasing your product or service, then brand positioning is a key tool, regardless of whether it’s consumer- or business-facing.
The Deep-in-the-Weeds Answer
Brand strategy "grew up" in the world of consumer packaged goods because in consumer products, you must have a killer brand. When I was a brand manager at Clorox, the differences between my laundry cleaner and another brand’s laundry cleaner were almost solely brand differences. The category was so mature that the products were largely the same from one brand to the next. We had to differentiate somehow and brand positioning is how we did it.
Even consumer businesses outside the world of consumer packaged goods (say a consumer internet company like Zulily or Yelp) readily adopt the belief that brand positioning is an important tool that will help them grow. And because all manner of consumer businesses tend to invest in brand positioning, if you compete with consumer businesses who are investing in their brand, it’s table stakes that you do so as well.
So What About B2B?
While I argue that B2B vs. B2C is a false dichotomy, and that of course a B2B company would benefit from investing in its brand – it’s also true that the B2B environment is different. But it’s not the customer who’s different (every customer is a human, whether B2C or B2B): it’s the competitive landscape.
In many cases, a B2B company competes in a market with other companies who have not invested in their brand. That means that, rather than it being table stakes to invest in brand (as in consumer business), it is a source of competitive advantage. If you are a B2B leader, it may not be a matter of survival to build a brand strategy, but it may well be a huge source of competitive differentiation.
The Casual Athlete vs. the Elite Athlete
Would I say, “Well, I’m just a runner in local races, not an international competitor, and therefore why would I apply visualization techniques as part of my training?” Any elite athlete knows she must employ visualization because all top contenders do this. Not to use it is to put yourself at a major disadvantage. A more casual racer perhaps doesn’t have to do so – but when she does, it puts her at a distinct competitive advantage when the majority of casual runners fail to include the technique.
Consider Your Landscape
Look at companies like Salesforce, Dropbox, and Slack – all B2B, and all killer brand strategies that have been a source of differentiation and therefore growth.
If you are B2B, don’t dismiss the idea of investing in your brand, or you may forego a dramatic source of differentiation. Instead, as you create or refine your business strategy, analyze your market, your strengths and weaknesses, and your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses. You wouldn’t be the first B2B company to find that a rigorous brand positioning is your most powerful competitive advantage.