B2B Branding and B2C Branding
Are they really all that different? I have dedicated a number of paragraphs in my latest book “Sustainable Energy Branding” (Routledge, 2023) to the difference between branding B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-consumer) companies.
The differences can really be quite extreme, to the extent that some B2B companies believe they really “shouldn’t worry about branding” (I’ve heard it said). I’m happy to add, however, that none of the experts profiled in my book share this view.
Glass boxes and purchasing decisions
Actually, the discussion on how your market shapes your brand is a lot more nuanced and lot less binary than it seems at first glance. For instance, one of the recurring themes of the book is that modern communications technology is blurring the boundary between corporations and the world outside. As Jacob Benbunan of Saffron says in his interview (see Chapter 12 of the book) , companies are no longer “black boxes”, they are “glass boxes”. Social networks, smartphones and file sharing platforms offer us a peek inside organisations world-wide, regardless of whether they are business or consumer oriented.
In addition, it is also worth noting that social networks and online content are changing purchasing behaviour. As a rule, buyers in the B2C arena now conduct extensive online research before significant purchases (such as vehicles and household appliances), in a process that, to a certain extent, mimics decision-making in B2B. If a company sells to both markets, it is easy to imagine that what the consumer discovers while buying for his own private use, will have an impact on his perception of the company as a business supplier.
In other words, there is a lot of seepage between B2B and B2C, especially nowadays as consumers are better informed about the inner workings of the companies they intend to buy from.
The old-fashioned view
Regardless of the fact that IT has changed consumer behaviour, and that there is ever more crossover between B2B and B2C, my impression is that some executives stubbornly cling to the old-fashioned view. What then would be the justification for thinking “B2B companies don’t need branding”?
Apparently, the decision-making process that prevails in B2B transactions is based on rational deliberation. In this arena communication between buyers and sellers engages rational levers, by focusing on prices, delivery terms, contractual obligations, maintenance schedules and similarly dry topics. Branding and marketing, on the other hand, strive to activate and stimulate emotions. And emotions belong in B2C.
Though this argument might look cogent at first glance, I think it has no basis in fact, and a number of the experts I interviewed for my book agree on this point. If anything, emotional drivers are a lot more powerful in B2B. This is because there is more at stake when you make a business purchase. If things go wrong your reputation will be damaged, the work of your team may suffer and the company as a whole may be at a loss. The problem might be difficult to rectify and restitution might involve mediators and/or legal experts.
On the other hand, a bad B2C purchase will inconvenience you and maybe those around you, but its overall impact will be of lesser significance and easier to rectify. Significantly, not as many people will know about it.
No one ever got fired for creating a strong brand
How is this relevant for B2B companies’ branding strategies? Perhaps a legendary marketing slogan offers an answer. “No one ever got fired for buying IBM” was, as far as I know, never an official IBM tagline, but it hits the emotional nexus that is crucial in making business decisions.
As Ryan O’Keeffe of BlackRock said in his interview (see Chapter 3 of the book), the distinction between B2B and B2C is outdated. We should be thinking in terms of B2H—business to human. Whatever your market, you are ultimately dealing with other human beings. They will be coming to you for information, purchasing your product and expecting after-sales support.
Perhaps then, as part of your marketing strategy, it is worth accepting that no one ever got fired for creating a strong brand!
Dr. Fridrik Larsen is the inventor of brandr Index, he has a diverse background in business, psychology and economics, both from an academia and his professional life. Fridrik holds a phd in branding and writes about most things relevant to that area. However, he has a specific interest in helping others to leverage the power of branding to increase the bottom line. Therefore a lot of his writing focuses on why we should care about branding and why it should be a strategic concept talked about in boardrooms.