These days the terms ‘brand’ and ‘business’ have become interchangeable to describe not only products, but also services and entire organisations.
This is partly due to the increased success and awareness of big brands in mainstream culture, such as Apple, Tesla, Uber or Aldi. At the same time, for many businesses, the term ‘brand’ has become synonymous with a sense of prestige and greater value. It can therefore be used to drive preference and even command a premium.
And so, brands and therefore branding, have become big business.
But if you’re looking to accelerate growth and differentiation for a business that operates in a B2B environment, it’s critical to understand the difference between branding a B2B and a B2C business.
The first salient point is that corporations are not consumer products. This may seem obvious, but most branding agencies tend to approach branding in the same way, applying the same ‘tried and tested’ technique for every project.
Whilst on the surface the end goal may be the same, the complexities of the challenge can be startlingly different. The fact is that B2B and B2C brands exist and compete in vastly different realities.
Secondly, B2B companies tend to be intricate ecosystems of specialists who tackle complex problems through tailored solutions, including a significant proportion of consultative services.
IBM, Cisco and Accenture are good examples of this. In these companies there are no standardised ‘consumer’ demographics; there are buying teams who rationally evaluate your proposition in multiple dimensions, including cost, experience, track record or cultural alignment.
Therefore it is often difficult to distil a B2B brand’s offer into a simple one-size-fits-all solution. Because for B2B organisations, it’s not about making and selling products. It’s about connecting complementary offers — products, services, channels, and people — with the experiences their customers seek. Accordingly, B2B businesses configure their brand around customer preferences and groups, not around the products or services they offer.
B2C companies on the other hand are based on a volume-operation model. They specialise in serving high-volume markets through standardised products which are branded and mass-marketed through low-touch distribution channels.
Take for instance the business models of Nike, Hertz or P&G. As consumer brands, they tell their stories quickly and simply — attempting to connect with their audiences on an emotional level. They offer products to meet a short-term need; and therefore the brand is tightly built around defined product attributes. B2C branding is more about stand out packaging and marketing than corporate strategy.
Corporate brands are designed to convey long-term objectives and establish trust through a combination of vision, values, and increasingly, purpose. They are more nuanced and must function on multiple levels across diverse organisational cultures and product divisions, with many stakeholders, distributor networks, investor relations and customers. There’s much to consider.
Only by understanding the complexities of these organisations and the unique ecosystems in which they operate will corporate brands grow and succeed.
The lesson for B2B businesses looking to build a strong brand strategy is clear: choose a specialist, be open to advice and get a myriad of voices in the room. After all, there is a lot at stake