Ever wonder which brands get B2B branding right?
Not only get it right, but completely crush it?
On July 23, 2020, Drift announced that the second quarter was the largest in company history. In just five years, the SaaS company has grown to a portfolio of 50,000+ customers.
How did they do it?
A big factor is their compelling B2B branding. They invented the category of conversational marketing. They are now re-inventing themselves as the #1 revenue acceleration platform.
Everything they do is real, transparent and personable, both internally and externally. They are approachable and reachable. They always write like real, relatable people, not some kind of PR bot. Whether on the website or in social media or over the phone, their voices are always personable. As a result, they’ve built a large community of diehard fans.
The website is a good example of the authenticity of the brand. Drift uses only real people in its photography throughout the site. Only actual employees, executives and customers are featured, in stark contrast to many software companies that default to stock imagery or stock illustrations. The use of real people throughout the website makes the site come to life and makes you feel like you’re already building a bond with the brand.
The abundant social media posts by their top executives are honest and open, covering a wide array of business subjects.
They have a number of different podcasts, from Seeking Wisdom with David Cancel to CMO Conversations with Tricia Gellman, Growth with Matt Bilotti, Build with Maggie Crowley and Operations with Sean Lane. Everyone is refreshingly candid about their own experiences and those at Drift.
Cancel’s weekly email (anyone can sign up) is just as candid. These are the same emails (minus anything confidential) that he sends to his own staff at Drift!
They have a community of “Insiders” with 30,000+ members, they’ve written an incredible 29 books, they have an outstanding blog, and they normally hold multiple live events every year (except 2020 because of COVID-19).
The success of Drift highlights the incredible power of effective B2B branding. When done right, it can fuel the rapid growth of your company, create an army of raving fans, and position you as a leader in your industry.
In this guide, we’re going to walk you through the what, why, and how of B2B branding. We’ll provide a framework for why it’s so essential and actionable insights that you can implement in your own company.
Let’s dive in.
B2B Branding Vs. B2C Branding
Let’s start by talking about the difference between B2B and B2C branding. The typical B2B sales cycle is significantly longer than B2C. There are several reasons for this.
First, the dollar amounts in B2B transactions are often much higher than B2C transactions. Because of this, a B2B sale often involves multiple people needing to give their approval before the sale can actually happen. Upping the stakes even more is the fact that B2B sales have a direct impact on people’s jobs. If the product or service doesn’t deliver as promised, there could be serious negative repercussions.
The combination of all of these elements make trust-building and relationship-building a major factor in B2B branding. Customers want assurance that they’ll get the expected results, and they want to know that you’ll be there for them if there’s a problem.
Social proof and proof of results are essential for giving potential customers the assurance they’re looking for:
- Client testimonials
- Case studies
- List of customers
- Product demos
- Proof of concept trials
- Industry leadership
- Trust logos
- Product guarantees
- And more…
Your goal is to minimize the sense of risk that potential customers feel by showing them that your product or service truly will solve their problems.
Benefits of Effective B2B Branding
There are many benefits to strong B2B branding. It’s not a “nice to have,” but rather truly impacts the bottom line. The ROI of B2B branding includes:
- Greater audience awareness
- Emotional inclination to favor the brand
- Reduced average sales cycle
- Higher close rates
- Pricing premium
- Less likelihood to try a competitive offering
- Deeper loyalty
Developing Your Brand Strategy
The starting place for B2B branding is developing an overarching, cohesive, compelling brand strategy. Before you get down to the nitty-gritty of visual branding, messaging and online presence, you need to define who you are as a brand.
Glean Audience Insights
Start by doing a thorough deep-dive into your target audience. What are their pain points? What specific words and phrases do they use to describe both their goals and struggles?
When it comes to B2B branding, the goal is to position yourself as the problem solver for your audience. In order to effectively do that, you need to understand who your audience is and what they really want.
Capture voice of the customer (VoC), through customer interviews, surveys, search and content data, and more. (We go into more detail on VoC later…)
Define Your Core Values
Next, define your core values as a company. These are what drive you as a company. They are the foundation of your B2B branding. They should never change.
What defines you? What do you care about?
HubSpot’s “About Us” page effectively highlights their core values:
There’s this notion that to grow a business, you have to be ruthless. But we know there’s a better way to grow. One where what’s good for the bottom line is also good for customers. We believe businesses can grow with a conscience, and succeed with a soul — and that they can do it with inbound. That’s why we’ve created a platform uniting software, education, and community to help businesses grow better every day.
Define Your Brand Personality and Tonality
After determining your core values, you need to define the personality and tonality of your brand. Think about the kind of language and tone that will resonate most with your target audience. Remember, you’re marketing to people with actual emotions, feelings and desires. Although you’re marketing to a business, at the end of the day you are marketing to people.
A good example of a brand with personality is Basecamp. For many years, Basecamp has had a somewhat cheeky, informal brand personality. This comes through clearly in their newest product, Hey (an email platform):
Define Your Positioning and Differentiation
Next, define the positioning of your brand. In other words, what space will you occupy in the minds of your customers when compared to your competitors? Do you offer a superior customer experience? Better prices? More experience? Do you focus on a particular segment of the market or a specific geography? In a crowded industry, why should your company exist?
Differentiation is the other side of the coin from positioning. What makes you different from your competitors, and why should a customer choose you instead of them?
For example, here at Stratabeat, one of our core points of differentiation is our application of neuroscience, psychology and behavioral science to our branding and marketing services. We firmly believe that this application of brain science to marketing leads to more action by the audience and to better business results.
Another differentiator is that our breadth of services is unique, including everything from Brand Strategy to Visual Branding, Web Design, SEO, Content Marketing, ABM, Behavioral Analysis and Conversion Optimization. It’s easy to find a branding agency, but they typically are not experts in SEO, content and conversion optimization. It’s easy to find a web design agency, but they typically have no foundation in brand strategy, etc. The idea is that with Stratabeat, our clients’ branding and marketing are tightly integrated, leveraging our expertise across these different disciplines.
Identify your differentiation clearly and tangibly, and then engage with your audience members who most appreciate these characteristics about your business.
Define Your Customer Promise
In your B2B branding stack, be sure to include a customer promise. Your customer promise is exactly what it sounds like: a promise you make to your customers about what they will experience every time they interact with your brand.
In his book Aaker on Branding, David Aaker said, “Far more than a name and logo [a brand] is an organization’s promise to a customer to deliver what the brand stands for not only in terms of functional benefits but also emotional, self-expressive, and social benefits.”
When they hire you, will they save money? Become more efficient? Increase leads or sales? Become better at something?
What is the biggest, thorniest frustration that you can solve for them? What are you committed to doing for your customers? Use the answers to these questions to shape your customer promise.
Define Your Mission
Your mission as a company is bigger and broader than your customer promise. It flows out of your core values and encapsulates the purpose of your company. All your products and services must further your mission.
What is your North Star? What is the grand aim of your company? What are you trying to achieve, both in the world and for your customers? How will you, in the words of branding master Steve Jobs, dent the universe?
A few examples of mission statements:
- Salesforce – “We help our customers discover new trails to success using the #1 CRM platform.”
- Unbounce – “To educate, connect and empower marketing teams and agencies to grow their businesses with the best conversion tools on Earth.”
- Campaign Monitor – “We deliver technology that solves complex problems in a beautifully uncomplicated way.”
Define Your Future
The final step in developing your B2B brand strategy is to define your future. What will your organization look like in 5 years? What about in a decade?
Obviously, you can’t predict exactly what the future will look like, but you can decide where you want to be and start heading in that direction. If you need to pivot, you can certainly do that, but mapping out your future helps you know where you’re going, and just as importantly, how to get there.
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Developing Your Messaging
Once you have a clear sense of who you are as a brand, it’s time to start developing your brand messaging. Your brand messaging will shape every piece of content you create, from the copy on your website to promotional emails to blog posts you write.
Your messaging should strongly resonate with your target audience, uphold your core values, reinforce your customer promise, and match your brand personality.
Strive to speak and write like a real person. Too often B2B companies take on a needlessly stodgy, stuffy, uptight tone.
Don’t do that. Don’t be boring.
Here are a few simple, yet effective ways to sharpen your messaging so that you’ll resonate with your audience more deeply.
Capture the Voice of the Customer (VoC)
The Voice of the Customer (VoC) is the language your customers and potential customers use to articulate their goals, objectives, passions, viewpoints, problems, struggles and pain points.
When your messaging reflects the VoC, it powerfully resonates with potential customers. It lets them know that you understand their challenges and can solve their problems.
So how do you capture VoC? There are many different ways to do it:
- Industry surveys
- Customer surveys
- Onsite surveys
- Customer interviews
- Interviews with others in the industry (thought leaders, etc.)
- Customer check-ins
- Customer support conversations
- Sales conversations
- In-the-field observations
Your goal is simply to understand your customers and the way they speak about the things on their mind. You can then communicate with your audience using the very words and phrases they use, helping you to understand them better and to engage with them more deeply.
Develop a Messaging Platform
A messaging platform is a collection of words, soundbites, headings and paragraphs that can (and should) be used consistently across the business to explain your brand, what you stand for, why it matters, your differentiation and your core messages.
This can include your elevator pitch as well as core concepts and associated text.
Once you develop your messaging platform, you can deploy it across all your communications, using it in your website, emails, social media, marketing collateral, trade show booths, direct mail and any other marketing mediums.
Craft Your Elevator Pitch
Your elevator pitch is a two to three sentence definition of your brand. It is a short, concise, compelling summary of who your company is, what you do, who you serve and how you are different.
Working on an elevator pitch is a valuable exercise since it forces you to distill the essence of your brand into a short snippet. It can bring clarity as to what is at the heart of your brand.
Plus, whenever you meet someone new who is interested in the brand, you can explain who you are without hesitation in a compelling fashion.
Identify Your Most Compelling Stories
When it comes to B2B branding and marketing, storytelling is absolutely crucial. Why? Because stories resonate with people on a much deeper, subconscious level than statements. People can identify with and find themselves in stories. Stories draw people in and “disarm” their objections.
The chemistry in the brain actually changes when listening to a story. According to cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner, people are 22X more likely to remember something when it’s been wrapped in a story.
When crafting your messaging, identify your most compelling stories and consider how you can integrate those stories with your overall messaging and marketing.
Develop Customer Champions
When it comes to B2B branding, your customers can be some of your most powerful assets. Prospects might be suspicious of the good things you say about yourself, but they’ll have a much harder time doubting the good things your customers say about you.
Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, points out that one of the strongest influences on people’s minds is social proof. Let your customers do the talking for you, and you’ll influence your audience to a far greater degree.
Work hard to develop lots of case studies, testimonials and success stories, and then show them off throughout your messaging and marketing.
Developing Thought Leadership
A powerful way to strengthen your B2B brand is to become a thought leader in your industry. When you’re a thought leader, people seek you out for your expertise. You are asked to share your insights with larger audiences, which can open up doors and fuel your growth.
So, how can you move toward becoming a thought leader? Here are a few simple ways.
Maintain a Ridiculously Awesome Blog
Sharing your expertise and insights through regular blog posts is an extremely effective way to become a thought leader while sharing your brand’s personality. Brands like HubSpot, Buffer, Databox, Ahrefs and Zapier have used long-form blogging to consistently attract new leads and fans, and to grow the bottom line.
When combined with SEO and a powerful marketing funnel, blogging brings a steady stream of traffic to your website.
Write For Outside Publications
Writing for industry publications establishes you as a thought leader in the eyes of your peers, and writing for publications your audience reads builds your credibility in their eyes. Find publications and websites that invite guest posts, reach out to them, and offer to write about a specific topic in which you have expertise.
Many companies get bylined articles wrong, and barely scratch the surface of capitalizing on the value they can deliver. This post provides guidance on getting 3X ROI from your bylined articles on third-party websites, blogs and magazines.
Get Interviewed Everywhere
Being interviewed allows you to demonstrate your expertise in a less time-intensive way than writing lengthy blog posts. Take advantage of every opportunity to be interviewed on the radio, TV, podcasts, websites, blogs, etc.
Write A Book
Though it involves a lot of work, writing a book positions you as the authority on a subject. This is why I wrote the book Rethink Your Marketing. I was able to cover subjects in much more depth than I could in blog posts and podcast interviews. And though it was certainly a time-intensive process, I now have a permanent asset that I can point potential customers to.
In fact, one enterprise software prospect was so excited while reading the book that he started texting me on a Saturday about all the ideas from the book he wanted to test for his brand. Writing a book is not only good branding, it helps you close more business. (Yes, the software prospect closed and became a client.)
Conduct Original Research
It’s one thing to comment on the work of others. It’s quite another to conduct your own proprietary research and to then use insights from your research to take a stand and differentiate yourself from others in the market.
Stratabeat maintains a database in which we evaluate hundreds of B2B websites. This enables us to clearly understand the correlation between, for example, quality design and website traffic. This original data helps us to cut through all the noise out there in pinpointing what actually works and moves the needle.
Developing Visual Branding
In B2B branding, design is critically important. You need to be trustworthy, and professional design helps you to earn their trust.
If your brand has an unpolished, unprofessional feel, your prospective customers will be turned off. You need a well-defined, consistent look and feel across all your customer-facing materials.
Ask yourself these questions when evaluating and developing your visual branding:
- Does your logo reflect what you do as a company and the value you provide to customers? For example, the Stratabeat logo is a stylized “S”, showing a path from the lower left to the upper right representing growth. It also is representative of branding and marketing coming together to form a circle, or a whole, with the two perfectly in sync.
- Do your brand colors match your brand personality? Stratabeat’s colors are Rubine Red C (which is very close to magenta), black, gray and white. Rubine Red C is a very positive, happy color. When we pair it with our promise to “Amplify Your Awesomeness” (our tagline), it’s a perfect match.If your brand’s primary color were brown or green, the pairing with the tagline would be incongruous. It would just feel out of place and not believable.
- Are your brand fonts clean, easy to read, and in line with your brand tone and personality? Our brand font for headlines is Tungsten. It’s a unique, stylized look, but sturdy, strong and reliable.
- Do your brand visual elements (photos, icons, videos, etc.) resonate with customers and reflect the core values of your brand? The first image you see on our home page is a vibrant photo of a rock concert, celebrating our many web design awards for our clients. It transports you into an elevated mindset for winning.
Developing a brand style guide allows you to bring all of the above things together in one central location and ensures that the visual elements of your brand stay consistent across all sectors of your company.
See how the Skype brand style book captures the essence of the brand:
The Value of Creativity In B2B Branding
The value and importance of creativity in B2B branding can’t be overstated. B2B buyers are real people, so don’t bore them to death! Use creativity and emotion to grab their attention and captivate them.
The harsh reality is that, for the most part, best practices suck. If you follow best practices, you’ll end up looking and sounding like other brands. There will be little to nothing to differentiate you from your competitors. Best practices are “safe”, but they almost always translate into mediocrity.
Don’t be a copycat brand. Unleash your creativity. Be different and stand out from the crowd. Cut through all the noise and make people say, “Wow!”
Think about your own experience. When was the last time you were impressed with a brand? Was it a safe, boring, middle-of-the-road brand? Nope. There was something about that brand that really stood out and grabbed your attention.
That’s the effect you want to have on your audience.
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Examples of Stellar B2B Branding
Let these three examples of stellar B2B branding inspire you to upgrade your own branding.
Google offers a number of services to businesses, including advertising, G-Suite, YouTube brand channels, augmented reality technology, a digital toolkit, in-depth guides, and a whole lot more. When you look at their branding, several things immediately stand out:
- The look and feel is always clean and modern.
- Everything looks like it’s from the same brand, from logos to user interfaces to icons to fonts to the layout of pages.
- Every Google product is easy to use.
- The writing is simple and straightforward, easy for the audience to understand.
- They use stories and testimonials to communicate the value of what they offer.
We had the opportunity to help Officeworks do a complete rebrand that would better reflect their amazing office interior consulting work. We began by developing a 67-page Brand Strategy, in which we identified superior customer service as a white space opportunity within their industry.
We then worked to recreate everything from the company’s logo and tagline, to its website, marketing collateral, stationery, sales deck and corporate video. Since the rebranding, Officeworks has more than tripled its growth across the Northeast, becoming the only office interiors consulting firm in Boston, Philadelphia and New York City.
Zenefits is an HR platform that significantly simplifies many HR processes, such as payroll, benefits, and PTO.
From the moment you land on their website, it’s very clear that they’ve worked hard to identify their customers biggest pain points and then address those pain points in the Voice of the Customer. All the benefits of the platform are described in terms of making life easier and simpler.
The website is beautifully designed, and the user experience is great.
They also feature a large number of customer testimonials, a list of high profile companies that use their platform, and a number of in-depth guides for different common HR tasks.
All of these things together reinforce the “Zen” aspect of the Zenefits brand. They communicate that the platform can make a traditionally stressful aspect of running a business much easier.
The Power Of Your Brand
Your brand is the most important asset you have. A strong brand can have a truly profound impact on customers, not to mention your bottom line.
If you’re thinking of CRM software, your mind probably goes immediately to Salesforce. If instead you think of contract manufacturing, you probably think of Foxconn, Flextronics or Jabil Circuit. If you think of therapies for the treatment of neurological diseases, you likely focus on Biogen.
That alone, helps you connect with your audience. You are already several steps ahead of the competition.
Author and researcher Martin Lindstrom discovered that people’s brain activity when viewing a favorable brand is very similar to their brain activity when viewing religious imagery.
When done right, your brand can create a “religious” experience for people.
So, do the hard work involved in effective B2B branding. Invest the time and effort to develop a brand strategy, craft your messaging, become a thought leader and create powerful visual branding.
The difference to your bottom line will be significant.