How to develop a B2B brand strategy
Think of a brand you love: product or service. Why do you love it? Is it the sleek logo, company values, customer service, or high-quality product?
The things that make a brand appealing can nearly always be traced back to brand strategy, which is the foundation on which all sales and marketing initiatives are built. An effective brand strategy helps your business:
- Properly position in the market
- Target and engage with your ideal audience
- Convert sales prospects into loyal customers
- Achieve key goals
Brand strategy is critical for both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C), but there are unique considerations for B2B. As a web development and design agency, we’re passionate about creating a branding strategy for B2B business clients because we know that there is enormous potential for growth and revenue when the foundation is laid right.
What is a B2B brand strategy?
At its core, a B2B brand strategy defines who you are, what you do, who you serve, and what you value. It includes your business goals and your plan to reach them, and it can make or break your go-to-market approach.
How does B2B brand strategy differ from B2C?
The B2B buying cycle is longer and more involved than B2C
B2B buyers typically engage in a logical, analytical, process-driven buying decision process. The buying cycle is longer than B2C as there is usually relationship building and lead nurturing required. There are also often multiple stakeholders involved in the buying decision.
B2B decision-makers are often focused on how the product or service will improve business efficiency, so education and plenty of details are usually part of the process. This can also extend the buying cycle.
Conversely, B2C buyers are more likely to be driven by emotion and often don’t need the same level of detail and reassurance in the buying process. Since the buyer is also the consumer, the time to purchase is typically shorter than B2B.
B2B contracts are usually longer than B2C
A B2B purchase usually impacts an entire business, not just one customer (hence the longer and more involved buying cycle). It can be expensive and time-consuming to find another vendor if the business is dissatisfied with the product or service, so B2B purchase contracts typically last months to years. Depending on cost, a B2C buyer may be more apt to return or discontinue the product or service and try again with another brand.
B2B uses more jargon than B2C
B2B brands must make it clear they are knowledgeable experts in their field, so industry jargon is both acceptable and expected – to a certain extent. Buyers want to engage with a brand that understands their unique business needs. Just remember that not all stakeholders will be industry experts. Use a balance of technical and straightforward language.
Given the wider range of customers that a B2C business wants to attract, simple, informal, and accessible language is best.
6 tips to develop your B2B brand strategy
Tiller lives and breathes brand strategy because we know the value it has in the long-term success of our clients. Use these five tips to craft a B2B brand strategy that will set your business apart in the market.
1. Identify your goals and purpose
You can’t build a branding strategy for B2B business without first clarifying what your brand is trying to achieve. Your goals can be quantitative (e.g. drive $10M in revenue) or qualitative (establish a reputation as a leading creative agency).
Your purpose is a higher-level look at your brand. Why does your brand exist? What positive impact will your brand drive in the world?
Answering these questions is paramount as it will inform all future decisions.
2. Define your audience personas
An audience persona is an archetype that represents a specific stakeholder your brand is trying to appeal to. It should include detailed, relevant information about each stakeholder – their role in the buying journey, goals, needs, fears, and frustrations. At Tiller, we even dig into common personality traits, daily routines, and demographics. These details will change over time, so it’s important to stay up to date on B2B buying trends. For example, recent web design statistics reveal that 73% of millennials in B2B companies play a role in decision making.
There is almost always more than one stakeholder in B2B including CEO, Director of Operations, etc. The nature of your business will determine your stakeholders. We should also note that unlike B2C, it’s common for there to be a committee of B2B decision-makers and each stakeholder may have different needs and wants. It’s important to try to understand and provide messaging for each perspective.
Of course, real-life stakeholders will never fit perfectly into your personas. But personas are a great tool that can help you define your target audiences and build your brand to appeal to them. As your team learns more about each stakeholder in the buyer process, use the information to refine your personas, and improve your marketing.
3. Strategically position your business in the market
You might be familiar with the term “positioning statement”: a one-liner that clearly explains the value your brand has to offer in the market. Brand positioning is more than a single statement. It’s about finding your sweet spot in the market and in the mind of your target audience – the place where your business will have a strategic advantage over your competitors.
The book, “Niche Down” by Christopher Lochhead, explains it best:
“Here’s the truth about life: You can either position yourself or get positioned…
Your audience is inundated with up to 60,000 brand messages every single day, and it has become really good at tuning out the useless, irrelevant stuff. You can scream your name at us, but if we don’t understand the context your brand lives in, we’re simply going to ignore you.”
In a perfect world, you’d carve out a new category in the market and be the first to enter. But if you can’t define a new category, you’ll need to be even more clear about the value your business has to offer and why any other brand will be second-rate.
4. Differentiate yourself from your competition
Brand differentiators are closely tied to brand positioning. They are your unique leg up on your competitors – the reasons a customer should choose your business over the one down the street. In “Niche Down”, Lochhead writes:
“When people position you, you won’t like it. Legendary people tell the world how to think about them. They tell the world what they stand for, and what makes them different from everyone else.”
Interestingly, B2B customers are not just looking for brands to differentiate themselves through product or service. Accenture Strategy recently conducted a global survey reported that:
“62% percent of customers want companies to take a stand on current
and broadly relevant issues like sustainability, transparency, or fair employment
practices. The closer a company’s purpose aligns to their own beliefs, the better.”
Given this insight, it’s wise to clarify your core values, invest in your company culture, and get engaged with your community. Then, share these things with the world to help people get to know your brand.
5. Create a brand character your audience will connect with
Brand character includes your brand personality (the human qualities of your brand) and brand voice (the tone that is used in all marketing communications). It is key to making connections with your customers. Consider your audience personas. Will they be attracted to an approachable, playful brand, or are they searching for a serious, no-nonsense brand?
There has been recent talk about the Human Era. This is the idea that instead of just B2B or B2C, all businesses should be focused on H2H – human to human. Our digital world has started to realize that we need human touch in everything we do, especially since the onset of COVID-19. Consumers and businesses want to be seen as a person, an individual, more than a sale. Your brand character is the springboard for humanizing your brand through your visual brand identity, copy, design, and marketing collateral.
We think Figma, a B2B SaaS (software as a service) prototype company, has nailed brand character well. Its website copy and design work together to imbue a creative, collaborative, and approachable brand. The value proposition, “Where teams design together”, immediately sells us on the focus on collaboration. And the animation – four mouse pointers bringing words together to form the headline – gives us a visual representation of the teamwork Figma promotes. The colour palette is creative and appeals to designers, and the illustration style feels casual and fun.
6. Tell your brand story through key messaging
Your key messaging outlines what you will communicate about your company – your products, services, values, etc. Messaging should resonate externally to prospective clients and internally to your team.
External messaging should be heavily influenced by your audience personas. What does your prospective customer need to hear in order to buy? This should be crystal-clear as any confusion can quickly add friction to the buying journey.
Copywriters will also use key messaging to inform all written content for your business. At Tiller, we always recommend using website copywriting services to ensure messaging clearly explains the problem your product or business will solve. Copywriters also write in your chosen brand voice to make sure that your brand character always shines through.
Brand strategy informs everything that comes next
Branding strategy for B2B business is critical for market success. It informs every branding and marketing step that comes next:
- Brand identity. Your strategy informs all visual assets – your logo, colour palette, marketing collateral, etc.
- Website. Your strategy dictates the copy, design, and messaging of your site.
- Marketing collateral. Your strategy ensures consistent representation of your brand across a variety of mediums.
- Customer experience. Your strategy sets the stage for the customer experience at all touchpoints with your brand.
Plowing ahead to these without a solid brand strategy is putting the cart before the horse. By doing so you risk inaccurate market positioning, missing connections with your target audiences, and delivering inconsistent, suboptimal customer experience.
Work with an experienced agency and prioritize creating a strong brand strategy before diving into the tactical elements of visual brand identity, website design, and marketing strategy. For more details on Tiller’s approach, check our brand development strategy guide.