Branding is usually not a popular topic in B2B marketing, especially in the industrial sector. Most CEOs of manufacturing, engineering and technical companies do not believe in the value of brand building and consider it the domain of consumer marketing (B2C). Branding is an expense item like the rest of marketing.
That’s a shame and here’s why — among the top ten in Interbrand’s Best Global Brands 2009, IBM was listed at #2, Microsoft, GE and Intel at number 3, 4 and 9 respectively. Yes, GE and Microsoft sell directly to end-users but they are primarily B2B companies.
According to a study done by Professor John A. Quelch, the Lincoln Filene Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, the common characteristic shared by the top B2B Global Brands is that their “CEO is a willing brand cheerleader, loves the brand heritage, and is a great storyteller.” He suggests that B2B marketers take a cue from their B2C counterparts when it comes to increasing brand awareness.
One of the key findings from the study was that B2B marketers are realizing that developing brand awareness among their customers’ customers can capture a larger share of channel margins and build loyalty that can protect them against lower-priced competitors. Professor Quelch provides the example of Intel and its very successful advertising campaign “Intel Inside.”
He ends his post by asking, “Would Dupont’s shareholder value be the same today if it had not made consumers aware of nylon, Lycra, [Teflon], Stainmaster and linked these innovations to the Dupont name? Definitely not.”
Relevant marketing content – key to thought leadership
Positioning your company as a thought leader is critical in complex technical sales that have long buying cycles with many decision makers involved. As marketers, we need to shorten the industrial buy cycle by producing marketing content that is relevant and tailored to the prospect’s stage on the buy cycle.
In the Needs Awareness and Research stages (the first two stages of the industrial buying cycle), buyers use a broad array of sources, including social media, webinars, e-newsletters, Google, Bing, Yahoo and vertical search engines like thomasnet.com and globalsepc.com.
In the later stages, supplier Web sites and catalogs are the most important information sources.
Use social media selectively to engage with your target audience in a more personal way and humanize an otherwise impersonal interaction that is purely transactional.
Create an expertise blog to showcase your internal subject matter experts and allow your prospects and site visitors to interact with them directly. It will help build a deeper one-on-one relationship based on credibility and trust instead of suspicion and friction caused by traditional push marketing tactics.
We are all used to seeing case studies and they are powerful marketing content. Add a new twist to this old workhorse by telling your story in different ways. Use video testimonials and/or interview your customers and convert them into podcasts.
Post these content assets to various distribution sites and increase awareness, drive traffic to your site and build your brand. These stories are uniquely yours, making them difficult for your competition to copy. That’s the goal of every branding effort.
Sean Donahue of MarketingSherpa put it best when he said, “We’ve been recommending for a while now that marketers think like publishers when it comes to their marketing content. Too often, marketers create new educational content based on internal triggers, such as a new product launch or the adoption of a new marketing strategy. Instead, think like a publisher, who wants to keep their readers (in this case, prospects) engaged on a regular basis with content that’s tailored to their needs and interests.”
Even though B2B branding is difficult to quantify, as content marketers we need to learn to speak in the same language as the CEO and other C-level execs. Let’s prove our point that branding is not an expense but an investment by showing them hardcore data like number of inquiries, market share gained, search engine rankings, cost per lead, number of times the CEO or the company is mentioned online and in the press, customer satisfaction ratings, revenue growth, incremental profits and stock prices. Analytics is the new marketing creative!
What has been your experience with building a B2B or industrial brand?