B2B Branding Playbook: How To Get From Chaos To Clarity

By Jack Bartrop, Head of Product Marketing at GrowthMinds

 

This is not a branding playbook. It is a B2B branding playbook – a guide containing evidence and examples for developing a brand strategy that will keep your B2B product or service front of customers’ minds. 

 

No matter what people are buying, they gravitate to what they know and trust. McKinsey found that brands that were top of a buyer’s mind when starting a buying process were twice as likely to win the purchase compared to brands that the buyer discovered while carrying out in-market research. A good brand strategy therefore has the power to motivate target buyers to make faster purchase decisions and drive long-term customer loyalty and advocacy. In other words, it’s what really makes a business grow.

 

So if brand strategy is implicit to growth, why do so many B2B’s hate talking about branding? To answer that, we have to start from square one.

 

What is B2B?

B2B means “business-to-business” and is used to describe products or services that are sold from one company to another to complete a specific job. B2B is used to make the distinction from B2C, which means “business-to-consumer”. B2C is used to describe products or services that are sold from one company to an individual consumer to complete a specific job. For example, if your company provided a financial advice app, a B2C route to market would be advertising and selling directly to individuals. In this scenario, an example target customer job to be done could be – ‘get out of debt’.

 

A B2B route to market could be selling company subscriptions to the app as an employee benefit. These different routes to market will mean the purchase decision-makers will likely be very different. In this scenario, an example target customer job to be done could be – ‘reduce dependency on HR for personal finance advice’.

A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. 

Seth Godin

Entrepreneur, author, and speaker

What is branding?

Good branding is a common thread through the way a business communicates with the world. With clear brand guidelines in place, decisions around how to use images, sound and text to communicate with customers become less fragmented and more focussed. 

 

Most external communication decisions are the responsibility of marketing or sales but all departments will engage with customers directly or indirectly. Branding decisions can therefore be how the company logo, colours or fonts are designed, but also what words should be used in a sales email or how a product onboarding journey is structured. In this sense, branding permeates everything a business does. Deloitte research found that companies with a clearly defined purpose had higher productivity and growth rates, along with a more satisfied and loyal workforce.

 

When we broke down what defines a B2B or a B2C product or service, you may have noticed that the only difference is whether the person you’re selling to is buying on behalf of themselves or on behalf of a company they represent. Both customers have Jobs-to-be-Done – something they are trying to achieve or accomplish in a given situation. Both B2B and B2C customers will ‘hire’ a product or service to get their job done. For both B2C’s and B2Bs businesses, it is equally important that a potential customer remembers their product or service when making a decision on which solution to hire to get their job done. Branding is the most impactful way of creating these memories and positive associations. 

 

With clear principles and values underpinning a brand, the message you are trying to communicate to customers will become a lot more consistent and easy for target customers to recall at the point they are in-market for a particular solution.

 

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Why is good B2B branding important?

The world of business loves a disruptor but businesses still prefer the brands they’ve heard of. In the biggest B2B software market in the world – CRM, the companies with biggest market share have remained at the top despite thousands of challenger brands appearing on the scene.

 

Market share for CRM in North America, Western Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific (including Japan)

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To compete in highly competitive markets there are three ways you can ensure you that people think of your product or service when considering which solutions to hire for their job to be done:

 

Innovation

Your product or service is so far ahead of the competition no-one else can compete with you on functionality. 

 

If you are lucky enough to have a truly innovative product or service, choosing your solution should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, very few companies are able to deliver outstanding, repeatable and uncontested innovation.

 

Budget

You have the financial backing to spend far more on advertising than competitors to drive brand recall. 

 

Even if you’re lucky enough to have marketing budget to burn, this risky strategy can take years to recoup investment. It’s definitely possible to buy people’s attention with enough repetition, but the associations they make with a brand that is bombarding them are unlikely to be positive.

 

Branding

You say something different from competitors that is hard to forget.

 

By taking a distinctive position to the rest of the market you can claim a more specific or niche job to be done in the minds of your target customers. Without the right evidence guiding brand decisions, B2B branding can often come out as sameness e.g. ‘we’re better / faster / cheaper than everyone else’. With the right market evidence and customer feedback informing branding decisions, an unforgettable brand can create faster brand recall with far less marketing spend.

 

Great innovation, budget and branding will always be a winning combination, but branding is the most accessible and least risky route to success for the vast majority of B2B businesses.

 

Why do B2B’s hate talking about branding?

Despite the growth potential that a good B2B brand strategy creates, many senior professionals believe that branding is too fluffy, too separated from performance to be worth focussing on. These people probably don’t work at the fastest growing B2B companies like Slack, Monday.com or Mailchimp, who have all defined their business around benefits over functionality. Although many more B2B’s are learning the need to truly stand out in competitive markets, there are often two reasons why B2B branding decisions are stuck on the back burner.

 

Chaotic process

Part of the problem is the process that many B2B companies follow to make brand decisions. With no customer-led evidence to respond to, branding choices are endless. This makes for a terrible brand development experience: Choice overload causes anxiety, fear shrinks the brain and makes you less creative, and the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) squashes any remotely risky or original ideas.

 

Too much of the wrong kinds of evidence informing brand decisions causes analysis paralysis. When weighing up an undefined number of variables, creative outputs are second-guessed leading to no stand-out ideas that stakeholders can confidently iterate on. Branding initiatives inside B2Bs are therefore typically short lived. Without the right evidence, even the most creative professionals can end up with a big pile of sticky-notes and no clear insights to develop into compelling ideas.

 

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Misinformation

The belief that B2B branding is a waste of time and money is wrong but it isn’t illogical. The resistance toward branding in B2B’s is underpinned by a number of longstanding myths about how businesses as customers make purchase decisions:

 

  • B2B purchases are motivated by logic not emotions

When people go to work, they don’t leave their hopes and fears at home. Although B2B customers may often need more evidence of return on investment to convince colleagues to support a purchase, this doesn’t mean B2B marketing needs to be all about numbers and technical features. Creativity and storytelling is effective in making any product or service more memorable. For example, you probably wouldn’t pick out a chocolate bar in the supermarket if all the ingredients and nutrition info was on the front of the packet. In a typically emotionless B2B marketing environment, resonating with how people really feel in relation to their jobs is a surefire way to stand out and be remembered.

 

  • B2B purchases are not made on impulse

In a business setting, a job to be done can be big and complex like “drive more revenue from existing customers”. To find the right solution to hire, there may be a long decision making process involving multiple stakeholders. However, some business jobs to be done are just as urgent but far less complex. For example, if an employee unexpectedly quits and the role needs filling immediately, you wont start a long research process, you will call up the recruitment agency that sticks out most in your mind. Even when sales cycles take months, in saturated B2B markets where there is little difference in features and price, a brand that all stakeholders like and trust can easily be the deciding factor. 

 

  • B2B marketing is too targeted to need to worry about branding

In B2B sales and marketing, pressure to deliver short-term sales can often focus attention on account based marketing over long-term brand building. Too narrow a focus on upselling existing customers or converting in-market leads can limit the ability to drive wider brand recall. For more complex and expensive products or services, interaction with a salesperson may be needed but these interactions should also follow brand principles to create a consistent and frictionless customer experience. By focussing too heavily on hyper personalised marketing and sales, the wider market will not form a relationship with your brand, making them much less likely to turn to your services when they become in-market for the type of solution you provide.

 

What needs to be done to create an unforgettable B2B brand strategy?

    1. Understand the market
    2. Understand your competitors
    3. Understand your buyer segments
    4. Define your brand values
    5. Define your value proposition
    6. Define your positioning
    7. Create your messaging
    8. Create your visual identity
    9. Create your go-to-market strategy

 

Understand the market

Marketing is about values and it is important to be very clear what your company is about because of the noise and distraction in the market.

Steve Jobs

 

Before defining how you will stand out from the noise and distraction in the market, you need to be tuned into what that noise is at a macro level.

 

Market sizing

The best starting point to understand your target market is to define its size and shape. The size of your market will be the total number of companies your product or service is suitable for as a solution. In other words, the total number of companies who will have the job to be done that you solve.

 

With these numbers defined, you should also be able to interrogate the total market further by geography or company headcount.

 

Value chain

It is also important to understand where your product or service sits in the market value chain. Your product or service will help solve a specific job to be done, but this job to be done could represent a specific stage in a pattern of activities that a business takes part in. Documenting this as a step by step process can be a vital way for different stakeholders to align on the role your product or service plays in a wider ecosystem.

 

PESTLE analysis

With a shape drawn around the wider market that your product or service sits within, a PESTLE analysis helps to gather and order all the trends that will shape the behaviour of competitors and customers. PESTLE stands for:

      • Political
      • Economic
      • Social
      • Technological
      • Legal
      • Environmental

 

Researching market trends from these 6 angles will give you a full picture of the market landscape. To think about how this market landscape may change and the implications of that change, the trends can be organised on a matrix of impact vs uncertainty. This will help you identify which trends will be most likely to influence buyer urgency and how competitors may also pivot their positioning in the future. 

 

Bringing Future Thinking into Strategy - EmergentFutures

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Analysis

With this market evidence gathered, it is important at this stage to document key insights and hypotheses. Depending on the output of your research, these findings could present fundamental opportunities or threats to your product or service. This can be daunting, but is key to developing a brand strategy that will have long-term impact. 

 

Understand your competitors

With your market clearly defined, you next need to identify who else is operating in that market. 

 

Competitor identification

The first step is to define your direct competitors – businesses providing the same type of product or service to solve the same job to be done for the same target customers as you. This can be done through keyword research or using industry-specific directories.

 

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The next step is to define your indirect competitors, businesses providing a different type of product or service to solve the same job to be done for the same target customers as you. Using the water brand example above, indirect competitors would be various other kinds of drink.

 

With a manageable list of direct and indirect competitors, you can now start analysing each company from several different perspectives:

      • Key features of their product or service
      • Pricing
      • Use cases
      • Strengths of their branding and messaging
      • Weaknesses of their branding and messaging
      • Value proposition
      • Core differentiator
      • Brand archetype
      • Visual identity
      • Tone of voice
      • Website performance (domain rating, organic traffic, backlinks etc.)
      • When was the company founded?
      • How many employees?
      • Estimated Annual revenue
      • Location
      • Volume and formats of content

 

With all these data points gathered on direct and indirect competitors, you can then identify trends. These trends can be ordered into strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities.

 

Analysis

With a holistic view of every competitors’ positioning in the market, you can then follow an exercise of defining what competitor strengths should be stolen/borrowed and which weaknesses can be capitalised on. Just like with understanding the market, with this competitor evidence gathered, it is important to build upon the key insights and hypotheses already documented.

Understand your buyer segments

When defining the size and shape of your target market, you will have used a number of use cases for your product or service. Developing these different clusters of potential customers further will help you unpack the core jobs to be done.

 

What is Jobs to be Done (JTBD)?. Upgrade your user, not your product… | by Alan Klement | Jobs to be Done

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Segmentation

Based on the different use cases you have outlined and your baseline understanding of those categories, you can then batch use cases into segments, following these 5 rules:

 

✓ Measurable

Can the size of the segment be quantified?

 

✓ Accessible

Can the segment be easily reached at an affordable cost?

 

✓ Substantial

Is the segment large enough to create a significant business opportunity?

 

✓ Differentiable

Are the attributes and motivations of this segment distinctive from others?

 

✓ Actionable

Is there a clear action you need this segment to take?

Each of your segments should be able to successfully meet each of these 5 criteria. 

 

Interviews

The next step after defining your initial buyer segmentation is to speak to as many people as possible who meet that buyer criteria. If you already have customers who represent a particular segment, then interviews should be conducted with them. It is also equally important to arrange interviews with non-customers as their perspective needs to shape your new brand strategy.

 

Interviews should be conducted as conversations rather than a rigid question and answer structure. This will help your interviewer explore answers in more detail and guide the interviewee towards more honest feedback.

 

For questions to ask, you can follow our customer interview guide providing a range of questions to generate deep insights.

 

Analysis

With a wide range of responses from existing and potential customers from all buyer segments, you can then organise their answers to identify trends across 5 core areas. 

 

  • Job to be Done – What are they ultimately trying to achieve in their role?
  • Top pain points – What part of the process to achieve this job causes most friction?
  • Desired outcome – Why would they ‘hire’ a solution to help complete their job to be done?
  • Undesired outcome – What would they be worried about happening if ‘hiring’ a new solution?
  • Primary desired gain – How would they measure whether a ‘hired’ solution was successful?

 

Through this exercise it is possible that the assumptions you formed your initial segmentation on were incorrect. It is also possible that your findings are inconclusive. In these scenarios, it is important to continue gathering evidence until you are confident in the results. Assumptions are a great starting point to guide your research but they must be challenged in order to make informed decisions.

Don’t judge yourself for making assumptions. It is unproductive. Don’t deny that you are making assumptions. Embrace that you are making them. Once you know that, then you have a power that you didn’t have before because now you have a level of self-awareness that didn’t exist. And that level of self-awareness is very powerful.

Andy Cohen

Author of Challenge Your Assumptions, Change Your World

Personas

With clear and distinct segmentation, you then distil the evidence you have gathered into persona profiles. These profiles should act as a reference whenever deciding how to communicate with an audience that matches that persona. For persona profiles to be effective, they must be based on real evidence and patterns of behaviour not broad guesses based on stereotypes. Using your interviews and additional desk research as evidence, a useful B2B persona profile will contain the following information:

 

  • Demographics
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Relationship to other decision-makers
  • Job to be Done
  • Top pain points
  • Desired outcome
  • Undesired outcome
  • Primary desired gain

 

Based on these characteristics, you can also enrich the profiles more by providing your own businesses resolution to their situation. For example:

  • Job to be Done > Products and services – What solutions directly support this Job to be Done? 
  • Top pain points > Pain relievers – How exactly do you alleviate each specific customer pain point?
  • Desired outcome > Gain creators – How do you produce outcomes that customers would be delighted by?
  • Undesired outcome > Social proof – What evidence validates your solution as more reliable than alternatives?
  • Primary desired gain > Predictable outcomes What measurable return on investment can your solution promise?
  • Products and services > What solutions directly support this Job to be Done?

 

Define your brand values

Before translating all your evidence gathering and analysis into the building blocks of a brand, it’s important to develop some core principles to filter all this information through. In for-profit B2B businesses, defining values can often feel like virtue signalling. Asking the right questions to stakeholders across your business can unearth characteristics that are distinctive to your business. Thinking about these characteristics in relation to how your direct and indirect competitors communicate how they are unique can help you avoid saying the same thing as everyone else.

 

Generic strategies

A good starting point for developing brand values to select which of Porter’s Generic Strategies best describes your company motivation. By narrowing down your competitive scope within an industry, you can also narrow down the values which align with that strategy.

 

Porter's Generic Strategies - BA Theories (Business Administration & Management)

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Brand archetypes

With alignment on your generic strategy, you can further narrow down your brand values using the 12 Brand Archetypes. This framework helps specify the potential personality traits of your brand by thinking broadly about what your products or services do for customers.

 

Which Of The 12 Brand Archetypes Are You? - Woven Agency

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After selecting your brand’s motivation and gift, the resulting archetype provides a pre-made personality description to customise based on your additional brand values covered in the next steps.

 

Passion and contribution

With your generic strategy and brand archetype defined, you can then build on these templated foundations with further exploration of what motivates and inspires the individuals that make up your business. Whether through interviews or surveys,  documenting your founding story and finding out what people are really passionate about will further distil your brand’s purpose into a single statement with supporting core brand values.

 

Define your value proposition

Your value proposition is a moment to bring all previous elements of the process so far together. The first step is to input the relevant information into a value proposition statement template before iterating further.

 

In a world of [Overarching market trend], where [Target buyers] need to [Core job to be done], most solutions [Insight into competitor weaknesses]. Our mission is [Core desired outcome] by being the brand that [Brand purpose statement]. Our [products and services] removes [Core pain point] with [Core pain relievers], resulting in [Core primary desired gain].

 

Once inputting this information, the statement is likely to be very clunky to read. It is therefore necessary to iterate several versions with key stakeholders until the statement begins to sound compelling and authentic.

 

Define your positioning

Your value proposition statement provides an essential reference point to ensure branding decisions are informed evidence at all times. A positioning statement distils your value proposition into the shortest possible expression of your brand’s essence. This brand essence should be thought about as the one principle you want the world to remember about your brand. It is not a marketing tagline or even a piece of externally facing copy, it is the simplest expression of what your brand stands for.

 

This important leap from the chaos of market, competitor and consumer insight to the clarity of a compelling brand positioning will depend on the strength of your evidence and willingness to commit to truly standing out from the crowd. 

 

Developing a positioning statement can be approached individually or in group workshops. It is important to allow many different iterations to develop before organising ideas or closing down ideas. When an idea that all stakeholders gravitate towards arrives and its logic can be validated against your value proposition, you have a strong positioning statement.

 

Create your messaging

Based on your brand positioning you can further customise your brand archetype characteristics and tone of voice guidelines to create rules for brand communications. With these guidelines in place, you can start developing messaging iterations for different contexts such as ad copy or outreach emails. These iterations can then be tested in real-life contexts to identify which expressions of the brand positioning resonate best with potential and existing customers.

 

If the results of these tests are conclusive, you can further develop key concepts, example copy and writing guidelines for use across the business. These guidelines should reference the evidence you’ve gathered at all times to ensure all messaging is consistent.

 

Create your visual identity

Having tested expressions of your brand positioning through different messaging tests, these concepts should be developed into visual assets. Again using the outputs of evidence gathering such as persona profiles, value proposition and brand positioning as reference points, you can begin to develop core assets that will symbolise how you are different from competitors.

 

Logo

The most obvious brand asset is the logo. The logo is likely to be the asset that people are exposed to most, so it should be distinctive and instantly recognisable. Translating your positioning into design decisions will depend massively on whether you are developing a new brand from scratch, or updating an existing logo to reflect a revised brand positioning.

 

Colour palette

Depending on your chosen brand positioning and the emotions you would like target customers to feel about your brand, colours can be selected using principles of colour psychology or in contrast to the brand colours of competitors. As with all visual components of your brand, the more these decisions are made based on evidence, the higher the chance of creating internal alignment around core brand concepts.

 

Typography

The fonts you use to communicate with customers will also be a lot more straightforward to choose if there are strong principles to communicate. With the right objective from your visual identity, the easier a designer will be able to express your positioning through a memorable visual identity.

 

Supporting graphics and photography

To ensure your visual identity is recognisable and visible across a wide range of contexts, from online to print – supporting graphics help tell a story and build familiarity with your brand over time. With clear guidelines on who you’re trying to engage, for what reason and why they should act, it becomes a lot easier for marketing to work with designers and prioritise which supporting graphics and photography will help create the most impact.

 

Create your go-to-market strategy

With all the evidence, concepts and assets needed to transform how your B2B brand communicates with customers, the final step is to create a plan of action to launch. A go-to-market-strategy aligns every department in your business around the same goals and objectives in launching your new brand positioning. 

 

A go-to-market roadmap will help prioritise the channels, content and activities most likely to generate awareness for your new positioning. As your new brand positioning is tied back to customer jobs to be done, an effective go-to-market launch will likely stimulate new sales opportunities.

 

To get the most out of this B2B Branding Playbook, your focus on brand positioning should never end at the point of your go-to-market launch. The market landscape you operate within can change quickly, new competitors can surface and buyer behaviours can shift without warning.

 

For B2B’s to truly drive sustainable growth through brand strategy, the steps of this playbook should be regularly revised based on new evidence and feedback from customers. The most effective way to keep your B2B product or service front of customers’ minds is to proactively encourage feedback from the businesses you’re communicating with.