Wednesday, March 14, 2012

B2B Branding in a 2.0 World

Branding has always been about much more than logos and graphics. It comprises the total experience customers and prospects have with your company.

By adding newer, richer choices, today’s new communications technologies – everything from blogs and podcasts to wikis and mobile – are changing the fundamental basis of business-to-business marketing. Almost daily!

While some are saying that branding is no longer relevant in that increasingly fragmented media world, we believe branding actually is more important than ever. In fact, it is critical to your success.

New World Branding
The new media and interactive technologies offer more ways for customers to make contact and experience your brand. As a result, marketers have more responsibility for the brand than ever before, and more opportunity to make the customer experience a rewarding one.

Customers and prospects are taking advantage of the new technologies in all phases of the buying process, from research to vendor selection to spec comparison, all the way to making a purchase where appropriate. In surveys of engineers, for example, 90% of respondents say the web is an important part of the buying and specifying process.

A Deeper, Richer Interaction
But the Web is just the tip of the iceberg. New technologies have changed the game by creating a deeper, richer, two-way marketing interaction. B2B customers are embracing new communications technologies, especially those that maximize their ability to learn new things. Retrieve information. And share it with their colleagues.

That may mean prospects download a podcast that educates them about a new technology. Participate in a blog, written by one of your top design engineers, that addresses design issues or technical problems. It could be a wiki you post and encourage users to amend. Or it could mean that you allow users to request RSS feeds from your site – and let them choose what kind of content they’d like to receive.

The New Challenges of B2B Branding
Not surprisingly, the proliferation of new media opportunities also includes a risk. With so many new options, there is the possibility that your branding could become diluted, even fragmented.

That is why we believe branding is more important than ever. Branding represents your differentiation, your promise to your market about how you will add value to a business relationship. And the new technology radically changes how you deliver on that promise.

The 2.0 media give you many exciting new ways to make your differentiation come alive. Richer, fuller media enable greater depth of expression and a two-way conversation (as opposed to a monolog). And therein lies the critical new leap that 2.0 requires us all to make – one-way broadcast media give us great ways to shout our brand differentiation from the mass media rooftops. Web 2.0 gives us the opportunity to show it.

Depending on your brand positioning, that can be critical. If your positioning, for instance, is that you want to partner with your customers to engineer advanced new solutions, Web 2.0 puts all kinds of resources at your disposal. You can encourage customers to ask questions, or engage in dialog with your engineers. You can share your expertise, and look for newer, better ways to help them build competitive advantage.

That opportunity, of course, is a double-edged sword. What does it say about your “partnership” positioning, for instance, if you don’t invite the dialog? Or fail to engage your customers with the deeper, richer communication? We are soon getting a point where simply saying your differentiation isn’t enough. You have to live it.

You can no longer rely only on your sales force or customer service or manufacturing to fulfill your branding promises. Now that the new technologies offer your customers and prospects a much more direct way to experience your company, their experience must live up to that promise.

To rise to the branding challenges these new media present, B2B companies need to mount a much more directed branding effort, internally as well as externally.

Brand Guardians
Marketers need to consider all the options B2B prospects have before them. They can use a search engine to find and compare all of the products in a category. They can go to a blog to hear what the market is saying, and maybe tune in to the complaints of dissatisfied customers. They can compare products online, and buy from any number of sources.

With so many ways for your customers and prospects to find a way in to your company – and, on the positive side, so many ways to get your message out – it is more important than ever to develop strong brand messaging that has different expression in any and every channel of communication.

B2B marketers can be their companies’ brand guardians, providing the external messaging that will maintain a strong brand identity in a time of media proliferation and brand fragmentation.

Brand Ambassadors
The new media bring renewed importance to the concept of “internal branding.” The new level of dialogue and open communication make it essential that people throughout your company understand, reflect and live the brand.

The new media have put them in direct contact with customers and prospects – or it will soon – so their role in shaping your brand will only increase. They are your brand ambassadors, and they can play a critical role in making the brand come alive for customers.

You will want to impress upon all of your employees that they are shaping your company’s marketing success – ultimately, its business success. A great deal depends on their ability to clearly present the brand, embrace its values, and be an effective advocate in all of their interactions.

That means a little training and constant communications about your brand, and how your company is living its brand values every day.

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