The Ultimate Guide to B2B Branding | Elevation Marketing

The Ultimate Guide to B2B Branding

Your B2B brand is a key foundational piece for your entire marketing strategy. Yet, even well-established B2B businesses may lose sight of their brand identity. It’s easy to do in a world full of fresh marketing tools, tactics and insights vying for your CMO’s attention. That said, a brand strategy is still essential to the success of your overall B2B marketing plan.

Your B2B buyers have unique needs. They must often win over entire departments, management, the C-suite, and other stakeholders. That’s heavy work that requires assurances. As a B2B brand, do you speak to your buyer’s true needs?

In-depth and targeted research allows you to figure out if you effectively speak to your audience today. Then, you can do the fine-tuning needed to achieve your goals. Branding goals can vary depending on if you’re a young company in need of brand awareness, an established one craving a fresh look, a business in need of a rebrand to accommodate new offerings, or something else.

Here, we provide you with key tips to  develop or refine your B2B brand identity, so that you can get the most out of your marketing and sales efforts. Keep in mind, you can do all of these things on your own, but with the help of a seasoned B2B marketing agency, you may get the branding lift you need even faster.

Understand the difference between a B2B Brand and B2B Branding

First, let’s clarify the difference between a B2B brand and actual B2B branding. Your B2B brand is that all-important collection of internal and external perceptions about your company and what you offer. It is how you define yourself visually, in spoken and written narratives, and it’s even how your industry and competitors view you, too.

B2B Branding, on the other hand, involves the actions you take to assure your B2B brand is seen in the best, most accurate, and positive light. B2B branding strategies may involve public relations, social media engagement, advertising, content marketing plans and much more. And how much or how little of one tactic is used depends on your brand identity, the product or service you offer, your buyer profiles, and your overall brand goals.

Obviously, you need a clear understanding of your current brand awareness levels before you can move forward with a fresh B2B branding strategy. It all starts with quite a bit of soul-searching. So, let’s dive in.

Start with a few questions

Behind catchy taglines and memorable visuals that empower B2B branding strategies, there’s a deep understanding for why a business exists. That doesn’t happen overnight. Whether you’re a newer B2B business or an established one, you need to understand the brand equity you currently have to better chart where to go from here.

If you’re a business that’s been around for a while, your brand identity or value proposition may have changed. You’re not alone. Even the most established companies rebrand from time to time, feeling their current branding is outdated, not aligned with what products or services are now being offered, or other reasons. A change in leadership, a tired logo, a reputation overhaul or any number of other reasons can be enough for a B2B brand strategy overhaul.

To evaluate your brand, start with some simple questions:

  • Who are we?
  • What do we offer?
  • What do we stand for in our work? Our industry?
  • Who do we serve and how do we do it better than others?
  • How do we positively impact our customers and industry?
  • Who are we?

That last bullet isn’t a typo. The more you refine and understand your answers to the earlier questions, you may realize that who you were in the past is quite different from who you are now. It’s a good idea to check back with that first (and last) question as you discover more. Speaking of discovery. Now, it’s a good time to …

Dig into your B2B brand with quantitative and qualitative research

Your best B2B branding strategy relies heavily on data derived from research. That research may start with the marketing team and move on to upper management and the C-suite. Go well beyond these audiences as well.

You want qualitative and quantitative research that gauges sentiment both internally and externally. Seek out input from employees, customers, competitors (if possible) and experts or other leaders in your industry. You want to know who knows about your brand and their perceptions of it.

This research often involves surveys, interviews and workshops, and can be quickly facilitated by B2B marketing agencies. If you put together your own surveys or workshops, make sure to use open-ended questions so people elaborate on their experiences in your industry and your company. You might need to budget up to a few months for thorough research.

And remember, there’s no need to defend your brand or past branding strategy. You want honest opinions from everyone. If there’s a negative view about your brand, that information only helps improve your brand strategy going forward. Successful brands leverage feedback and aren’t afraid to ask for it. Salesforce is one example. The company hosts its annual DreamForce event, where customers are invited to talk about what they love about Salesforce, but also about improvements needed. With events like this, company management can sense shifts in brand sentiment, too.

This is also the time to do your competitor research. Examine reviews, discussion forums, ask your customers, prospects or industry leaders about their views of your competitors. What are they getting right? Are there ways your branding is better than theirs?

Collect and analyze your data

With so much internal and external input, there will be a lot of information to sort through. It can feel a little overwhelming. Are you surprised by some of the things said about your brand? Inspired? You may even come across some new potential verticals that align with your current strengths. It’s now time to collect and analyze the data, and ask yourself questions like:

  • Are we serving the niches or business segments we thought we were?
  • Where does our business excel? Where do we need to improve?
  • Are there areas where we’re trying to do too much? Maybe it’s better to serve a specific niche instead?
  • Are we communicating our strengths and expertise effectively?

Brand research and discovery often uncovers a lot more about a business than expected. Research data can be leveraged in different ways, too. There could be value in parts of your product offerings that you haven’t tapped yet. You might adjust a product or service slightly to serve another market, and now you have a new element to your brand identity.

When we worked with long-time food industry brand, Sara Lee, the company wanted to develop a new branded line of premium desserts for the food service market. Relying on our proprietary LEAF “look, listen and learn” research and innovation process, we interviewed specific chefs and bakers who were prospective customers.

Using this information, our agency developed a workshop for targeted buyers who themselves could give input on recipes and flavors that aligned with their audiences’ taste. The work helped to develop the best Sara Lee recipes for that specific audience. It also opened the door to additional co-branding opportunities for the food industry giant with these new buyers.

Now, let’s take a deeper dive into how branding research helps you better understand your specific buyers.

Study your customers and their buying journey

Understanding the detailed needs of your ideal buyer is also important for your brand strategy. To really get to know your buyer, start with two simple questions: Who is my customer? How do they find me?

Use your surveys to help answer theses questions and to create buyer personas for your ideal client. You’ll want to know what social media channels they prefer, who they answer to, and what specific purchasing decisions they’re responsible for. With this information, you should start to frame a picture of your buyers. With personas, you use data to uncover:

  • Buyer personality traits
  • Likes, dislikes, challenges
  • Purchasing preferences, and why
  • What influences purchasing decisions

Give each of the personas a name, too. Include the industries and types of companies the buyers work in. Something along the lines of “Bill the Purchasing Manager at XYZ Manufacturing.” Your goal is to empathize with the day-to-day workings of the buyer, his or her department, the leaders and stakeholders that influence their work, and the challenges they encounter daily.

This information better assures your brand targets the right audience. In another example, our team at Elevation Marketing used specific buyer profiles for a technology SaaS company looking to combine several of its services into one suite. With direct input from the type of buyers who might embrace the new suite of services, our agency helped the client understand if the new offering would be accepted by its prospective audience before taking it to market.

Some brands must speak to multiple buyer personas as well. For example, a logistics or trucking company, in order to drive business, might emphasize reliability and its sophistication and innovation to get the job done. At the same time, with a labor shortage in the industry, the brand needs to speak to a positive company culture, and how it ties into quality and consistency for customers as well.

Develop your brand positioning statement

Once you collect and analyze your data and study your customers, you have the tools to put words into action with a B2B brand positioning statement.

Your unique brand position covers three primary elements: your company name, what you do, and how you are unique in your industry. These statements may not be used in outside communication (although some businesses do), but instead primarily serve as a test to assure all internal and external communication meets the goals of your brand identity.

Below is a positioning statement sample. You can modify it to suit your product, service or industry:

“[XYX company] leads in the development of [your product and benefits] for [your customers] with the need for [Your customer challenges] because [why you’re better than the competition].”

Quick tip: Treat this exercise like a brainstorm. Write more, be wordy, narrow it down, then shorten and condense to get to the core of your company’s value and what it means to your industry. Once you shorten the positioning statement, the sentences and the scraps you cut offer fertile terrain for taglines, logo copy and social media headers.

Develop data-informed creative

Next, put all your learnings into visual B2B messaging to shape your best B2B branding strategy. The data you’ve collected so far, along with your positioning statement, informs those pithy statements, images and icons you either choose or develop that speak to your buyers.

Your new understanding of your buyer and the problems you solve for them also helps to establish your brand’s visual and narrative tone. Does your value lie in increasing productivity? Providing security and assurance? Efficiency? Is it price and speed that’s key to your value proposition? These factors influence whether your brand embraces a confident IBM blue as a technology leader, a prosperous green as a business service that helps your company grow or a cautious red as a fintech company that facilitates secure transactions.

And for a technology powerhouse like Slack, it’s logo includes blue, yellow, green and red. It’s a communication tool that can help a variety of businesses, so one dominant color doesn’t speak to its total reach. Great B2B branding creative work isn’t just logos and images either. You may find that with all the ideas percolating, actual marketing and collateral materials that resonate with your brand identity and value proposition come to mind.

One engineering and design firm Elevation worked with leveraged our branding research to identify a distinct advantage it had in composite design and prototype development. As its agency partner, we were then able to develop a unique branded ideation toolkit, infographics and website landing pages that skillfully blended the brand into existing outbound B2B marketing strategies to help it appeal to a larger audience.

Samples of our branding and results for Composite Resources

Flesh out your B2B brand guidelines and develop a messaging matrix

At this point, you’ll need a reference tool for you and your team to understand when and how to use new brand visuals, statements, logos, icons and other elements. This helps to maintain consistency with all future internal and external communications about your business.

A brand guide is a collection of do’s and don’ts when it comes to talking about your brand. Slack’s branding guide talks about the company’s mission “to make people’s working lives simpler, more pleasant and more productive.” The guide also explains the reason for its tagline: “The Slack platform is where work happens,” and the guide even requests that Slack be used “as an adjective, never as a noun, verb, plural or possessive.”

A messaging matrix is also a valuable tool that is similar to a brand guide. But it is laid out in a reference chart format that summarizes and systemizes messaging. It makes it easier for departments and teams to quickly digest brand identity elements and get up to speed with how to reference and talk about the company. A messaging matrix also clearly outlines different audience types and the messages that resonate with them. It can even set timelines for when to communicate with them and frequency.

Train your team

With messaging documents in place, it’s time to engage your most important brand ambassadors: your employees. You’ve included them on this journey, valued their input, and now you’ll need to train them in how to walk and talk your new brand identity.

Mix it up with short training sessions and workshops, email reminders, and make sure to train department leaders and managers to demonstrate how they integrate the new brand elements into their work. Training employees is an ongoing commitment. Be brief, but consistent. Informed employees with brand buy-in make the roll out of your B2B brand strategy much easier.

Test your B2B branding with social media

With employees trained and branding documents in place, it’s time to communicate that fresh new brand identity to the masses with your B2B brand strategy. As you probably already know, there are many channels and tactics to use. You’ll want to be flexible, test and track your efforts, and let your your successes and failures guide you.

You now know your buyer a lot better, and have an understanding of the social media channels they visit. That’s important because about 75% of B2B buyers and 84% of C-level are influenced by social media when making purchasing decisions. This is the perfect place to start testing your new brand identity.

Adobe, Microsoft and IBM are strong examples of companies who use social media effectively for branding. They know their buyers frequent Instagram. So, they recognize that it’s an important platform for their product announcements, press releases and other company messages. Social media can be a low-cost, high potential space that allows you to experiment and adjust strategies while connecting your brand value with new and established customers.

Our work with Amazon Business leveraged social media for an international brand lift. Our full campaign of assets included a social media contest, targeted messages on the right buyer channels and a media plan to drive registrations for the company.

Consider content marketing and public relations to build your brand

Content marketing has been popular for B2B brands for a while. About 40% of B2B businesses use content marketing and have a documented content marketing strategy. Content marketing looks different from company to company, but is effective for positioning your B2B brand as a thought leader in your industry.

You’ll want to create content that highlights your ability to solve your customer’s pain points with a mix of branded and brand-agnostic deliveries. White papers, ebooks or case studies that offer solutions to your customer’s challenges can be used as gated content on your website. Share them through social media, through earned and paid media opportunities, at tradeshows and elsewhere. All of it nurtures your brand and generates leads.

Don’t pass up media opportunities like event sponsorships, speaking engagements, or pitching company experts as sources for trade journal articles and TV segments as well. These experiences can be shared on social media, in newsletters, and elsewhere.

Track activity and ask for endorsements

Measure what’s working and what isn’t when it comes to your B2B brand marketing efforts. Keep those employee surveys going. Ask customers about their experiences. Check in with your KPIs, which can include:

  • Website activity (traffic and conversions)
  • Leads and lead types
  • Social engagements (such as mentions: positive, neutral, negative found through PR assessments)
  • Testimonials
  • Survey results
  • Client retention

Case studies and testimonials are powerful proof of your expertise and can lift your brand as well. Some companies or firms will even offer free services or discounts in exchange for a testimonial or permission from a client to write a case study.

Conclusion

We believe your decisions should be made based on real data, not guesses and experimentation.

With data and research backing, when you integrate your B2B branding with your overall B2B marketing strategy, you can be assured that all of your marketing decisions align with your company philosophy, business goals, mission and, most importantly, your customers’ needs. If you need help from an agency with deep branding experience, Elevation can help guide you through the process.

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