From B to B or Not to B? That is the Question.

Does a human being benefit from your Business-to-Business (B2B) product or brand? To survive in the future, you must be a Business-to-People (B2P) brand. While your brand might be only an ingredient or strategic component supporting another brand, eventually, it will reach a human being. But more importantly, every brand affects our world, so at the end of the day—you are dealing with humanity. The most dramatic change to cause this shift is the free flow of digital information (and digital misinformation). The number of stakeholders you had to worry about in building and maintaining your brand was easily managed years ago, but this isn’t longer true today. If you start now, you can build goodwill along the value chain, and maybe you can be immunized against negative attacks in the future. But the biggest reward is more profits.


Moving Brands from B to C

In a B2B study by Siegel+Gale, they state, “Most business-to-business companies still debate the ultimate business benefit of building a strong brand….” The first problem is many business-to-business (B2B) companies don’t think they need a brand as they don’t deal directly with everyday consumers. If this were true, there wouldn’t be so many memorable and influential B2B brands existing today, such as Boeing, SAP, Intel, Cisco, IBM, Siemens, and General Electric, to name a few.

The line between B2B and B2C has blurred, and the boundaries are quickly disappearing. The internet has created a new consumer that wants and needs to be informed. Joel York, a marketing software expert, describes the consumer as “more connected, more impatient, more elusive, more impulsive, and more informed than its pre-millennium ancestors.”

But what hasn’t changed is the risk level between a B2B and a B2C. Most business buyers follow a rigorous procurement process steeped in analytics, data, and facts. The buying process is based on a rational decision-making process based on quality, features, functionality, and price. Buyers review product specifications, technical details, history, performance measurements, etc. The purchasing process is longer and may require contracts and large quantities based on a specific period. So, where does branding fit into this process?

A study by Zahra Seyed Ghorban and Dr. Margaret Jekanyika Matanda at Monash University found that most procurement managers go through a hierarchical ‘Think-Feel-Do’ sequence where brand perception is the starting point. One manager explains it: “Knowing the brand and having good perceptions, good attitudes, and associating with that brand are before establishing a relationship. The relationship comes after.” They also discovered that emotions played an essential role in purchasing decisions, even in highly formalized B2B procurement processes. This would explain why Boeing launched its new 787, the Dreamliner, to the general public with a record order of 50 aircraft from All Nippon Airways. Since then, 59 airlines have ordered over 1,000 Boeing 787s, making it the most successful aircraft in Boeing’s history.



Cisco System’s Advertising Director Julia Mee says, “the lines have blurred so much between B2B and B2C.” To survive, B2B marketers must “think about who the customer is and what they want to hear from us,” she says. “Our customers are thinking about us as just a brand—they are not differentiating it as B2B or B2C.”

No surprise it’s all about connecting and engaging with people on many levels, not just a highly emotional video with pretty pictures and a great soundtrack. However, there still needs to be substance to support the brand image. Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner is a great example. If you visit their website, they have everything there to satisfy the left brain and the right brain, from the engineer to the purchasers, to the pilot, to the passenger in business class, to the poor guy at the back of the plane.

It must have been tough for all the Boeing aviation engineers to sit back and abstain from adding all the technical mumbo jumbo into the soundtrack.


Moving Brands from B to P

Marketers like Bryan Kramer, a social business strategist, and Jonathan Becher, CMO at SAP, believe that B2B marketing is no longer relevant. Kramer says marketers need to move away from the complex business vernacular full of acronyms and scientific and technical terminologies too complicated for the average person. His solution is to speak Human-to-Human (H2H), where communication is simplistic and more emotional. Likewise, Becher shifted SAP’s brand positioning from talking to other companies to focusing on people. “It’s not just ‘business runs SAP’; it’s also ‘life runs SAP.’ So you can sum up the change as moving from B2B to P2P—people to people,” Becher said.

The trick is engaging people to want to consume your boring B2B brand messages. For example, Volvo Trucks wanted to communicate their transport truck’s Dynamic Steering system to demonstrate precision and directional stability. A topic everyone needs to know about. Well, check out the B2B video with Jean-Claude Van Damme. Over 83 million people have watched it!


The Web Video Marketing Council and survey partners ReelSEO and Flimp Media conducted a B2B Video Content Marketing Survey in 2015 with over 350 B2B marketers, who confirmed that 73% believe that video positively impacts results and ROI. No surprise, 96% are engaged in video content marketing. But remember human attention span is only eight seconds. So you have a better chance of attracting a goldfish with an attention span of nine seconds.

While many B2B companies realize they need to be customer-centric to compete in today’s market, few have figured out how to put this model into use. B2B brands need to understand it’s not just one video that will make the brand connection unless you’re Gangnam Style (2.5 billion views). You need many touchpoints to build a brand. The hardest part for most B2B brands is focusing on promising what consumers care about. It isn’t easy for most large corporations, as they organically grow from one innovation to the next or acquire one business to another. How does a mega-corporation align the many innovations, products, and services to a common, meaningful message that people want to listen to and relate to? One of the great values of B2B branding is to define the brand’s ultimate promise to everyone, including your employees. Employees are the perfect test—if they don’t believe the promise, who else will?

Doug Webster, VP of Service Provider Marketing at Cisco, explains, “We can’t just say it provides 322 terabits per second of processing. We must say that 322 terabits per second are enough for every man, woman, and child in China to be on a video call simultaneously.” I’m not sure I want to be on that call.


A Brands Social License to Operate

The need to expand beyond the traditional stakeholders (like customers, employees, and shareholders) isn’t about growing the business; it’s more about ensuring the brand doesn’t face any roadblocks along the brand journey. The sphere of the company is getting more complex. Today, you need to concern yourself with a multitude of target groups.

As San Jin Park, VP of Global Marketing Operations at Samsung Electronics, said, “the most prominent brands in the future will be those which build networks.” The problem today is the network is everyone. The company doesn’t control the social license to operate. It’s the community at large that can determine a brand’s fate. A lack of trust in any brand, including a B2B brand, can result in regulatory delays, market access issues, and unfavorable legislation, which affect the bottom line. John Morrison, the author of The Social License: How to keep your organization legitimate, says several factors damaging trust are transparency, accountability, clarity about benefits, and adequate due diligence. He cautions that “Consent is also an essential component. It is a mistake for any company to proceed on any activity without securing adequate social permissions.”

The end-user and the general public will determine your brand’s destiny based on your social license to operate. NGOs understand this. It’s no longer about science and legal requirements but about perceptions and how your brand is perceived.

Monsanto’s Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) seed is an excellent example of not gaining the general public’s social permission before launching a revolutionary technology on an ill-informed public. Had they talked more about the millions of people whose lives could be saved from starvation, the brand outcome could have been significantly different. Intel made the brilliant move to tell the general public that you can’t buy a computer without the horsepower of a Pentium processor. Consumer’s bought their story and, in turn, only bought computers with an Intel Inside. On the other hand, Monsanto, one of the most hated companies, kept the end-user in the dark, and subsequently, NGOs defined what GMOs were. Unfortunately, a great technology that can help feed the world is struggling because public support isn’t there.


At the End of the Day

If your B2B is ultimately focused on the betterment of humanity, you should use every opportunity to get your brand message out and tell the world your story. But, of course, everyone wants to back a winner. Duracell understood this and tied their brand to life-saving tools that required a battery. Their successful campaign, “Trusted Everywhere,” was based on the premise that devices important to consumers can be trusted to work when powered by Duracell batteries.

Every ingredient in the value chain has a brand story of why it’s essential. If you can ensure your employees live the brand and have a dialogue with the communities you live in, you have a great foundation. However, getting your story to a broader audience takes time, conviction, and commitment. And in some cases, it’s a snowball’s chance in hell!



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