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Why Branding Doesn’t Work in B2B

September 26th, 2006 by Bob Bly

My colleague Gordon Graham, a B2B copywriter specializing in marketing software to IT professionals, is not a fan of traditional Madison Avenue branding. He says:

“Certainly ‘branding’ has SOME value in terms of positioning and making any company look like a together, prosperous firm. But real, solid branding has to be earned, not just claimed.

“Example: IBM invented the mainframe category, they threw more resources at it than anyone else for decades, and they delivered. So they earned that position as king of the mountain, the risk-free purchase for IT. So they walked the walk and they talked the talk. And they invested in engineering and sales and support, not in fancy jingles or glossy brochures.

“Today I think B2B companies waste millions of dollars on useless exercises like TV advertising, glossy brochures, insanely expensive logo development, fussing over corporate colors, and packaging — all the busywork that marketing departments and agencies do, that could easily be cancelled — or severely curtailed — with no business repercussions at all. I’ve seen them, I’ve been there.

“That’s why I despair of software executives falling into the clutches of fast-talking agency types who want to ‘re-brand’ and ‘re-position’ and ‘re-strategize’ based on nothing more than their own personal aesthetic intuition, using the same tactics they used for their last client who sold chewing gum.”

What say you, my B2B readers? Is all that glossy marketing puff a waste of time and money when selling to techies? Or is Gordon forgetting that B2B prospets are PEOPLE first — and therefore, influenced by the branding communications he criticizes?


This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 26th, 2006 at 10:14 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

26 responses about “Why Branding Doesn’t Work in B2B”

  1. Dianna Huff said:

    Techies (I don’t know about software execs) go online to find the products and services they need. They don’t “see” branding, but they do appreciate an easy interactive experience and a Website that gives them the information they need to make a purchase. This online experience should be part of a company’s “branding” effort — not “glossy puff pieces.” (I’m using Pettis’ definition of branding I posted a few blog posts ago.)

  2. Solo Business Marketing said:

    Business, in general, has made the need to “wow” business prospects with a fancy logo, glossy ad, or jam-packed Web site a priority in order to be considered for the job.

    Distributing white papers and writing trade articles are two ongoing branding methods after the initial introduction. Both are completed at a much lower cost than anything Madison Avenue creates.

    Some B2B firms are so entrenched in the branding busywork that they wouldn’t know how to stop it. Anyone suggesting such a move would become negatively branded.

  3. Joanne Bernard said:

    Branding is not a logo, ad, or brochure. Those things support a brand, but they are not branding. Branding is the actual hard work of fulfilling a promise again and again, the result of which evokes a positive response in the mind of the customer.

  4. Robert Rosenthal said:

    A great example of excellent b-to-b brand-building is Bob Bly Inc. Bob is honest and consistent — and he actually stands for something.

  5. Frank Catalano said:

    “Branding” is a waste of money in B2B if all it accomplishes is corporate ego gratification. But I think the issue here isn’t branding; it’s ill-conceived image campaigns.

    Any successful business has a good brand; it’s the emotional connection a customer has a product, service or company. It’s the feeling it immediately evokes. B2B purchases are made by people, too, not “businesses.” A good, solid brand — that is, a promise that’s consistently fulfilled, as another poster pointed out — is a help. So being able to consistently present a business and get solid, meaningful messages out about what that business can do is a good thing.

    That said, an image campaign masquerading as branding is a waste.

  6. Bob Ball said:

    Bob & Friends,

    I am the daily target of these type of marketing promotions. I am in I.T. manager in a medium sized nationwide firm. (btw, I am studying how to become a succesful copywriter as a career change, which is how I came across this blog) and I receive them EVERY DAY..mail, internet and phone calls.

    IBM is doing a capaign right now to reach desicion makers that must cost nearly $5 per mailer. I received it this week. It is rediculous. All fluff, all buzzwords, no substance. Whoever approved it should be fired. The piece had about 10 pull-out full color glossy pages with less than 10 words on them and several photos. After studying direct mail for only 3 weeks now, I can tell you this was the worst written, worst planned piece of crap I’ve seen in a long time. It may impress some CEO, but not a CIO.

    I can also tell you that brand is second in most cases UNLESS you are talking about computer and server hardware, then brand and service are the keys.

    What the software does for my staff, how it makes our job easier is what we look for, the company needs to know what wastes are time and want to help with that.

    Just my 2 cents.

  7. Nick Rice said:

    Bob, I don’t think you can go as far as cancelling all marketing activities. But no doubt that some resources could be better utilized. A lot depends on the marketing fundamentals. Who is the audience and what do they need to hear in order to take action. And obviously, C-level execs need a different level and type of information than someone in a supervisory or staffer role. B2B buyers are still human and consumers. They still need to be sold emotionally first then logically. But in the end, all communications need to provide value and move the customer or prospect to the next step in the cycle. It doesn’t matter how beautiful or crappy the deliverable looks if it doesn’t advance or aid the mission. Consumers may not be able to tell you what makes a well-designed catalog/brochure/ad, but they sure know it when they see it. And it usually takes roughly the same amount of effort to create something that looks good as it does to create something that stinks.

  8. Adam Kranitz said:

    At the risk of repeating some of the excellent comments on this post…my impression is that Gordan Graham is working under the same false impression as most ad agencies, that “branding” is packaged and sold to a client much like a direct mail campaign.

    Those that practice the truest sense of brand strategy understand brands are only created in the mind of prospects/customers. However, a good brand strategy firm can help organizations (not marketing departments) build and sustain trust with their target audience, which in turn leads to strong brands. One of my favorites in this area, The Blake Project, writes about this in their blog

  9. Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan said:

    I’ve read somewhere that branding as a business function was inspired by the kind of branding farmers do to recognise their own animals. So, I thought, as an ex-farmer I chip in.

    I buy beef from a certain farm not because of the brand burnt in the beast’s rump but because I know how that farm handles and feeds the animals.

    As a joint venture, I do custom-slaughtering for three organic farms that produce deli-calibre organic meat. The funny thing is that the customers hardly ever see the “brand” on the product they buy. Through great explanation (that is, words) customers understand how we work and they trust our quality.

    And I know for sure that these smart peasants don’t hire brand agencies and graphics artists to design their brands. They hammer out a branding iron with a simple logo no one in the neighbourhood uses, and that’s the brand. And they sell their stuff at a pretty high price.

    Similarly, the brand becomes the experience people have with the company when acquiring a product or service. Our brand experience is that customers can look up the complete history of the beast a certain piece of meat is from. That gives them the security that they buy good stuff.

    Brand is the customer’s perception. They seek good quality tender beef, not a funny triangle burn mark on the skin.

    Let’s look at Nike. Once upon a time it was a brand of quality. Now the shoes are made in China under pretty loose supervisory circumstances, so a pair of $140 trainers falls to pieces within 3 months of light usage. The brand is the same but the perception is changing.

  10. Derrick Daye said:

    I’m glad to see this topic come up. There seems to be allot of ‘Gordons’ out there that need a little help getting their arms around branding. Let me share an excerpt from Brad VanAuken’s latest post on our blog, where we have been tackling The 40 Most Common Brand Problems…

    “Consumers do not develop relationships with products nor or are they loyal to products. Brands and what they stand for establish the emotional connection with consumers. As Jim Speros of Ernst & Young put it, “Products are manufactured in factories…brands are created in the mind of the consumer.” ”

    Leading organizations have discovered that brands are their most valuable asset (along with their people) for a number of reasons. Strong brands deliver substantial benefits:

    -Increased revenues and market share
    -Decreased price sensitivity
    -Increased customer loyalty
    -Additional leverage with vendors and retailers (for manufacturers)
    -Increased profitability
    -Increased stock price, shareholder value and sale value
    -Increased clarity of vision
    -Increased ability to mobilize an organization’s people and focus its activities
    -Increased ability to expand into new product and service categories
    -Increased ability to attract and retain high quality employees

    So Gordon, I must respectfully disagree, B2B companies have much to gain from branding as well.

    Let me help you climb aboard before someone starts a SAVE GORDON Blog.

  11. David Thomas said:

    “Today I think B2B companies waste millions of dollars on useless exercises like TV advertising, glossy brochures, insanely expensive logo development, fussing over corporate colors, and packaging”…

    yep – all they need instead is our Gordon – he’ll do it all.

    I think he’s confusing himself with Flash Gordon.

    Quick, we only have 5 minutes to save the b2b world – where are you Gordon???

    Well, he’s certainly not at a marketing course… but probably should be!?

  12. bas lenssen said:

    its an interesting point. I disagree that branding would not work in the b2b environment. Brand identity (what the company wants to be) and brand image (how the company is perceived) are just as important in b2b as in the consumer world. However a brand only works when it is backed up by the product.

    The overall branding strategy maybe should be different in b2b, because the relationships are of a different nature. For instance narrowcasting works here, and broadcasting does not. Branding-strategies should be altered accordingly and should be made more personal.

    I agree that a stereotypical glossy brochure would not work in the b2b environment.

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  15. Hans De Keulenaer said:

    This post and its subsequent discussion highlights a textbook example of the confusion between branding and image communications. A brand is not a logo, a house style or a campaign.

    A good reference site on branding is where under ‘resources’ and then ‘tools’ you can take a test ‘Brand Assessment Questionnaire’ which lists 30 actions needed to create, communicate, live and manage a brand. If we’re really honest, we fail to perform many of these actions in many cases, though most are essential.

  16. B2B Marketing Blog » Blog Archive » Sense and nonsense: branding in b2b said:

    […] We can find a textbook example of the many conflicting views surrounding branding in an article on Bob Bly’s blog. It highlights a misunderstanding between branding and image communications. On the other hand, a good reference site on branding, with an impressive list of contributors can be found at allaboutbranding. […]

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