Strewn around my house are pens, coffee cups, calculators, USB memory sticks, and assorted swag from various companies I’ve met over the years. What is the purpose of all this stuff? Does having a leather portfolio with a vendor’s logo on it make me more likely to buy their products? Proponents of swag will argue that it builds brand by getting the business’s name in the office of potential influencers and purchasers, where it will stay top of mind. Is this really effective? Put more broadly, does branding even matter at B2B companies? Or is branding a waste of time and budget compared to “hard ROI” activities that can be proven to drive revenue? In this post, Part One of an occasional series on B2B Branding, I’ll explain why I think branding is important to B2B companies, and why it should be part of your overall B2B marketing strategy. In Part Two, I’ll discuss the subtle differences between brand and reputation.
And in Part Three, I’ll give tips for how B2B marketers should think about building their brands and measuring their results. (And guess what? Giving out swag is not one of the tips.) Some May Disagree Some experts argue that branding plays no role in B2B marketing. Phone Number List Their arguments typically include: B2B buyers are rational decision makers (or a committee of rational decision makers) who are not swayed by emotional factors such as brands. B2B purchases are all about the relationship between the individual sales rep and the buyer; if the B2B brand means anything, it is created by the sales rep. B2B products do not promise to make you “cool” or “sexy” or any other aspirational attribute. Price is the only thing that matters. B2B products are too complex to reduce to a tagline or ad. B2B companies sell to narrow audiences, so advertising to create a brand does not make sense. Even one of the most respected thinkers in business marketing, Geoffrey Moore, recently wrote that branding has no relevance to complex B2B companies, arguing that: …while [branding] has extraordinary relevance to B2C volume operations enterprises, it has virtually no relevance to B2B complex systems enterprises… IBM, GE, Cisco, Oracle, SAP, Siemens, Accenture, and Caterpillar are great companies, but it is highly misleading to think of them as great brands… In a complex systems enterprise the mechanisms are completely different.
Customer intimacy is achieved by face-to-face interactions between representatives of both companies, and buying decisions are made and reviewed by an array of people. By virtue of these differences the impact of brand is dramatically muted…. In reality it is far better to think of such a brand as a placeholder for a strong corporate reputation and leave it at that. Business Buyers Have Emotions Too Despite those arguments, my belief is that branding does matter to B2B marketers, and for one main reason: B2B buyers are still people, and people are emotional. And, as research increasingly indicates, emotions impact economic decision making. In Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell writes that buyers make most decisions by relying on their two-second first impressions based on stored memories, images and feelings. Heuristics More generally, research shows that emotions impact how decisions are framed and are heavily involved in the creation of heuristics. A heuristic is a simple, efficient shorthand that simplifies decision making. They can guide which information and options are considered and which are rejected, and can bypass rational decision making altogether.
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