Are you building your B2B brand?

Founded in 1891 and based in Fort Worth, Texas, Acme Brick is a manufacturer of bricks that are sold largely through the building trade. A good portion of their $1.5 million marketing communications budget goes into image building and strongly branded tactics including partnerships with professional sports celebrities and teams, PR, charity events and outdoor boards.

In 1995 they introduced an unheard-of 100-year product guarantee (three to five years had been the industry standard) to further differentiate Acme. Their brand-building efforts have paid off. Acme is the dominant brand in the area for both homebuilders and buyers. A 1998 survey of homebuyers showed Acme had achieved 84 percent brand preference when no other supplier was above 10 percent in their regional market. In fact, Acme estimates:

·   Its brand is worth an extra 10 cents for every dollar’s worth of Acme brick sold and $250 in incremental revenue per home.

·   Approximately $20 million of Acme’s annual $200 million brick sales is a return on the investment that Acme makes yearly in brand-building.

·   There is a 13-fold return on an average annual marcom budget of $1.5 million.

If a brick can be successfully differen­tiated then almost anything can be branded to create value, states Kevin Randall, Director of Brand Strategy and Research at Moveo Integrated Branding, a brand consulting and marketing communications firm.

“Brands matter in B2B markets,” Randall says. “In fact, they matter even more in B2B than in B2C. Brands matter because the B2B marketing communica­tions world is characterized by numbing sameness, commoditized feature wars and laundry lists of product benefits. In other words, there is a sea of noise, parity, clutter and dullness.”

Brands drive B2B, and those who recognize this and leverage their full brand assets will create a true, strategic competitive advantage. Here are some of Randall’s thoughts on B2B branding from a white paper entitled “B2B Brands Matter More than B2C,” which can be downloaded at the company’s website (

Technology has led to brand importance in the B2B world. The growth of the Internet and e-marketplaces along with accelerating technological product obsolescence has resulted in a hyper-informed and commoditized B2B marketplace. Buyers are overwhelmed with myriad logical choices, features, benefits, information, data, metrics — parity and clutter. They want to make an easy, safe, and right choice. Thus, “brand” becomes the compass or default for navigating the purchase process.

Strong B2B brands benefit from organically created, branded, Web-based communities of loyal customer-advocates who evangelize the brand while providing it with new product or service ideas.

Emotive propositions resonate in B2B markets whether customers admit it or not. Recent advances in neuroscience support the notion that buying decisions in B2C and B2B spheres are largely based on irrational impulses often unknown to the buyer. Today’s B2B customers may articulate their need for ROI, higher performance, a better mousetrap. Yet, they really want to avoid doing business with “an Enron.” They look for a name or people they can trust.

Successful B2B brands require one voice. Customers who have a brand experience that is integrated, consistent, easy and expected will more likely become customers again. Loyalty drives brand economic value according to leading marketing and brand valuation experts.

Strong B2B brands are branded from the inside-out, top-down and bottom-up. Aligning the whole organization from customer-facing reps to factory floor employees with the corporate brand strategy is crucial to driving brand value and customer loyalty, especially in the B2B world.

Malcolm Gladwell asserts that customers make most buying decisions (and the best choices) by relying on their two-second first impressions (or their “adaptive unconsciousness”) versus a long, drawn-out process involving lots of rational yet extraneous information. Gladwell and others have exposed a dirty little secret known in marketing research circles that customers usually cannot articulate how they really feel, what they actually think or why they buy a particular brand of product. The driver of their real feelings, thoughts and actions, according to Gladwell, neuroscientists and new wave market researchers, is their unconscious.

Buyers make split-second decisions based on stored memories, images and feelings, which is what a brand is all about. A strong brand equals a strong two-second impression, whether you’re buying potato chips or specifying microchips.