As our website says, we’re about making marketing matter. We make marketing matter by generating leads and closing business for our customers.
We’re dead set on this because in our experience marketing can be too woolly. Many organisations’ output operates purely on cosmetics: it lacks substance.
With that in mind, it would be easy to think we’d be dismissive of the importance of branding. For the record, we’re not. We recognise its importance across everything that we do. We wanted to share our thinking on B2B branding and why we think it’s an integral part of a world class marketing approach.
As an inbound and account-based marketing (ABM) agency, ultimately we’re going to market with content. We’re promoting our customers out to specific industries and individual companies respectively to drive outcomes.
Having great looking campaigns, that clearly articulate the value for the recipient in a distinctive way, is taken as a given. To be in the game of lead gen and biz dev using marketing, and make a dent in an increasingly crowded market, you need to look and sound a million dollars across everything that you do. There’s no room for mediocre.
In our opinion, we think the best way to do this is using branding. So what is it?
What isn’t B2B branding
It might be neater to start with what branding isn’t first. First of all, we acknowledge there’s a clear distinction between corporate branding, at the organisational level, and product branding.
That’s not the only distinction we need to point out though.
Corporate branding and corporate identity
Often these terms are used interchangeably. I don’t think that’s right. The scholar who’s done the most thinking on corporate branding is almost certainly Professor John Balmer, currently of Brunel University in London. He puts it quite neatly:
“The first and most fundamental difference is that the identity concept is applicable to all entities. Yet, not every entity has, plans to have, wants or even needs a corporate brand.”
The point he’s making here is, an organisation has an identity whether it wants one or not. It’s driven by the leadership, the people working in an organisation, its culture and its values.
Corporate brands can be bought and sold between businesses. Some organisations don’t need a brand. It very much depends on the organisation and its strategy.
Branding and graphic design
Graphic design consultancies have grabbed hold of branding like a free sandwich at a football match. And they’ve been running with it for many many years, using it as a mechanism to sell people a fancy new logo (or three).
Logos are cool – and they need to look cool. They’re an emblem for the organisation. But B2B branding is about so much more than just a pretty logo.
Our view on branding
We’ve encapsulated the things that most businesses need to do into our corporate identity and branding product. Many of our customers begin their engagement with us by doing this piece of work.
It’s going to be neater if we step through each of these sections and talk through it. We’ve used an example we’ve done for one of our clients XPO IT Services. Hopefully by the end of this it will neatly set out what constitutes (good) corporate branding.
Despite the distinction earlier on in this piece, we tend to lump in identity and branding purely because the two concepts should be closely aligned. If you’re creating a corporate brand it needs to be based on sound principles. It needs to be reflection of who the organisation is, the people that work there and its stakeholders.
With corporate identity, we’re facilitating the customer to get a deeper understanding of the organisation and then applying our experience and knowledge of the best way to take that to market through a distinctive corporate brand.
So the endpoint is a single document that sets out the organisation, who they are, what makes them tick and how they communicate with their communities.
A handful of characteristics of an organisation and its people. These are the ‘non negotiables’ – look for employees, customers and suppliers who share the same values. It’s powerful.
Again, many people use these terms interchangeably. I think they’re two different things. Mission is the overall purpose of the organisation. Why do you do what you do? Vision is more of a future focused term – looking at what you want to be in in the coming years or where you want to get to.
Both need to portray a higher sense of purpose – to give employees a reason to wake up in the morning and provide clarity on how your organisation meets global grand challenges. How are you making life on planet earth better/safer/healthier, and for whom?
We try to keep this to a single line. We’ve all seen those mission statements that are paragraphs long. It’s pointless. No one can understand it, or recite it, let alone live it.
We also don’t recommend organisations deploy both. You could have both for internal purposes, but if you’re new, growing or radically changing – focus on vision. If you’re established – focus on your mission. Spend time and effort getting one of them to stick.
What we do
What we do is a simple concept. A paragraph – two max – on what the hell it is you do. Many organisations miss out this vital step and leave it up to the values and mission/vision to do that work for them. Don’t. If you’re approaching those two concepts correctly, you’re not going to be talking about your business in a descriptive way. You do that here.
You can think of the What, Where, Why, When and Who for your organisation, it’s geographies, expansion on your mission, how long you’ve been going and who you work with (e.g. which industries and types of companies etc).
Value proposition (Why Acme?)
If you were being all fancy and doing an MBA, you might be talking about value proposition. But we’re not. And you gotta keep these terms simple if you actually want your audiences to understand this stuff.
We always spend some time clearly defining why people should choose the organisation over the alternatives..
We purposefully lead with the customer outcome. What will the product/service mean for them and their life? That’s because ultimately – we are people first and then employees of an organisation. We wrap the features and benefits neatly underneath these strong outcome statements.
Tone of voice
It’s very useful to clearly define how your organisation should speak and write. It really helps to make sure when you communicate your brand across the various channels and platforms that you’re doing it in a way that’s distinctly you.
You need one. And it needs to look good. Antonia, our Head of Creative, is going to follow up with some specific guidance on what your logo should and shouldn’t be.
Photographs? Illustrations? Flat colours? Getting specific on the types of images that you will use to portray your brand, along with your logo, is crucial. You want a distinctive style that would be characteristically yours – one that people would get even if your logo wasn’t featured.
The delivery vehicles
Once you’ve clearly defined all of the above, you’re in a strong position. But having a fancy looking PDF with your brand neatly portrayed and articulated is just the starting point.
Now comes the tough bit: deploying it and getting it to stick.
You need to get your stakeholders to understand your brand. Communicate with suppliers, investors, customers and your wider community: let them know what you stand for and what they can expect from working with you.
For employees, you need to hold their hand through a thorough process. Getting them to understand and buy in to your branding is a campaign in its own right. Don’t be cheap! Sending an email around to everyone is not launching a brand. Neither is a single staff briefing. You should be thinking about an internal marketing campaign that goes across a number of months and uses a number of different methods to make certain people get it.
You need to bring all your comms up to speed with your brand: business stationery, websites, brochures, datasheets, livery, uniform, display materials. This is no mean feat and it’s going to take time and money. This is the expensive bit of a B2B branding exercise.
We can help shape you
If you fancy it, we can help take you on this journey. We can help clearly define your corporate identity and build a strong, clearly differentiated brand on top of it that will elevate you above the competition.
Get in touch now and let’s start the ball rolling on an exciting and prosperous future for your organisation.