You don’t really want a relationship with your chocolate bar. Or your beer. Or your jeans. Well … maybe you do. Okay, you definitely do.
Let me start over.
What I mean is you don’t necessarily have a relationship with the company that makes your chocolate bar, or beer, or jeans. There is something transactional in the business-to-consumer encounter that makes it different than how we experience relationships in real life. That isn’t the case with business-to-business (B2B) purchases.
Due to longer sales cycles, larger financial investments and high-trust interactions, B2B transactions forge relationships. Trust is essential. It is created by proven capability. It is reinforced by consistency. Not just personal consistency, but consistency in the way the company is represented visually and verbally.
But consistency is just the surface. Ultimately, trust is realized through values alignment. Branding ensures your actual values are presented to the world. The branding exercise is the process of bringing who you are inline with what you do. It is telling the world what your values are.
Your values are expressed in all aspects of your brand, not just what we commonly think of when we hear the word: name or see the logo. Think about what people love about your company. Is it the location or design of your office? Is it your salespeople? Is it how you answer the phone? Your website? Is it the product or service you provide? Those are all central parts of your brand and elements that are examined in the branding process. They are also the avenues by which your values are expressed.
When you articulate your values you stake a flag. There are three key outcomes for B2B companies that articulate their values through their branding:
Beat the low bid trap
Many B2B companies get business through the Request For Proposal (RFP) process. In that case, the lowest bid often wins. There is an exception. We forget that businesses don’t make decisions. People within businesses do. And people are interested in working with people with whom they share values. Articulating your values and your value will help you overcome the low bid. Are you a little more expensive because you invest in safety? Because you pay your employees more? Because you hold yourself to a higher standard? Tell them. If you are taking a stance for your values, there is someone out there who will want to do business with you because they either believe similarly, or they respect people who put actions behind their values.
Retain your clients during transition
Many B2B companies get business through relationships. Traditional examples are professional services firms like legal, financial services and accounting. This is great because the person doing the work is also the salesperson. But it can be difficult for the company. If the particular lawyer or financial planner leaves, their accounts are likely to go with them. Building a strong brand that shows value alignment with your clients is a way to overcome that tendency. The clients need to see that the company is the one with the values they appreciate, not just the person they know.
Retain and attract talent
But it would be easier to not worry about that. One way is to better retain employees. The best way to retain employees is by showing that they are heard and contribute to the company’s values. You also need to ensure that the company behaves consistently. The flip side of retention is attraction. Every business we work with states that attracting great talent and attracting new business are equally important. They also say that as they communicate who they are more clearly, this barrier is overcome.
Branding is important for more than the companies putting products on shelves. Branding is a key way your B2B organization is going to make relationships more quickly that last longer. And, it isn’t trickery. The relationships are forged because you allow people to see who you are and what you and your organization stand for.
Brad Flowers is partner in Bullhorn Creative, a full-service marketing agency with offices in Lexington and Washington, D.C.