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Branding 101: How to differentiate your B2B business

Article by Ben Gust June 19, 2017, 08:25 am MDT

Let's talk about brand. It's possibly one of the most overused terms when referencing companies, products, services, or public figures. For our purposes, and specifically as it relates to  the B2B space, let's define a brand as a promise -- a promise a company makes to its stakeholders, employees, vendors and clients; a statement which drives every aspect of business, marketing, sales, and inter-office relations; the indelible impression which is created with every interaction the aforementioned group of people has with a company.

This promise reflects why any one of those people should care at all about your company, your services, or your worth. Suffice it to say, it's pretty important.

A few examples of a brand promise:

  • Slack: Simple is better.
  • Dove: You are beautiful.
  • Uber: Everywhere for everyone.

Defining that promise, and ultimately the positioning, can be a very difficult endeavour. However, it's a critical step to achieving a point of competitive differentiation in what is usually an extremely crowded B2B space. So, how do we get there?

Understand your audience and their existing perceptions

Let's face it, business to business is a relationship business. For B2B sales, the "who" is often more important than the "why." We cultivate new clients and partners through referrals, events and gatherings. We meet, we greet, and we try to engage with executives and decision makers that clearly need our services.

In order to create effective sales and marketing tools, we need to understand who we are trying to talk to and what they desire. This critical first step involves documenting insights about your target industries and audiences, including creating personas for each. It can be especially useful to reach out to current, former and even lost clients to interview and gain an understanding of their perception of your company.

Know your competition

In most cases, your B2B company is competing with a sea of similar businesses offering similar services. However, if we examine closely, we typically find four to five key competitors that we go up against  on a consistent basis. That is because they offer the same services and similar rates to the same target audiences.

To differentiate, we must understand each of our competitor's brand promises and positionings. We accomplish this by visiting their websites, reviewing marketing and sales materials, and auditing their design and content to identify gaps. This exercise helps to get a very good grasp of how your competitors are positioning themselves against you to the same audiences.

Leverage that insight to define your promise and positioning

With the prep work done, now comes the exciting part. Armed with the insight gathered about our audiences and competition, we can start to craft our own brand promise and positioning.

A common pitfall for B2B companies is to fall back on the company's services, expertise or staff as a way to define their promise. Here are three sample statements for a phantom commercial accounting firm using that technique:

  • Impeccable accounting.
  • Decades of experience.
  • Expert knowledge.

Each of these examples leverages the least differentiated aspect of this accounting firm. Any commercial CPA could boast the exact same things. To get a truly simple and powerful statement we have to look deeper and ask harder questions. What do we believe as a company? How do our clients feel about working with us? Why do we come to work every day? Answering these questions starts to help us define a promise; something powerful and meaningful that clearly separates us as a company.

Bearing all of this in mind, the following suggestions could better differentiate the same firm:

  • Our customers' foundation.
  • People first. Numbers last.
  • Delight in our customers' success.

These examples put the client first. They define why the firm exists and provide a sense for the feeling a client will have with them. These are the statements which start to differentiate a B2B company and provide direction for marketing and creative teams to create effective sales communications.

Express the promise

With a thorough understanding of our target audiences, key competitors and a powerful promise, you can effectively design an expression of your company. Providing these assets to your creative partner is essential to their success.

So what's your why? Your promise? The reason your company exists? The answers to these questions are at the heart of your true point of differentiation. Start with this simple truth and let it inform and give meaning to everything the company does, from hiring to sales.

Ben Gust is chief creative officer at D+i Creative.

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