The B2B Brand Experience: Make it Personal and Practice Reciprocity
In today’s business environment, there is little to no distinction between a company and its brand. The two are so intertwined that a Weber Shandwick report found that “corporate reputation and brand reputation are now nearly indivisible.”
Branding used to be comprised of a memorable company or product name, tagline, and logo to differentiate one’s product or service offerings. This simple expression evolved into a brand often being defined by a customer’s experience or interaction with a company. But contemporary brands are a much more complex, multi-dimensional affair. A brand is no longer a simple expression, concept, or experience, but a full-fledged relationship. According to the Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) article, “Build Your Brand as a Relationship,” successful brands need to be personal and reciprocal, not transactional, one-way interactions.
- Define Your Brand
At the heart of any organization, is the company’s brand. How a company is perceived in the marketplace is defined from day one, beginning with the founder’s vision and continually evolving as the company responds to changing economic and environmental conditions. Whether you do this strategically and thoughtfully—or haphazardly—impacts a company’s ability to build a successful brand, attract loyal customers, and ultimately, to grow.
- Engages your target audience
- Differentiates your company from the competition
- Creates loyal customers and employees who champion your brand
- Is simple, soulful, and inspiring
- Build Your Brand Relationship
Building a successful brand—and hence a successful company—requires thinking about the kind of relationship you want to have with your customers. Most companies have a good understanding of the core value proposition their products or services offer. But do they understand the brand relationship?
“Build Your Brand as a Relationship,” defines the default brand relationship as provider/consumer. “It’s a simple relationship that is one-directional and asymmetrical. The company provides the product or service, and the customer consumes it. Brand innovators tend to create different kinds of relationships. Instead of transactional and one-directional relationships, the roles are more collaborative and reciprocal.”
To succeed, companies must move beyond this limiting “default” mode and figure out how they can best foster creative, lasting relationships built upon trust and mutual benefit that create brand loyalists and boost sales.
- Tell Your Story
Many companies incorporate a founder’s story into their brand messaging. This is a great approach, as it taps into the “heart and soul” of a company, the original idea or concept that inspired the vision for what has come to fruition. In developing a brand relationship with customers, this is a good place to start. By sharing the founder’s story, it lets customers in on the origins of the company, the inspiration that led to its creation, which in turn, can inspire confidence and trust.
Creating an ongoing strategic narrative further evolves and expands upon this foundation. John Deere has built an exceptionally strong brand, based upon the same core values the company has held since 1837, expressed through a simple and heartfelt motto: “Committed to those linked to the land.” This narrative is voiced consistently and consciously throughout its marketing and social media. It is at the center of John Deere’s brand relationship with customers—the company’s 2012 product line was designed based upon customer feedback and insights through its Open Innovation program.
“How to Build a Strategic Narrative,” another HBR article, suggests looking for ways “to shift your brand roles from one-directional, asymmetrical, and transactional to reciprocal, symmetrical, and personal.” By involving the customer in your story—your brand—it becomes more meaningful to them and helps assure them that they will always be treated right. Ultimately, this shared sense of purpose leads to a deeper level of commitment and loyalty.
- Foster Respect and Loyalty
Everyone gets that customer loyalty is key to a successful sales effort. Bain Insights’ study of loyalty metrics for B2B companies found that:
- Customers who are “promoters” of a company have an average lifetime value between three and 12 times that of “detractors,” depending on the industry and customer segment.
- Promoters stay longer with the company, buy more products, usually cost less to serve, and are more likely to refer the supplier to colleagues.
- Greater loyalty correlates closely with higher market share, a higher share of the customer’s spending, and higher profitability.
Customer loyalty comes about from satisfied customers, based upon receiving quality products or services delivered in a professional, timely manner (and handled in a professional, timely manner should an issue arise). The concept of delighting the customer is a long-held tenant of customer satisfaction and loyalty. However, a Customer Contact Council survey discovered two key factors which counter this notion:
- “Delighting customers doesn’t build loyalty; reducing their effort—the work they must do to get their problem solved—does.”
- “Acting deliberately on this insight can help improve customer service, reduce customer service costs, and decrease customer churn.”
When it comes to service, HBR’s “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers,” says that companies can create loyal customers primarily by helping them solve their problems quickly and easily, and suggests that rather than customer satisfaction scores, companies should focus on customer effort scores as a predictor of repeat customers.
While these metrics were applied in a customer service environment, they could easily be extrapolated for use in any corporate environment, especially B2B. Being responsive to customer needs and nurturing meaningful, personal relationships go a long way in solidifying customer loyalty and respect.
- Nurture Your Brand
Once you have laid the foundation for a strong brand, based upon enduring brand relationships, it is important to ensure buy-in on all fronts. It’s great that you have loyal customers, and sales are good. But how about your employees? Are they enthusiastic brand ambassadors, ready, willing, and able to nurture the relationships you have worked so hard to build?
Involving people organization-wide is key to the success of any brand strategy. Kevin Keller, author of Strategic Brand Management, says that it is equally important to relate a company’s “brand mantra” to both customers and employees: “Ideally, the brand mantra would also stake out ground that is personally meaningful and relevant to as many employees as possible.”
Creating—and sustaining—a successful brand is not easy. It requires consistent, thoughtful strategic planning and implementation, and staying ever vigilant to ensure the brand is always fresh and relevant. The rewards of a well-executed brand strategy are many, however, and done right will build lasting, mutually beneficial relationships that endure the test of time.
Are you clear on how your prospects perceive your brand? Are you consistently maintaining your brand promise to your customers—promoting their loyalty? You can test the perception of your company brand by downloading Grant Marketing’s Brand Report Card.