B2B markets differ significantly from consumer goods markets. They are characterised by their distinctive structures – especially regarding customer relations. B2B brands have a few big customers, with whom close, personal relations have been formed over many years. The products and services offered are extremely complex and require clarification. They are not always self-explanatory – even to professionals in the trade. There are also no impulse buys in the B2B sector. The decision-making process is long and does not depend on single individuals but on a group of people – the buying centre. It can take months for the company purchasing the service or product to weigh up the various offers and reach a decision. “A brand? We don’t need one. Our customers know us and only make their decisions based on price and quality.” This is what many firms which supply their products and services to commercial and industrial companies say. Decisions are rational and uncompromising. What counts are functionality, performance and, most importantly, price. The question thus arises whether B2B companies actually need a strong brand or not. We could also assume that the brand is of no importance if purchasing decisions are based on technical features and facts and parameters that are objectively compared with one another. This may apply to companies which have made price leadership their top priority; for all others we can see this from a completely different angle, however.
Compared to the consumer goods industry, a brand in the B2B sector does not generate any immediate added value (e. g. status utility); it does, however, make the added value of the company’s overall performance both perceptible and credible. If a company has a superior product or service to offer, it must make visible and credible where the advantages over and differences to the competing products lie. Brands play a particularly significant role when B2B brand products and services, accomplishments and special features are highly complex and their factual details difficult even for experts to understand. In this situation, strong B2B brands are not only able to communicate their specific properties and benefits in a factually complex manner but also make them emotionally perceptible and palpable in easily comprehensible messages. In an age in which even highly complex high-tech products are being imitated with ever greater speed, these aspects are becoming more important all the time.
How the human brain reacts to brands
The human brain can be compared to an organic computer that must be supplied with energy at all times. Every kind of mental activity uses up resources. As the brain took on its present form at a time when re-sources were still in short supply, it loves to work in energy-saving mode. This means that our brains always try to avoid elaborate and costly computation processes. Instead, they try to reach decisions with as little effort as possible using what are known as heuristics – or a kind of mental shortcut. The same applies to how we see brands. If we come across brands we know, which appeal to our emotional networks and which we have had good experience with in the past (or think we know of others who have had good experience with them), then our brain does not waste too much time deliberating but simply acts. This is what is known as the emotionalisation of the decision to buy.
Clear profile for orientation and security
For B2B companies, the well-being of the company is a central concern. Bad buys can have costly and far-reaching consequences. It is therefore crucial to minimise the risk of such transactions. This is where companies in the B2B sector can begin and succeed by giving their corporate brand a clear profile. This profile gives customers a clear sense of orientation and security and makes the decision to buy easier.
Emotion is the key to the customer
Companies in the B2B sector often misjudge their customers. Their idea of a client is dominated by the image of a totally rational purchaser who considers the supplier’s brand to be of little significance. That is not the case, however. The factors that trigger the decision to buy among B2B clients may differ from those of B2C customers, but the need for trust plays a major role among B2B customers. After all, B2B customers are also just people who do not like to be guided solely by facts, figures and strategies. In fact, their business decisions are determined to a great extent by their gut feeling. Emotion ensures that customers associate certain values or ideas with a brand and thus place more trust in it. In other words, emotion is the key to long-term customer loyalty – especially in the B2B sector.
Clear positioning to stand out from the crowd
Positioning is essential if companies want to be- come a brand with a clear profile. And this positioning should express the uniqueness of the brand’s merits. This should not be too difficult for manufacturing B2B companies at least as they invent unique products and solutions which they have registered as patents. However, positioning should not be primarily understood at product level here. Brand positioning must express in a single sentence why customers should choose the company and not just the product. In order to stand out from the competition, companies must focus on a few central features when developing their positioning strategy. Only then can customers form a clear idea of the brand in their minds. B2B brands often get bogged down during the positioning process and rely on too many features at once. Quality, expertise, trust, security and service orientation alone are features which more than 80 % of companies claim to provide. This makes it impossible for these companies to differentiate themselves from others and find their own position on the market. Differentiation means standing out from the crowd and doing things differently from the competition.