By Yvonne Henderson, Head of Retail Brand and Communications at Gazprom Energy,
The UK’s leading business gas supplier, has worked in the company’s marketing department for over nine years. During this time, she has overseen major brand transformations within the company, giving her a clear understanding of what makes an effective B2B strategy, the pitfalls that brands often fall into and the secrets to getting it right. Here, Henderson explores what it takes to make an effective B2B brand
Understanding what brand means is fundamental to establishing the important characteristics of a brand. Jeff Bezos is widely quoted as having said, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room”. To me, what he is talking about is reputation. Whether it is controlled, strategic, planned or not, everything and everyone out there has a brand because it’s simply viewed as reputation. An organisation has a reputation as a provider of a service or goods but also as an employer and more widely as a corporate citizen, this means branding must consider all audiences equally.
There are significant differences in how we understand and deliver branding when it comes to B2B in comparison to B2C and this can cause some major challenges. For example, B2B organisations often don’t think of themselves as having a brand in the same way that consumer focused businesses do, but the truth is that every company has a reputation, making it important for all organisations embrace this, shape it and control it.
B2B brands sometimes fail to recognise the purpose and strengths of the company and instead focus on assumptions of what might look and sound good. This makes branding a vanity exercise, rather than something authentic and valuable. Another pitfall common to B2B brands is the failure to design a customer experience in a way that delivers the brand promise. This leads to organisations falling short of service expectations and is a quick way to damage a brand’s reputation. In addition to this, a detrimental oversight often made by B2B organisations, is the importance of taking employees on the brand journey. Failure to treat employees as brand ambassadors means leaving out a critical part of the branding process. Employees at every level should be familiar with the brand purpose and committed to improving the organisation’s reputation by delivering on its brand promises.
One of the most important aspects of establishing a brand that often falls by the wayside is alignment. This means aligning everything the organisation does and says with its brand promise. This should start with a gap analysis to assess the current versus desired state – asking questions such as, ‘where are we today versus our brand promise?’ The alignment stage can be quite a transformative process. It can trigger significant changes in the business through which the brand becomes integral to all areas, including people, processes, products and communications. The brand should drive all change, improvements, and ongoing quality control to ensure it becomes ingrained in the organisation’s day to day way of working.
Authenticity is another crucial characteristic of a brand. This may seem obvious but getting it right can be a difficult to master. In order to properly achieve authenticity, an organisation should have a clear understanding of what it can and what it wants to stand for. Paying lip service to something simply because of a belief that it will appeal to the target audience(s) will never work if an organisation doesn’t truly believe in it and can prove it as one of its strengths or can stand behind it.
Branding is much more than just a marketing exercise, it is an accumulation of everything people experience when they interact with an organisation – whether that’s speaking to a customer service advisor, completing a website form or applying for a job. At Gazprom Energy we are still in the process of building our brand, but in our latest brand definition process we made sure to involve our senior leadership team throughout the process. Not only did they enjoy being part of the creative stages, it was also beneficial for them to see first-hand, the effort and science that goes into branding, particularly in the discovery and definition stages. This has led to those individuals forming a new respect for what goes into the brand, as well as giving the brand a presence at board level.
Another method that I have found to be successful is the use of agencies. This is something that others may disagree with, going by the assumption that it is easier to do things internally. However, we have found that the help of agencies, bringing their own expertise to the table, has been a real benefit in moving the branding process forward. We have also taken advice from external experts in other businesses. Listening to how they have tackled similar challenges to the ones that we have faced has been extremely insightful and has taught us more than any textbook could.
Measuring the impact of a brand to business relationships can be difficult to quantify. When asking a B2B customer if the brand made a difference to their purchasing decision, it is likely that they will answer with a no. However, business expertise, reputation and consistency will more than likely be seen as extremely valuable to a B2B customer. This means that while it may not be recognised directly as branding, the pillars that make up a brand are crucial in delivering value to the customer.
Measuring Net Promoter Score and brand salience can also help organisations to measure the impact the brand has on customers, as these metrics will quickly indicate how customers feel towards the organisation. This should be conducted periodically to gain a continual understanding of a target market’s perception of a brand. It is crucial for marketers to have a clear understanding of the opportunities and challenges they are faced with from within their target market, as well as an awareness of the position of their brand within that market, in order to strategically navigate critical decision making.
Ultimately, it is all about understanding and delivering a brand promise, which in turn helps to create a robust and positive reputation. This needs to be present across every area of the business, and organisations must involve and inform members of staff at all levels to ensure they are working in alignment with the brand promise. Even with B2B companies, branding counts for a lot and it should not be seen as window dressing. Although customers may not directly understand this, they will be making purchasing decisions based on the very pillars of a brand. Organisations that recognise this and the importance of getting those pillars firmly in place will see benefits of increased ROI and customer retention.