Why are b-to-b marketers still resistant to branding?

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Seven years ago, after expressing my feelings in another magazine that branding should be as important for b-to-b companies as it is for consumer and retail marketers, several people pointed out that all the examples I cited in that article were b-to-c. ¶ I agreed that the case for b-to-b branding should be made with b-to-b success stories, and set out on a five-year-plus odyssey to document as many of those as I could find. How much trouble could it be, I wondered?

Well, plenty as it turns out. Branding success stories in the b-to-b arena are hard to find, and even harder to write about because people want to keep this information confidential.

I ultimately was able to put together 21 case studies of extraordinary b-to-b branding results and have included those in "The Case for B2B Branding: Pulling Away From the Business-to-Business Pack" (Thomson Texere).

Along the way, I picked up a few insights about why b-to-b marketers have such a hard time with branding. One I call the "Widget Mind-set." Many top b-to-b marketers started in technical disciplines such as engineering and science, so they tend to fixate on "features and benefits," believing that customers conduct exhausting comparisons of all available options to make logical, informed choices.

That's the dominant left side of the brain talking. Maybe they should also listen to their more intuitive side, because my view is that b-to-b buying decisions are made as much today by gut feel as the result of any detailed evaluation. Who has time for that?

Another problem is called the "Mission Statement Trap." We went through this period of writing mission statements covering every possible base. You know, "the best products for the best price, that are good for mankind and the environment, not to mention the self-esteem of our employees." Customers are too distracted to give you credit for all that.

A third problem is decentralization. Several decades of pushing marketing decisions down and out to divisions has been the kiss of death for brand-building. Effective brand builders have to speak with one voice, because branding is all about focusing "expectations."

When people see or hear your brand name, what do they expect? If they expect your products and services will do the job they have in mind for a reasonable cost, you have a sale. It's why brand image drives purchase decisions in today's b-to-b marketplace. And it's why branding should be at the top of your list of things to worry about.

Bob Lamons is president of Robert Lamons & Associates, a marketing and branding consulting firm. He can be reached at [email protected]

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