Who am I? The brand conundrum in B2B

28th February 2016

How many of us can clearly and concisely articulate our organisation’s brand or purpose?

Who am I
Sure, we can point to the expression of our visual identity –logo, colour palettes, strapline. But what about the psychological and emotional aspects of our brands – all those perceptions and associations within the hearts and minds of our customers?

We know that branding involves so much more than a logo, colour palette and strapline. Yet in B2B, this is where our branding efforts often end.

At the B2BInProf conference last week I spoke about Apple’s Think Different campaign of 1997. Even though it’s now almost 20 years since the launch of that campaign, it remains a masterclass in the 3 fundamentals of marketing: brand, strategy and customers.

It’s hard to believe now, but in 1997 Apple was in real trouble. They had a tiny, tiny portion of the market (around 2%), $2 billion of losses, and hardly any software applications in comparison to Windows PCs. Sure, there was a core group of Apple fanatics, almost solely in the creative industries, and they had a solid education business. But the broader business world thought Apple computers were simply not capable of “real” computing. And the industry press ridiculed Apple computers as ‘toys’, constantly implying that the general public would be idiots to buy a product from a company that wasn’t going to be around much longer.

A big proportion of the world thought Apple was going to die.

Re-enter Steve Jobs and the bold move that was Think Different, the campaign that formed the foundation for an extraordinary shift in industry and public perception of the Apple brand.

This campaign is so remarkable to me because it unambiguously articulated and celebrated the soul of the Apple brand — that creative people with passion, in all walks of life, can change the world, in large ways and small. It redefined what creativity can mean – taking it out the realm of the ‘artsy’ – and applied it to science, to business, to everyday human achievements. And it spoke to some very compelling human truths and aspirations.

But this wasn’t just emotional grand-standing. Apple was very careful to align this big thinking with what they sell. I’m paraphrasing here but Apple basically said ‘We provide the tools that will go wherever your imagination takes you’.

That’s pretty powerful, no matter who you are or what you do.

But understanding and articulating our brands and what they stand for, and aligning our marketing activity to that brand promise – is a huge challenge for B2B.

This brand conundrum is further confused by all the recent focus on organisational PURPOSE.

Simply put, purpose is the difference between doing a job and understanding why it matters. It’s about who we are, what we stand for and what our intrinsic values are beyond what we sell.

It’s not Vision, Mission or Goals.

The strongest brands are strong because people know what they stand for and how they fit into their lives. They go beyond what they sell and show how they address the real issues impacting individuals and society, providing people with a clear connection between brand promise and brand purpose.

There’s a great story about US President John F Kennedy in the early days of NASA: “What do you do?” the president supposedly asked a janitor during a tour of Cape Canaveral. “Well, Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

I’m not sure if this really happened or has become an urban marketing myth, but it’s a powerful illustration of this shift in thinking from what we do to why we do it.

For me, this is the #1 challenge marketers are facing in B2B for 2016 and beyond.

And those firms who get this branding challenge right will take a huge leap ahead of the competition.

I’ll be looking at Strategy and talking more about Customers in future posts.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the role of Brand in B2B.


Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.

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