Some business-to-business (B2B) companies that sell to enterprises still debate the ultimate benefit of building a strong brand to which everyday consumers can understand and relate. As a career B2B marketer myself, I’m animated by this debate and its ability to transform the way we think about and evolve our B2B brands and communications.
Intrigued by the “consumerization of B2B,” we at Siegel+Gale recently published a study that revealed business decision-makers are more likely to consider B2B brands that consumers know and feel connected to. In short, our study demonstrates that even for B2B brands, connecting with consumers matters.
Our findings provoked two questions from B2B clients and practitioners. The first question posed was: What are the most relevant B2B brands doing to connect with consumers? Our analysis reveals that the most relevant B2B brands:
- Make their impact tangible to consumers.
- Foster consumer-centric cultures of innovation.
- Generate demand through cohesive brand experiences.
- Use simplified design to clarify their offerings.
The second question asked: How can B2B companies recognize if they are relevant to consumers? Based on our research, the answer has many dimensions. Fundamentally, it comes down to diagnosing how your behaviors impact consumers. One way to do this is to examine your internal practices and consider the four questions below. The more often your organization can answer with a definitive “yes,” the more relevant you are to consumers and the more likely you are to be considered by business decision-makers as well.
1. Is senior leadership committed to being relevant to consumers? Senior leadership’s ability to tell compelling stories internally and externally is a major driver of consumer relevance. Stories must be simple, memorable, and inspiring. Powerful stories create connections, so storytelling is the starting point to creating resonance—engaging stories are a powerful mechanism to connect with business buyers and consumers alike. Cisco officially left the consumer market in 2013, but it hasn’t stopped thinking about them. For example, its “Tomorrow Starts Here” advertising realizes its vision in the most human terms. The spots take a lofty message that predicts the Internet of Things will change “...the trajectory of virtually every person on the planet,” but grounds it in how Cisco will impact everyday life.
2. Do your friends and family understand what your company does and how it makes a difference? A clear, noble purpose is a powerful way to connect with everyone. It is key to understand that purpose is not what you do for your customers, but why what you do matters. Often this is challenging to define for B2B companies because the end product may not always touch consumers. Our research shows that a company’s purpose must be articulated in a way that is both fresh and simple. For example, General Electric’s “Childlike Imagination” campaign is a compelling approach to brand engagement. The commercial features a little girl telling the story of GE through vivid descriptions of her mom’s role at the company. GE said the goal was to capture the imagination of the child in talking about the company’s roots and impact.
3. Do you bring consumers or consumer insights into your innovation process? Consider the mechanics of how you showcase your products and underlying capabilities. Do you have centers where consumers can interact with and experience your products and potentially identify fresh and new ways to imagine offerings? Many successful B2B companies engage consumers in a dialogue and leverage their insights to create memorable brand experiences and oftennewsolutions. Despite having no consumer business, IBM engaged consumers in the mass market. For example, IBM’s THINK exhibits at Lincoln Center and Walt Disney World offer visitors the chance to directly interact with IBM technology—and realize its potential—in ways they could see and touch.
4. Can the everyday consumer easily understand your portfolio of offerings? It’s hard work to make some enterprise solutions comprehensible to B2B buyers, let alone to the everyday consumer. To create consumer relevance, it’s critical to continually assess your ability to be understood. We have many techniques at our disposal, from language to graphics, to help with this challenge. An often-underutilized tool is the use of design to clarify and differentiate your brand offerings. For example, FedEx always begins with purple. Whether it’s Express, Freight, Ground, Custom Critical, Trade, or FedEx Office, the “Fed” is always purple. It’s the “Ex” that guides customers, helping them identify and distinguish between offerings.Through its masterbrand strategy and a consistent, thoughtful use of color, FedEx clarifies and highlights its distinct offerings while building a cohesive whole built on a simple foundation.
Answering these four questions can inspire your organization to find new ways to resonate with consumer audiences and humanize your brand. Our study demonstrates it will create value for your business.
To learn more about our study, download the #B2BNow report here.