How does the short history of B2B services brand building help us to understand today’s, and tomorrow’s, brand challenges?
In this time of global plague, with its consequences for economies and societies, we are inundated with predictions that a next normal will emerge once the dangers of COVID-19 have passed. We seem to have arrived at a point of transition from one era to another. In these extraordinary times, one of the B2B marketing community’s higher strategic priorities–brand building – will change as a result.
PANDEMIC ACCELERATES TRANSITION TO NEW ERA
Across the decades, surveys of B2B CMOs conducted by ITSMA have consistently placed brand and differentiation at the top of marketing’s priority list and the area in which marketers believe they have the greatest impact.
B2B brand building materials and construction techniques have been in a continuous state of change since the 1990s. In the age of coronavirus, we are seeing a fundamental revaluation of how B2B brand reputation is created and sustained. Understanding how B2B brand building has evolved through 3 distinct eras - Assertion, Interaction, and Authenticity - provides the context for brand building in the next era post-pandemic. However, throughout all these developments, the fundamental purposes of brand building–earning client trust and advocacy, creating market differentiation, and attracting talent –are enduring.
Many early pioneers of B2B brand building drew from consumer advertising and communications. Some, primarily professional services firms, developed a different brand building model. Highly rational, curated content, designed to appeal to their clients’ minds rather than to their emotions, was at the core of their model.
Now, brand building must be sensitive to the world’s desperate situation. Self-serving brand messages are shunned. B2B companies that are not in tune with the world’s afflictions are tuned out.
THE EMERGENCE OF CREATIVE COLLABORATION
A source of optimism in the current crisis is the willingness of individuals to work with others, either as volunteers in support of healthcare providers or across company silos and geographic borders. Much of the cooperation has been imaginative and creative. As brand building becomes predominantly digital, marketers and technologists have also created purposeful collaboration.
In the post-crisis era, there will need to be a greater degree of mutual benefit through client collaboration. Value may be generated by joint development of branded products, services, new companies, inventions, intellectual property and social, environmental, or charitable causes. It may involve educational exchanges of people, ideas, and expertise. This approach will be an advance on traditional creation and distribution of thought leadership.
With more clients working virtually, B2B companies will need to develop ways of adding value to their client relationships by transferring and developing expertise for the client to use in their own business. Success will require a high degree of client insight as well as the ability to tailor training and development to individual needs. We can only speculate as to how the application of artificial intelligence and virtual reality technology will shape the new era of brand building. Greater stakeholder insight gained through data acquisition and analysis will enable more precise personalization of service: this will have huge impact on the brand differentiation.
B2B companies who can reimagine the model of client education that equips their clients to learn and use new skills and expertise will be the new brand leaders. Successful practitioners will be able to widen their stakeholders’ opportunities, develop their individual expertise, and, consequently, expand the horizons of their daily lives. Those who do this will be trusted, have the greatest number of advocates, and achieve sustainable market differentiation.