B2B brand strategy is arguably the most critical component in laying a proper foundation for downstream sales and marketing initiatives — especially for industrials who compete in crowded spaces and sell commodity products.
But despite its importance, brand strategy is a concept that’s widely misunderstood and rarely implemented. Some might believe that it’s all about having a good-looking logo, whereas others envision a 100-page corporate strategic plan collecting dust on a bookshelf. Truth is, neither is accurate.
First, a couple of definitions.
A brand is the expression of the essential truth or value of an organization, product, or service. It communicates the characteristics, values, and attributes that clarify what the particular entity in question is and is not. In other words, a brand is so much more than your product, logo, corporate colors, or company name.
Strategy, according to Webster’s, is a careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal, usually over a long period of time. Or, according to Henry Mintzberg in his 1994 book The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, strategy is a position, a perspective, a plan, and a pattern of actions over time.
So, in short, B2B brand strategy is a long-term plan that outlines who you are as a company, what your brand stands for in the market, what you do, who you serve, where you’re going in the future, and — most importantly — how you’ll get there. Another word for this clarity is vision.
In the best-selling book Traction, Gino Wickman proposes that most leaders can clearly see their vision. “Their problem is that they make the mistake of thinking that everyone else in the organization sees it too,” he writes. “In most cases, they don’t, and as a result, leaders end up frustrated, staff ends up confused, and great visions are left unrealized.”
The sad reality is that even many of the most intimate C-suites and executive teams aren’t aligned on their company’s inherent characteristics such as purpose, core values, and unique differentiators — much less something as far-reaching as a 10-year target. Even many family-run industrials that have been around for decades don’t have ready answers to these questions. And if most leadership teams aren’t on the same page, the rest of the organization won’t be either, which bleeds into confusion in the marketplace. That’s a recipe for a marketing and sales disaster.
But B2B brand strategy is much easier defined than done. It’s hard work that not only requires time and energy from the C-suite, but that should involve input from cross-functional key stakeholders and customers alike. And developing a proper brand strategy doesn’t happen overnight. The process includes a series of deep conversations (dare we say, debates?), some soul searching, a lot of quantitative and qualitative research, plenty of creative thinking, and the proper amount of time to get a plan down on paper.
The elements of a good B2B brand strategy include:
- Business Model Definition: Documenting your value proposition, channels, customer segments, customer relationships, key activities, key partnerships, and revenue streams.
- Positioning Statement: Establishing your core focus (what you do), purpose (why you do it), core values (how you do it), and unique emotional and associative characteristics that prevent your brand from becoming a commodity.
- Competitor and Customer Analysis: Determining what your competition is doing well and what opportunities they’re missing, along with key customer type definition (psychographics, demographics, and needs/goals/behaviors).
- Strategic Plan: Developing your 10-year target, 3-year picture, 1-year plan, target market, three uniques, proven process, and industry guarantee.
Now it’s understandable that a lot of industrials may have a hard time swallowing the idea of spending time and money on this “hippie mumbo jumbo” when there are other pressing needs, such as manufacturing a product, servicing customers, and hitting immediate sales targets. The best companies, however, mitigate short-term thinking because they know that being too near-sighted is a brand killer.
In Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim Collins found that organizations that have endured for decades share a common practice: They all set massive 10–25-year goals. They also have plans in place for reaching those goals.
The beauty is that this all-important B2B brand strategy work isn’t just a futile and silo-ed corporate retreat exercise. The output can truly becomes the basis for every activity within the organization, whether it’s operations, finance, sales, or marketing. At the conclusion of a B2B brand strategy project, your leadership team and employees alike gain a great deal of internal clarity, which in turn allows their every future move to support the grand vision ahead.
And a big part of realizing that vision is a crystal clear marketing and sales strategy. But again, B2B brand strategy must precede and be the undercurrent of any downstream marketing activity. Before a single line of art, copy, or code can be delivered, an organization must dig in deep to expose both the root-cause issues and buried treasures that will either hinder or help your marketing and sales efforts. At the end of the day, everyone in the company will have clear direction on who your ideal customer is, what you’re supposed to be doing for them, and how you will do it. And that’s simply the basis for good marketing.
At an industrial marketing agency like ours, only after we develop a brand strategy can we become fully equipped to plan, design, executive, and measure both short- and long-term marketing programs. In fact, we’re such believers in this phase that we rarely begin an engagement without doing the critical brand strategy work upfront. Then we create a comprehensive final deliverable in this phase — a written and visual Brand Strategy Blueprint — that serves as an evergreen guiding document for our clients, giving their brands strong foundations for years to come, as well as springboards for immediate action.
We’ve seen over and over again that brand strategy isn’t an isolated cost — the work serves a very practical application in making subsequent marketing activities more efficient and effective. Sure, you’ll spend money upfront to get your ducks in a row, but you’ll make your dollars go much further.
They say that a company without strategy is willing to try anything. And that vision without action is just hallucination. If you find yourself in this boat, make 2017 the year that you align your organization around your B2B brand strategy — who you are, who you serve, and where you’re going. The rest of your future planning should fall into place from there.