Brands are an important part of all cultures worldwide. They’re actually a cultural asset but they’re also an important asset in the business world. Brands help people make decisions. They enable people to trust several companies and organizations that create and deliver products and services. One of the most relevant factor that affects people’s perception during the buying process is risk perception. We usually rely on a specific brand in order to decrease risk perception. The main question is: “Which one brand will I buy in order to get the best benefit from the product’s usage?”
Strong brands go far beyond just creating awareness. Today consumers have a great amount of information which they can access through the internet. This is a new age of consumerism. The best brands usually win during two crucial moments of truth. The first moment occurs when customers choose, select or sign the contract to buy after having evaluated all other offerings of the competition. The second moment occurs when consumers use the brand, when they experience it and are satisfied or not satisfied. So, those brands which consistently win these moments of truth earn a special place in customers’ minds and hearts. Consumers are more likely to buy those brands again and again. They re-buy them and become loyal customers. Remember, one of the most important thing for companies today is to create a high-level of brand loyalty.
Some industrial brands, and by the way, my focus today will be on B2B brands, focus intensely on winning these moments of truth. They implement that by keeping in touch with their clients and customers, understanding their brand expectations. Apple for example is more than its technology. It’s a brand that continuously thinks differently. It’s not really important to define whether you’re selling products or services – a strong brand is the most important and sustainable asset your company can have. For management it’s important to know exactly what the brand stands for and brand strategy should always be the guiding principle behind every decision and every action.
Branding is today more and more about a true orientation. If we lived in a world without brands, we wouldn’t have orientation at all. Which products would you buy? Which company would you trust? Brands differentiate, reduce risk and complexity and communicate the benefits and value a product or service can provide. In this case there’s no great difference between the B2B or B2C sector. The subject of branding and B2C or B2B brand analysis is a complex and moving one.
Now, the starting point of our discussion today is the differentiation between B2C and B2B brands. Coca Cola, Ikea, Apple, Asus and so on belong to the so called Business-to-Consumer category. For these companies their brand represents a strong and enduring asset, a value driver. In the Business-to-Business world things are different. Branding is not considered to be highly relevant as in the B2C world. At the same time, the quality of a brand is strictly determined by the quality of great products and services. Brands are very useful to consumers because they facilitate the identification of products, services and businesses as well as they differentiate them from the competition. Brands usually communicate the benefits and value a product or service can provide. They guarantee the quality of products and services as well as their origin, performance and so on. They reduce the risk involved in the buying decision.
Brands have a personality, they are highly emotional. They capture the minds and hearts of consumers. Brands are not simply a name or a logo. Branding is much more than having a name or a logo on a product or service. When we ask people, what do they think about brands, they have certain perceptions about specific brands in relation with the experiences they had with those brands. A brand is a promise, it’s a totality of perceptions about a product, service or a business. A brand holds a distinctive position in customer’s minds based on past experiences, associations and future expectations. Brands usually simplify the overall decision-making process. Advertising is very important for brands, but at the same time it’s not only advertising which can make a major difference regarding to brands. Your brand promise needs to be clearly defined, relevant and meaningful.
Brands reduce risk and add superior value to the companies’ products and services. The purchasing decision is a complex situation. There are several participants involved in it. Influencers for example are those people who have the power to guide the buying decision and they actually try to provide further information for the evaluation of alternatives. While the final decision of the purchase is made by the decider. Before the final decision translates into proposed action, approvers have the authority to approve or disapprove it. We also take into consideration gatekeepers, who are those who have the power to control the information flow to the members of the buying center.
Today we live in a world which is characterized by the proliferation of similar products and services, increasing complexity and incredible price pressure. If we analyze the number of mergers & acquisitions (M&A), it increased very much as well as strategic alliances increased in almost all industry sectors. Globalization is the major cause for the development of another important factor in the B2B world: hypercompetition. Hypercompetitive marketplaces are characterized by intense and rapid competitive moves. Competitors must move quickly in order to defeat any kind of competitive advantage gained by their competitors in the marketplace.
We live in a overabundance of choices… it’s not just a characteristic of the B2C sector. It’s also true for the B2B market. The proliferation of similar products and services leads to increasingly interchangeable offerings. Innovation for what concerns new products and services is not the only way in order to achieve competitive advantage, for the simple reason that these functional advantages are usually quickly imitated and therefore short lived. Successful B2B companies do not only produce great products and services under the functional point of view. In the today’s market where offerings are almost identical, a strong brand may be the single characteristic that differentiates a product or service from the competition. Brands can then be a very helpful tool in reducing the complexity involved and for communicating relevant information.
Of all the characteristics a brand should have, risk reduction seems to be the most relevant one among all. Choosing a branded product reduces the customer’s risk of making the wrong purchasing decision. In the B2B and in the B2C world, brands help businesses to counter the increasing proliferation of similar products and services. Products and services can be easily imitated, while brands cannot. In a complex marketplace, a single brand can make all the difference. As I said before, brands reduce risk and they actually convey a certain picture of what the product, service or company is about.
So, brands are strictly connected to risk reduction, information efficiency and image benefit creation. If we compare data about the percentage of how much Image Benefit, Information Efficiency and Risk Reduction are important in the B2C or B2B world, we can notice that in the B2B world Risk Reduction plays an important role. While in the B2C world, Image Benefit has a great importance. The power of a business brand, which is today measured in brand equity, lies in the fact that it can be one of the most important assets a company owns. Building strong brands is a real investment for the creation of long-term intangible assets ensuring the future success for the company. Brands represent what a company does and especially what the company is.
Brands are an important asset in the B2B world in order to differentiate a company’s products and services from the competitors’. At the same time, Intel, IBM and General Electric want to secure future business. One of the most important aims of branding is the creation of brand loyalty. When we talk about retailers we talk about the creation of store loyalty. Here, our focus is on brand loyalty – the degree to which consumers are loyal to a specific brand. When a customer is highly loyal to your brand, he will always reject your competitors’ products and services. Organizations with strong brands can also control premium prices. A positive brand image appeals to all his stakeholders. Important and relevant brands increase sales – the main goal of most businesses is to make money.
The development of a holistic brand strategy has to involve all levels of marketing management. It’s important to identify new value opportunities, trying to propose new offerings and companies should try to use capabilities and infrastructure to deliver those new value offerings efficiently. Holistic brand strategy is the future of marketing!