How My Experience As A Decision Maker Formed My B2B Branding World View
Before I threw caution to the wind and launched myself with wild abandon into the world of branding, I had a normal life. For a few years, I ran a retail business for a Berkshire Hathaway company (and since everyone asks, yes, I did meet and have dinner with Warren, although I suspect his recollection may not be as crisp as mine.) We manufactured and sold uniforms to government agencies: Police, fire, EMS, postal service, and others. As you'd expect, our customers were quite insistent that the fabric for the uniforms be made in the U.S. That is until budgets got slashed, and belts got tightened. Then the only thing that mattered was cost. So we were sent scampering to find the lowest-cost fabric and our global fabric sourcing program had to go from zero to sixty in a matter of months.
And that's how I became a part-time outsourcing czar. My boss, our CEO, believed an ex-strategy consultant could solve any problem. More importantly, I was the only member of the executive team whose cast-iron stomach could survive, without calamitous consequence, the food at the places I'd have to go. My team and I got to work and established relationships with fabric vendors all over the world. We would scrutinize their samples under the microscope (literally) and generate reams of evaluation data. Unschooled in the subtleties of fabric science, most of this made little sense to me. When it came time for me to pick vendors, I started with the recommendations of our experts, but relied on far more nebulous criteria to make my choices – how comfortable I felt with the vendor, what their reputation was, their eagerness to work with us, their agility and flexibility in getting things done. In this traditionally B2B decision process, the right features and functionality got you on the short list. The right emotional resonance (which is what powers brand) got you the prize.
Decision Diversity Means Emotions Matter Most
A hallmark of the B2B decision process is that it usually involves many disparate decision makers and influencers. These players come from across the organization and bring a variety of perspectives, and this trend has grown even more pervasive in recent years. Technology providers who relied on selling to CIOs and CTOs must now contend with a much bigger say from CMOs and CFOs who do not “speak tech.” Medical products companies must now extend beyond their traditional physician segment to address hospital administrators who focus on economic value, not clinical efficacy.
As the role diversity around the decision table grows, the language of specs and features becomes limiting. But the language of brand remains universal.
Vanguards of Modern B2B Branding
IBM has been at the forefront of extending the appeal of a brand beyond the confines of cubicles and conference rooms. Watson gives you keys to Andy Murray’s success at Wimbledon, and also a mean recipe for strawberries and cream. Zebra Technologies showcases their technology with NFL players. Pitney Bowes is transcending the mailroom to be "craftsmen of modern commerce." And GE has invigorated its brand beyond decision makers to a rich pool of talent now flocking to this digital industrial company.
What Can You Do?
And what if you do not have the war chest of an IBM or GE? You don't need a national ad campaign to be relatable and accessible. Empathy works wonders in developing the right lexicon. Start simply by putting yourselves in the shoes of your customers. What moves them? How do you strike the right chords of emotional resonance? You will discover a language of common ground across your decision makers and audiences. Decision makers are people. And when people make decisions, emotions drive the outcome. That's just how our brains work.
We don't have a B2B brain and a B2C brain that we switch on and off. We have just that one human brain.