B2B marketers value social responsibility, sustainability and global reach.Customers, though, see effective supply-chain management, specialist market knowledge and open and honest dialogue as important pillars in their relationship with B2B organizations.
Disconnect? You got it.
Following the Herd
Those differing values were central to the findings of a McKinsey & Company October report focusing on B2B brand building. The report -- "How B2B companies talk past companies" -- reveals a potential stumbling block on B2B's road to delivering clear, consistent and effective brand messages: a "divergence between the core messages companies communicate about their brands and the characteristics their customers value most."
Researchers analyzed Fortune 500 and DAX 30 companies and selected the top 90 global B2B organizations by market capitalization across six surveyed sectors. In addition, they also surveyed more than 700 global executives across the six sectors in order to learn what themes companies use to leverage their brands.
What did they find? B2B companies have a tendency to "follow the herd rather than create strongly differentiated brand messages."
"The themes that many B2B companies consider important for brand imaging," researchers wrote, "appear to have minimal influence on buyers’ perceptions of brand strength."
Distinct from Your Competitors?
Researchers cautioned B2B companies against delivering messages that do not stand out among their competitors. They cite IBM’s Smarter Planet branding effort, which for the past five years has encouraged stakeholders to use the explosion of data to transform their enterprises and institutions through analytics, mobile technology, social business and the cloud.
McKinsey researchers hailed IBM's efforts, which "guides not just external communications but also product development and other forms of employee engagement."
IBM's message is resonating:
Are You Connecting with Sales?
B2B customers who connect personally with sales are happier customers, the report finds. But are marketers themselves engaging with sales? Researchers encourage B2B marketers to "have an honest dialogue with your sales staff" -- and listen.
"If you hear about consistent pushback on pricing or an inability to articulate a compelling argument for the value of your products, you’ve got a problem," the report finds.
Use your sales team's frontline interaction and market research to stay in tune with customer needs and perceptions. Hilti, a maker of professional construction tools, was cited by researchers for having its salespeople double as distributors and hands-on market researchers at customer construction sites.
Consistency in Messaging
Today’s "increasingly fragmented" B2B marketing environment calls for organizations to deliver consistent messages across all channels, the report finds. In this arena, researchers cite DHL’s rebranding effort after its acquisition by Deutsche Post:
The company repainted hundreds of planes, thousands of trucks, and countless uniforms to boost brand visibility, researchers found. They also provided internal company-wide training to empower employees as brand ambassadors.
Researchers also cited American Express for its Open Forum, a virtual platform that helps small-business owners connect with the company and with one another. AmEx serves as the adviser in this campaign and also gains insights on how to best differentiate its own offerings.
Open Forum is one example of how B2B marketers can become better at listening to customers' needs and aligning their messages better.
"Consistently gathering information such as this and evolving in response," researchers said, "are valuable ways of closing any gaps that may be opening up between your brand messaging and your customers’ needs."
Title image courtesy of Mr.Reborn55 (Shutterstock)