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B2B brands also need human touch

Doreen Wang

Global Head of BrandZ

Brands 18.07.2017 / 11:30

2017 BrandZ New York shot

In today’s world, it is imperative to build business brands with consumer brand skills.

Every year, WPP and Kantar Millward Brown release a global BrandZ ranking to evaluate the most valuable brands globally. It is the only ranking to measure brand equity based on interviews with over 3 million consumers globally about thousands of global “consumer facing” and business-to-business brands.

In recent years, we have increasingly noticed the border between B2C and B2B* brands (defined as brands generating over half their revenues from business clients) is disappearing.

Nine of the B2B Top 20 in 2017 Global BrandZ ranking are technology brands, four are banks, and seven are divided among these categories: logistics, oil and gas, and conglomerates.

B2B Brand Top 20

Few brands are purely B2B. Microsoft and IBM, ranked first and second in the B2B Top 20, are primarily business brands, but they also have consumer-facing operations, particularly Microsoft, and they collaborate with B2C brands. Conversely, the first- and second-ranked brands in the Global Top 100, Google and Apple, are primarily B2C brands, but they also gain revenue from business clients.

Recent results suggest that B2B brands may be narrowing the gap in the rate of value growth. Over the past year, both the Top 20 B2B and B2C brands increased in value at virtually the same rate, 11% and 10%. Several factors may account for this phenomenon, including the disruptive nature of the year, which touched all categories, and the fact that the annual value growth of some of the large B2C technology brands slowed. However, the comparable value growth rates may also reflect the increase in crossover collaboration and aggressive efforts by B2B brands to adopt B2C skills in communications and customer cultivation and management.

Adopting a B2C mentality

The pressure for business brands to include consumer-facing communication and brand-building skills comes from many directions, including continuous buzz created by start-up disrupting companies, decentralized purchasing process, more millennial decision-makers and the urgent need to keep and retain talents.

Take the technology sector as an example. It used to be that decision-making authority was concentrated in the IT director, who reviewed complicated specs and made a rational choice from a small consideration set of B2B brands. Because that decision was so consequential, and potentially impacted the career advancement of the decision maker, the IT director often made the safe choice, a large legacy brand with an impeccable reputation.

Since the advent of cloud computing, businesses now purchase technology differently. With nimble cloud-computing brands promising lower costs and less risk, the safe choice for an IT director wanting to demonstrate competence is to review a wide consideration set that includes start-ups which, in most cases, are creating lots of buzz in the media.  

In addition, the decision-making process in technology purchasing today is more decentralized. And rather than meet only with the IT director, the B2B brand more likely will interact with potential decision makers in diverse departments throughout an organization. Our study has shown that B2B buyers now engage an average of 12 touchpoints in their purchase decision journey.

12 Touchpoints

These decision makers often are millennials who have recently risen to positions of authority, and whose experience with technology brands is more with B2C brands than with the B2B heritage brands. Our research has found that more than half of B2B buyers are millennials.

Consequently, B2B brands are looking for people who know how to navigate a corporate organizational chart and communicate effectively with the decision makers. And the B2B brands are not just seeking people with these qualities for front-line sales team — they want knowledgeable and relatable people at all levels, because the interface with customers happens throughout the organization.

As B2B brands do a better job communicating their purpose, they are attracting more young people who want to make money, but who also want to spend their time doing something that feels more worthwhile than simply making money. To recruit and retain more of these millennials, B2B brands need to become their destination of choice, rather than the default “safe school” alternate to Apple, Google, or Facebook.

4 Key Lessons for Business Brand Building

1. Brands scoring high in‘purpose’ grow faster in value.

Purpose can be about a lofty objective such as making the world a better place in some way. But brand purpose is always about clarity in terms of what the brand stands for: its proposition or reason for being, the ways in which its very existence is important for the customer because of the useful, or even unique, benefits it provides.

Brands that scored high in Purpose grew more in value than brands that scored lower. And the difference in growth rates is substantial, as becomes clear when the various aspects of Purpose are unbundled. Brands that scored high in “Makes Lives Better” grew 81% in brand value between 2006 and 2016, while brands that scored lower in that component grew only 24%.

Purpose Drive Value

Brands implications:

Brands that think of their consumers, rather than only themselves, and genuinely attempt to improve consumers’ lives will succeed to a much greater degree.

2. Responsibility and Trust drive value.

Responsibility is linked to the brand’s behaviour as a corporate citizen: its impact on the environment, its engagement with communities it serves, and its attitudes and behaviour toward its employees. Responsibility is one of the factors that influence Trust.

More trusted brands grew 80% in brand value between 2006 and 2016, while less trusted brands grew only 25%.

Trust Drive Value 

Brand implications:

This finding is important for B2B brands. In technology, concern with privacy and data protection will become even more evident with the implementation of the Internet of Things and the greater involvement of technology in people’s lives. Some brands have a reservoir of trust built up over time. But to be sustained, trust needs to be renewed constantly. Similarly, companies that are seen to treat their employees well grew brand value at three times the rate of companies less known for treating their employees well.

3. Innovation has an enormous impact on brand value.

Innovation is about leadership, bringing something into the market that is new and not just iterative: new products, services, communications, or packaging – any introductions that are different and shake things up for the benefit of the customer.

The brand value impact of being perceived as different or creative is enormous. Brands seen as different or creative almost doubled in value between 2006 and 2016, while brands perceived as low on those characteristics improved in value only by around one-fifth over those 11 years.

Innovation Drive Value 

Brand implications:

The drivers of value for B2C brands also hold for B2B brands, and they provide an excellent guide for driving future value growth.

4. Love also drives value for B2B brands.

There are many large and enduring brands that operate in categories being disrupted by changing consumer expectations. As brands respond to those concerns, transformation takes time. Brands that are loved benefit from greater customer patience.

Love Drive Value 

This finding dispels the notion that people may be emotionally engaged with B2C brands but not with B2B brands. The brands that scored high in love increased brand value 60% over the past 11 years, compared with the brands that scored low in love and increased value only 43%.

Brand implications:

Love is an important discriminator between brands that are more successful or less successful. It is important for a brand not just to be loved but to be loved for a purpose – that is, for the contribution the brand makes to people’s lives.

Source: 凯度华通明略

Editor's notes

* About the BrandZ™ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands Ranking

Carried out by WPP's marketing and brand consultancy Kantar Millward Brown, the BrandZ™ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands ranking is now in its twelfth year. It is the only study to combine measures of brand equity based on interviews with over three million consumers globally about thousands of global ‘consumer facing’ and business-to-business brands with a rigorous analysis of the financial and business performance of each company (using data from Bloomberg and Kantar Worldpanel) to separate the value that brand plays in driving business and shareholder value. Consumer perception of a brand is a key input in determining brand value because brands are a combination of business performance, product delivery, clarity of positioning, and leadership. The ranking takes into account regional variations since, even for truly global brands, measures of brand contribution might differ substantially across countries;

* To reach the author, or to know more information, data and analysis of branding consultancy, please contact us.

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