We marketers throw the word brand around a lot – so much so that the term has effectively lost its meaning. To some, a company’s brand is simply its logo, trademark or tagline.  To others, a brand is any one of a set of non-generic products in a particular category. And too often, especially among B2B marketers, brands are synonymous with consumer goods with lots of hype around them.

Twenty years ago or so when marketers controlled the flow of information, these more limited views of a brand would have fewer consequences. Consumer goods companies spent money on advertising to drive preference while B2Bs concentrated on identifying potential buyers through the sales funnel.  The two models worked for a long time until the internet changed everything by empowering the customer. Now there are far fewer fundamental differences between consumer and business-to-business marketing. B2B buyers act more like traditional consumers (which shouldn’t be surprising because they are consumers): they research products or services through various websites and social media, weigh their options by accessing reviews in online communities or reviewing case studies, and often, they don’t formally engage with  vendors until much later in the process. 

So if you’re thinking, “This is where you’re going to tell me it’s all about my brand”, then you’re a quick study.

Let’s first back up and decide what a brand is. At SAI, we define a brand as the sum of perceptions and expectations surrounding a particular product or service. In effect, a brand is a promise that resides in the hearts and minds of current and potential customers, and the strength of that brand is determined by its ability to deliver on its promise consistently and uniquely.

If a brand is determined by the consumer, what is it that a company can do to drive perceived value and create demand for the brand? That’s where the discipline of Branding comes in, and unfortunately, it’s where far too many B2Bs jump ship due to the outdated perception of Branding as an expensive proposition that’s short on measurable results. On the contrary, with the customer in the driver’s seat and a wealth of information at his or her fingertips, Branding in 2014 is probably more important than ever. So whether you’re in a position to hire an outside firm to do a complete rebranding or if you opt to develop a smaller-scale plan to sharpen your web content yourself, it is crucial to think about your brand as customers do and to act accordingly.

Branding is the strategic cultivation of a distinct, ownable and motivating brand identity.

In many ways, the internet is the great equalizer. It needn't cost a fortune to lay the foundations for a great brand online. You can begin by asking yourself the following questions about the three aspects of branding:

1. Distinct: Are your brand’s benefits differentiating it from the category and its competitors?

2. Ownable: Do customers and potential customers recognize those benefits and associate them with your brand? Can those benefits be attributed to other players in your category?

3. Motivating: Is your brand delivering the benefits that customers want and need?

How is your brand being cultivated online?  If you need a little outside perspective, feel free to email me. Otherwise, stay tuned for our next installment in our Branding and the Internet Series: Part Two -- Steps to Creating Stronger Content.