B2B brand headaches – The causes and the cures

Experience tells us that a branding headache can affect you in whatever sector you work in. Over the past months the pandemic’s thrown up a whole host of challenges for brands – from needing to find new ways for your brand to interact and communicate with its audiences, to finding new and different ways to deliver a brand experience.

A great brand is what you can build your reputation on. It’s how you gain brand equity and establish customer trust.

Whether you’re involved in a new start-up, or you’re working for a long-established business, your brand plays a key role in forming people’s first impressions and opinions of you.

With the logo as the merest tip of the branding iceberg, a brand must be built on solid foundations – everything from your purpose, your positioning and values, to your messaging, and tone of voice.

When all the elements of a brand are in place and working well together, everything runs smoothly. But, if one area isn’t quite working as it should, either because of internal factors, market changes, or even the effects of a pandemic, then it can affect the equilibrium of your brand, significantly damaging your bottom line.

Diagnosing the problem

Before you can tackle any kind of branding project, it’s vital to get the initial diagnosis right around what’s working and what’s not. There’s little point in changing something without first understanding the cause of the pain or being clear about what it is you’re trying to achieve.

We’ve been asked to support many brands over the years, both in the B2B and B2C space. In that time, we’ve found that the issues they face have three common causes, which lead to three common branding headaches.

Headache No.1 – “We need to create an impact”

Whether you’re new to market or expanding into new markets, the need to create an impact is the first cause of the common branding headaches we see.

To create impact, you need a brand that:

Initially, this demands the creation of a clear point of difference, one that works hard and announces your arrival in the marketplace.

It requires creative work that lets people know that your company exists, what it does, and what it stands for. And highlights, at speed, how your products and/or services make your customers’ lives better.

This particular challenge put a clear marker in the sand for us and gave us the opportunity to really push the creative boundaries when it came to highlighting the challenges our client’s audiences were experiencing.

Keith Noble, Director.

When branding any B2B business it’s crucial that the process is humanised and focuses on people talking to people and meeting the needs of the end audience.

Steve Gill, Director.

Helping our clients define and share their purpose is one of the most interesting parts of the briefs we work on – helping them share the golden nugget about their ‘what’ and their ‘why’ in the world.

Ali Heggie, Creative Director.

Case study example – Creating a brand that takes you beyond business as usual

In 2018, a new start-up in the financial sector came to us for help. They planned their launch at a national networking and new business event. It was their one chance to make a big, first impression. With a very different offer to established providers in their market, it was also vital that they go to market looking and sounding unlike everybody else.

In an already crowded sector, they needed to break away from tradition and get the attention they needed.

Working in close collaboration with the business owners, we took their existing brand mark and helped push it outside a safe and staid response that would just get lost in the myriad of other brands in the market.

We helped them develop imagery, messaging, and a tone of voice that was bold, that broke the mould, and that was outside anything else that existed in the field.

The result?

At the initial launch event they achieved over 150 pipeline enquiries, 20 signups, and multiple enquiries for their exclusive white label financial services offer. They even had to send members of the sales team back to the office after day one to get more marketing collateral due to the unprecedented level of demand they’d received.

For a company new to market that needed to make its mark, they had the confidence to step outside their own area of expertise. They collaborated in the development of a strong, memorable, and truly high-impact brand that both connected with and met the needs of their audience. One that delivered great results.

Headache No.2 – “We’re out of sync”

The second cause of common brand headaches is one that’s felt by many organisations and businesses – no matter how young or well-established they are.

It’s the need to make sure that a brand keeps pace with change and can adapt to its marketplace and ever-changing business landscape.

Technological developments alone are forcing companies to become more agile. And brands, like the business they represent, need to constantly reflect how they’re adapting to change.

Whether that’s changes to their physical infrastructure – where they’re moving to a largely online model, changes to working practices – where some staff are working from home, or even whole business transformations where the business needs to align with the market and customer expectations.

When brands fail to plan for (and adapt to) change, they risk being perceived as old, outdated and out of sync.

General symptoms of this can include:

We often see this happen where there’s been a change of leadership or a big change in market conditions – i.e., the entrance of a new competitor, a takeover or merger. But change, to varying degrees, is happening all the time, so there’s always a need for continuous reassessment, perhaps by streamlining, reinvigorating, or repositioning a brand. In some cases, this can even lead to starting afresh – creating something new that signifies the complete step-change that’s taken place.

Case study – How a full rebrand can reflect a significant change in direction

Young boy

In 2007, a global research and teaching institute in the UK was awarded a significant sum of money to expand its buildings, facilities, and research remit. In response, they needed to update their brand to reflect their changed offer.

The institute needed a new brand identity that would represent their new and improved status and attract more leading research professionals.

We brought people together across the institute’s many siloed departments and locations to listen to their perspectives and involve them in the branding journey.

This created a strong sense of brand ownership and buy-in. Everybody pulled together behind a new brand identity that brought the institute into the 21st century in style – with a brand that’s still in use today.

We’ll work to help you define the brand purpose that’s so intrinsic to your business.

Val Ockwell, Relationship Manager.

Headache No.3 – “We’ve changed, and we need to update”

The third cause of the common branding challenges we see is where a brand needs to reflect a significant change that’s taken place, like a merger and acquisition, a change in organisational structure, or a change in business purpose and activities.

This is where a repositioning exercise can be far more effective, both in terms of articulating change and in terms of the financial investment that’s required, than a full brand redevelopment project.

Often the drivers for a repositioning exercise include the need to change the perceptions and manage the expectations of the brand’s target audience to better reflect:

Where brand repositioning work is needed, it’s important to understand what still works well with the existing brand. This means adopting and adapting the existing brand to the new situation, instead of ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’.

It’s not always necessary to do a complete rebrand, sometimes it’s about a need to realign yourself to market conditions, or to the way that your customer profiles have changed. It’s not about a reinvention and more about getting back to fundamentals. Making sure that you’re approaching the project with the right sort of purpose in mind.

Val Ockwell, Relationship Manager.

Case study – Cost-effective brand repositioning

Sellafield_SiX

In 2017, a publicly funded client that’s been in operation for many decades in a niche sector, needed help to signify a ground-breaking change in its business direction.

The business itself is a complex beast and needed to show that it was evolving from its original purpose and activities to a new purpose and associated activities, all of which are continually evolving.

A key part of this branding and repositioning exercise was helping the client to shift people’s perceptions of the business at many different levels. All while providing an excellent return on investment, retaining the existing brand capital, and avoiding change for change’s sake.

As a result, it was very much an exercise in validating what was already working well and didn’t need to change. It allowed us to keep their existing mark while changing the purpose, the messaging, the colour palette, and the tone of voice that sat around it.

It was very much a collaborative project that combined our skills with those of the company’s marketing team as well as additional third parties and resulted in our combined ability to ‘turn the tanker’ in a different and very positive direction, while demonstrating excellent value for money.

All businesses change and evolve and that’s where close collaborations pay dividends. When we work to reposition a brand, we make sure we listen to what our clients know. We ask what’s working – and what isn’t. This shines a light on and creates a sense of pride in their existing brand and the progress that’s been made – and readies them for what’s to come.

Ali Heggie, Creative Director.

Need some help and support with your B2B brand and positioning activity?

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