Building a B2B brand identity to be proud of – the importance of clarity, coherence, relevance and consistency
Building brands doesn’t stop because of pandemics and major market upheavals.
Whilst many brands have had spectacular pandemic success, skillfully pivoting and navigating to a more online execution, a large number have at best survived rather than thrived – and a fair few have in fact “languished” (the inevitable word of 2021) somewhere in between.
It is without question that an investment in brand is a positive thing for business. Long term development of positioning and customer interaction as a strategy has been successfully applied by companies including Nike to Netflix, Tesla to Tesco and many more more.
These businesses transcend their markets because they have a strong value set and clear positioning that runs right through their business that is diligently and consistently adhered to in all their public and private dealings.
And when it comes to brand – and what people say about you when you’re not in the room – the question “Am I proud of this?” has never been a more appropriate way of assessing quality.
This works at a strategic and tactical level. Because when we judge how effective our efforts are in terms of building brand, it is being assessed differently by different people within the organisation.
The difference between a brand, branding, and brand identity
We need to get clear on the semantics before we can set some parameters to work to.
What is a brand?
A brand is much more than a recognizable name, logo and strapline. It’s the total presentation and perception of your business, which means a brand only truly exists in the minds of customers.
Every interaction a customer has with your organisation impacts their view of your company. And every one of these interactions sends a message which leading companies reflect in their brand strategy.
What is branding?
Branding can be explained as the actions you take to create a distinctive, memorable brand. It requires clear, coherent, creative and consistent action to ensure you are presented in the best way possible and that customers understand and believe this too.
Branding is critical to business success because it
- Helps create clarity. Having a clear brand strategy and purpose helps you stay focused and make better marketing decisions.
- Achieves stand out from the competition. Customers are battered with thousands of messages every day so standing out from competitors with a strong brand that lives up to what is promised matters.
- Builds recognition. A consistent brand helps customers know what to expect every time they interact with your business, putting them at ease. Think of retail chains where the experience is the same everywhere in the world.
- Connects you with your customers. A strong and coherent brand makes people feel good when they buy your products or services. The strongest brands tell stories or stand for causes that draws people to them.
- Builds customer loyalty and referrals. People tend to choose companies they are familiar with, and because people love to share good experiences, referrals often follow.
What is brand identity?
Brand identity is the result of branding. It’s the collection of tangible brand elements that a company creates to portray the right image of itself to its target audience.
These often include a brand name, a logo, a tagline/slogan, typography, mascot, jingles, supporting messages and advertising style, all neatly wrapped up in guidelines for use.
The four tests of a brand identity to be proud of – marketing edition
Many B2B marketers find that some of their work fails the “Am I proud of this?” test.
At a tactical level, marketers will review the fonts, colours, images and rules for use laid out in the guidelines together with the overall look/feel of all any communications.
But in our experience, you need to measure your brand identity against these four key tests to determine if your brand strategy is truly well defined.
Test 1 – Relevance: Is the communication relevant to your audience?
The starting point always needs to be who is the audience, and how are they interacting with your brand and its various touchpoints.
Having a focus on who they are, why they should care and how they interact with it gives any presentation a strong foundation.
In industrial and professional services B2B marketing, this can impact everything you create from promotional adverts and emails, to brochures, to technical content to training material used with new customers.
At every stage of interaction, the values and positioning you aspire to need to be present.
Is what you’re working on right now in alignment with brand strategy and relevant to this audience and communication?
Test 2 – Clarity: Is the story telling clear?
As B2B buying behaviour evolves and relies much more on digital channels, the ability to quickly and competently present key messages in an “snackable” way is paramount.
The combination of words, imagery, layout and format needs to clearly articulate and support brand strategy.
Sleek design articulates complicated stories clearly and the Apple approach to technical B2B websites for example has become ubiquitous. Because it works. There is beauty in simplicity, white space and clear signposting.
Review a recent marketing communication. Can you understand the main message by quickly reading it? Ask someone not connected to your business to see what they think. If not, it may be failing the clarity test.
Test 3 – Coherence: Does it flow?
Good brand strategy into identity follow an established story-telling structure.
A well-written story has a beginning, a middle and an end. But this can become muddled when businesses moves through different cycles of growth and through several marketing leaders all with different ideas of what implementing the brand strategy should look like.
The real time, lived customer experience is critical and too many companies fail to review their positioning after seismic changes. When values or claims evolve and become less relevant, the whole narrative is damaged.
Story telling devices such as distilling your key messages into a messaging hierarchy or using devices such as Value Proposition matrices not only keep this fresh but also means you can weave that coherent story through everything you do.
What claims are you making as a business that perhaps don’t align with the lived experience of customers right now?
Test 4 – Consistent: Does it align to your positioning?
The final challenge of differing tactical campaigns being used to position a brand identity in the long term is keeping it fresh yet consistent. Huge departures in tactical implementation year on year can damage decades of brand building.
It’s critical to always return to your values and your audience before considering major changes in campaign design and implementation. Platforms, techniques and even design trends change over time and it important to think carefully about campaigns and how they affect overall positioning and the audience goodwill you have built up over time.
From our work with Velo clients and a huge accumulated b2b marketing experience set, we find there is often a reason why marketing doesn’t work as well as it could.
And it’s often found in a disconnect between brand strategy and marketing communications tactics.
Constantly reviewing work and asking simple questions like “Am I proud of this work?“ are an effective starting point.
And these are simple too – as the best ideas usually are.
Are you proud of your brand identity? Do your marketing activities deliver the return and brand resonance in the market you desire?