Tag Archives: B2B brands

The Importance of Speaking with One Voice

Before we get to the heart of this post, I’d like to thank Bob Lamons for authoring it and serving as a guest blogger here @ On Brands – it’s truly an honor to have him.

Bob is a 40-year practitioner in B2B marketing and advertising, but many of you will know him as author of The Case for B2B Branding: Pulling Away from the Business-to-Business Pack. This book was the first in the branding field to focus exclusively on B2B marketing. Today, Bob is the Chief Expectations Officer of Industribrand, a consultancy focused on industrial B2B branding.

Below are Bob’s thoughts on brand consistency.

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In branding, freedom of speech is unconstitutional.

Every time I make that statement, somebody cringes, but it’s true. In order to build a focused brand image, you have to associate your brand with an expectation, usually tied to a single attribute that will help customers, prospects, suppliers, employees-to-be and any other important audience understand why they should do business with you. And because of that, you can’t have divisional marcom people emphasizing things that might create different expectations.

This is not as restrictive as it sounds, because by definition the overall brand expectation has to be fairly broad. When Kathy Button Bell took over the branding program for St. Louis-based Emerson, she found sixty-six autonomous divisions doing their own thing. Rather than tell them what they couldn’t say, Bell and her branding team came up with a slogan, “Emerson, consider it solved,” and an overall campaign aimed at turning Emerson into a company of problem-solving zealots.

No matter what kind of widgets they’re selling, those widgets still have to solve problems or customers wouldn’t buy them. So now, roughly eight years after the “consider it solved” program was launched, Emerson is perceived as an organization of cross-functional teams selling integrated solutions. And sales to their largest “marquee” accounts have gone way up.

Same thing with General Electric. When Jeff Immelt took the baton from the legendary Jack Welch in 2002, he saw an image shift was in order. Immelt correctly perceived that future sales gains needed to come from internally generated technology, and unfortunately, GE wasn’t being given much credit for innovation.

So out went “We bring good things to life,” and in came “Imagination at work.” I think the program’s working because major magazines like FORTUNE are now ranking GE at the top of their list of world’s most innovative companies. It’s just a matter of emphasis.

Caterpillar took control of its brand image in the mid-90s with a program actually called One Voice. Again, they avoided the punitive aspects of telling people what not to say, and simply focused on creating an accurate picture of what Caterpillar is: a manufacturer of rugged, reliable construction equipment. Today, I think Caterpillar is the strongest example of a focused b-to-b brand you can find.

In each of these cases, divisional marcom managers are free to promote product or service related messages, but they do it under an umbrella that supports the overall brand expectation. Every GE product or service ad has some aspect of innovation in it. Emerson ads show how products solve problems. Caterpillar ads are always strong and manly (never delicate).

So I guess “freedom of speech” is relative. What I’m really saying is stay in character. Say what you want as long as you’re consistent with the brand personality and overall expectation you want people to have when they see or hear your name. That’s how brand power is created.

You can reach Bob Lamons at lamons@industribrand.com. You can also find him on Twitter: @boblamons.

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2B or Not 2B: Remembering the Human Side of Business Branding

Once upon a time, the world didn’t think about branding in the B2B world. Branding was thought to be of relevance only in the B2C realm.

We have long since gone past that kind of Stone Age thinking. Today, we understand that branding is inherent to the way businesses do business with businesses. Er – yes, that’s a lot of businesses!

The problem I have with a lot of B2B branding work is the tendency to forget about the human part.

Because businesses don’t just do business with businesses; they do business with people.

We tend focus on benefits a, b and c and all the functional attributes of importance to our targets. But too often we forget to inspire. We forget to appeal to the heart, not just the mind. We forget to think subjectively, not just objectively. And sometimes we forget that good old plain likeability still goes a long, long way.

B2B branding can and should be inspiring and full of life. If it isn’t, it’s probably business-to-boring. And unless your customer wants boring (and yes, some actually do!), you’re probably in trouble.

Whether you’re B2B or B2C, remember this: you’re really B2H (business-to-human). Well, in fact, you’re H2H (human-to-human).

For more, see John Quelch’s blog post on How to Build a B2B Brand and the resulting comments on harvardbusiness.org.