CEOs are noticing that brand building is giving businesses a competitive advantage, and they want in on it. As a result, brand building has become a strategic priority in the boardroom for business-to-business (B2B) brand leaders trying to accelerate growth.
As part of The Drum’s Cannes-Do 2022, we partnered with Transmission, the largest global independent marketing agency in the world, to discuss the future of B2B brand building and help launch the agency’s new The State of B2B Brand Building research report.
Joining The Drum’s US editor and moderator, Kenneth Hein, were:
Brand building has become a strategic priority for B2B brand leaders trying to accelerate growth
Andrew O’Sullivan, creative director EMEA, Transmission
Vanessa Cheal, head ofbrand and creative planning, Transmission
Dr. Rebecca Swift, global head of creative insights, Getty Images
Suzanne Kounkel, chief marketing officer, Deloitte
The session, Brand Builders, It’s Your Time to Shine, questions our experts on how B2B brands are performing today, the value of brand in the boardroom, and why a lack of creativity is damaging B2B brand success. It also opens discussion regarding the rise of B2B purpose-washing and how to avoid it, as well as the importance of building a brand through your employees’ eyes first.
One of Transmission’s key findings was that brands are increasingly feeling the pressure from consumers to build a purpose-driven brand to be competitive. However, Transmission’s Cheal points out that this raises questions about purpose-washing, which could damage consumers’ trust in brands in the long run.
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“A high percentage [of brands] are telling us that they are highly likely or somewhat likely to be building a purpose that potentially isn’t authentic, a purpose that potentially helps them win commercial advantage and is used as a competitive weapon to win over against another competitor, but isn’t doing it for ethical reasons,” says Cheal.
O’Sullivan suggests that laser-focused authenticity has become vital now that so many brands are now adopting cause-based purposes. “Creativity is the key to how we do that. And it’s something that we really need to focus on,” he explains. “It’s uncomfortable. We need to differentiate in a market which is talking very much about the same initiatives. And so it’s really about that brand personality that we’ve really got to dig into and find those really deep insights so that we can then communicate both purpose, and also a really unique brand.”
Swift suggests that the key is finding the balance between authenticity and commercialism. She explains this by referencing the Getty Images platform: “AI [artificial intelligence] might give you some indication as to what image is going to work at a certain moment in time, what elements will be successful,” she says. “But in the end, we humans react to something that is compelling, something that resonates with what we’re interested in, what we feel is purposeful.”
For Kounkel, successfully building a purpose is all about clearly defining how your brand can make a difference. “There’s millions of companies that would say that they want to have an impact on sustainability,” she says. “But then the real work is to figure out where your brand would make a big difference. And then define that intersection pretty carefully, so that you’re not getting into a generic space.”
Transmission’s study also measured the performance of B2B brands against a series of ‘brand health indicators’, which included traits such as trust, compassion, differentiation, and customer-centricity. The results revealed that the lowest-performing indicator was brand differentiation. “ Cheal points out brands are failing to stand out because they are all copying each other. “Everyone has a particular force-for-good message that ‘we’re saving the world’, ‘we’re trying to make the world a safer place’. And everyone’s coming up with the same propositions, and then coming up with the same images to identify that,” she explains.
As the line between B2B and B2C continues to blur, this lack of creativity in the B2B sector is becoming increasingly apparent. “We used to think that we would be treated differently as a buyer of B2B services than we would as a consumer buyer,” says Kounkel. “It used to be that you had a very different sort of persona with respect to who you were at work and who you were personally. And for most of us, that’s completely gone away.”
For O’Sullivan, it seemed inevitable that B2B was going to need to have the same approach to branding as B2C – but to succeed marketers will have to embrace the challenges that present themselves: “We’re in this wonderful, creative surge in B2B right now and we have to learn to trust that being uncomfortable is a good place to be. That’s the only way we’re going to push things forward – marketers have to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
The pandemic, and the resulting lockdowns around the world, has permanently altered how many of us view and interact with brands. It has also altered brands’ relationships with employees.
Swift describes the pandemic as a “perfect storm in terms of content creation.” She says: “It’s quite interesting how the focus on staff and the focus on our employees has really happened as a result of the pandemic. I’ve not seen it before in the history of my time in the industry.”
For O’Sullivan, this means that brands must now choose to prioritize their employees: “The people are the brand and so therefore, surely it’s them that must represent it,” he concludes.
Watch the full panel discussion at the top of this article. You can download Transmission’s new research report, The State of B2B Brand Building, here.