It used to be simple: brands would appeal emotionally to consumers and rationally to B2B buyers. Often, B2B brands touted their expertise. Sometimes, that was enough.

But then a funny thing happened: Both B2C and B2B customers began demanding meaning and connection. Both kinds of customers wanted to connect with a brand’s values and ensure it aligned with their own. In B2C, purpose-driven brands (link to our purpose-driven brand blog) prospered. Today, hundreds of B2B brands are following suit by making sure they appeal to ideals like sustainability, diversity, and corporate responsibility. B2B brands now speak of strategy and sustainability being synonymous. Of performing with purpose. And of investing in not just products and services for customers, but in their people and in the future of the planet.

Technology is blurring the lines between B2C and B2B branding too. Today, both B2C and B2B customers expect relationships that are “always on.” They demand ongoing conversations and quick responses to inquiries across a variety of social and traditional channels. It’s no longer about just the product; it’s about the response time and how a customer feels they are treated. In other words, it’s about people.

We’ve seen this transformation first-hand in our work branding B2B companies. For example, when we re-branded an IT company recently, research showed being customer focused was more important than offering IT solutions that addressed any need. So we positioned the company not around technology solutions, but around people. In this company’s story, it’s the people who make a difference. The chart below shows this particular company’s value drivers, but it also demonstrates the general shift we’ve been seeing in what’s important in B2B branding these days. Notice, for example, how expertise and solutions are the least important things to IT buyers in comparison to the other drivers—which, in the past, would have most likely been the most important.

Research for one of our B2B clients confirms the importance of the human factor in positioning B2B companies. A B2B brand touting expertise, which traditionally worked in the past, is no longer enough.

Our research demonstrated that B2B IT customers want relationships more than ever—in fact, being easy to do business with and maintaining excellent relationships with customers was more important to these buyers than even pricing.

A financial services company we rebranded this year also tells a similar story. Again, research demonstrated that being focused on the B2B buyer’s needs and building a long-term relationship with them was key, so we positioned this company around that. We also created several advertising campaigns focused on inspiring their buyer with the brand’s customer focused mindset. In addition, telling authentic stories and creating memorable experiences were an important part of the brand’s follow-up campaigns as well. Just like in the B2C world, experiential marketing is more important to B2B customers as well—a free coffee mug at a trade show will no longer set a B2B brand apart. But a branded experience will.

Despite the blurring lines, there still remain differences between B2B and B2C branding. Unlike a B2C brand, a B2B brand always has to consider its buyer chain as well as its multiple stakeholders. According to Harvard Business Review, there are 6.8 people involved in a B2B purchase, versus a single consumer (or a consumer plus their spouse) in B2C. In addition, a B2B brand needs to be able to speak to not only the 6.8 people involved in every purchase, but also to its investors and employees. A B2B brand should also be able to inspire employees so that they live the brand as well. So a B2B brand must be able to speak to all stakeholders involved. This means it typically takes a bit more to manage all the layers of a B2B brand. But it’s worth doing. Because when you create a strong B2B brand, you will most likely create equally strong growth for years to come.

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