Brands, as we know them (as consumers), have not really gone anywhere.
However, many would argue that in a way they are ‘back’. Back as part of a core element in startups, and small businesses everywhere. In this article, I hone in specifically on B2B Businesses that historically have only placed core ‘XYZ Company LLC’ on their service trucks, invoices, and online listings in the past.
Well, now they are going the full mile in Brand Marketing like a consumer-facing business model, and it’s not hard to see why. It is a reminder of how the fundamentals of human behavior and the target audience drive B2B marketing decisions.
A Subtle Change
Typically, only consumer-facing products and services bear any branded structure. The bag of coffee beans has almost always been labeled, designed, named, and so on, but not so much the roaster. Or at least the delivery & logistics side of that business; they don’t ‘brand’ themselves, right? Some may not be, but many are now!
The ones that brand their companies, name their services, wrap their delivery vehicles, and put slogans, logos, and mascots/artwork on their invoices and email receipts are standing out. That’s not to say there’s some ‘big movement’ brewing that will fundamentally change how things are done, only that there’s a subtle and consistent change to new emerging businesses in sectors that previously did not go beyond the minimum ‘brown label’ needed to exist, and do business.
B2B Businesses with a Consumer Angle
This subtle change goes beyond the visuals that make a service business look consumer-facing; they actually infuse their processes with consumer marketing beyond the little visuals. Sending out surveys asking what their business client thought of that consulting, delivery, or supply service. Calls from the division manager ‘touching base’ as the rep to that retail store or location. ‘Refer a business and get [perk]’ marketing. Christmas cards at year’s end thanking that business for choosing them as their provider of choice.
While this may not sound like earth-shattering news or ‘disruption’ by any means, it is significant in what it implies. Brands, branding, and marketing matter, because it works when you know your audience. The ‘angle’ of infusing D2C marketing in B2B spaces described above is not tracked by these core providers like Ad Spend; it’s simply part of their cost of doing business. Just part of what they do in the review-obsessed, hyper-competitive space they find themselves in, particularly now that they know their end users are willing to switch providers.
Think about it- all the way down to the entities that make the paper cups, deliver the food products, manufacture the rubber gaskets, and provide accounting, IT, and consulting services; they are branding themselves, competing like a D2C brand, and we are slowly seeing a ‘creep’ of new names merely replicating a competitor’s model with slightly better service, and branding it in a unique way.
Method to B2B Marketing
We are seeing this bubble ‘burst’ (lots of little bubbles) everywhere. It’s just so subtle that you’re not even noticing it. I’m not referring to Amazon buying up old Sears real estate, I’m talking about the sub-contractors fighting for local delivery work with Amazon. Those little pop-up vendors are branding themselves! The commercial janitorial, painting, and roofing space; they’re creating brands! Commercial property management, tree trimming, and pool cleaning. The list goes on and on where we are seeing drastically smaller and local players (especially in the service industry) come into a space and target the generation of managers, decision-makers, and newly appointed (inherited) owners and give them a consumer experience in their operations of their companies.
Let me be clear: great service matters to turn these Gen X managers & decision-makers, but having a brand causes the first head-turn. Having what seems to be a relevant, fresh ‘look’, a website where you can contact/order/modern portal & pay access, and even just QR codes with ‘how to order more/contact us’ videos loading- all make an impression. That’s not a new concept, but it was not part of what the 800lb gorillas that dominate the space baked into their process when they were formed in the ’90s and earlier. For the older/bigger companies noticing the loss of their market by small percentages, their size makes it difficult to quickly respond and match these new players nibbling at their table scraps.
New Brands Creeping Into Old Spaces
This is the essence of this article. New ‘Brands’, replicating a concept, barely a fraction of the size of their monster competition, are creeping into these ‘old’ spaces perceived by both the businesses that receive their services and the businesses themselves, as ‘spoken for’, and cutting into a small slice of that market on ‘branding’ alone. Second, they’re tuning their marketing, and ease-of-use to a specific new generation of mangers. A generation that prefers Apple pay and Stripe. That actually does fill out a survey, post a review on Google and Yelp, and cares that their provider is a good one, hires good people, and has a competitive attitude seeking to keep their business.
In a lot of ways, XYZ Large Corp. foods will always be ‘the provider’ of 90% of the restaurants in a region …but… there is a very profitable and sustainable business model that finds a niche within a larger space (say, coffee/craft beer/deli products/baked goods) that can be out-performed by the small local guy. Outperformed in service, speed of response, quality, and an approach to less generic offerings. More custom, more ‘locally sourced’ and faster.
The local hotel mgmt group in Tampa can source ‘cooler’ foods, toiletries, and accessories for the rooms in 10-20 boutique hotels, then 4-5 disjoined and larger entities providing housekeeping, and the other services could. These groups’ ability to have a pulse on ‘local’ is not only appealing to the consumer staying in the rooms, but it feeds into what a boutique hotel is saying they are; different from the big names. A more ‘local’ experience for travelers looking to experience Tampa and its unique culture, food, style, and vibe.
The scenarios are endless. The market share is endless.
The marketing and branding work similarly; you see these new little guys coming with a value on a brand in every way. Packaging, apparel, vehicles, email marketing, web, mobile apps, modern pay solutions- a full-frontal assault on the generation that is used to these touches. Becoming intolerant of ‘faxing’ and ‘only available on desktop’ or just plain rude/indifferent corporate attitudes in stark contrast to the smaller player that puts a Starbucks-like ‘layer’ over their services, no matter how superficial.
The local little guy may not even be a price break! They might not even be local but know how to ‘talk’ local, and appeal to local digitally from a remote location. This is really the core of the success of these B2B businesses, primarily in the services sector, when it comes to their brand strategies. Appeal to the ‘consumer’ for them; that is, the owner/manager/operations director – THAT is their ‘consumer’ and it’s working.
No matter the industry, this is working so long as the product and services are comparable. Ideally, it’s better but even being superior is not required. If you offer a payment solution via Stripe, or another modern solution, you can steal the business of the complacent or slow-to-move big name. One can merely cut the price of first aid supplies to a large regional retailer, show up faster, smile, put their people in branded apparel, and make it easy to buy from, and steamroll an entire county or state over time.
Manufacturing is a different universe than service, but at a smaller scale, and in more scattered examples, we see this with injection-molded and 3D printed parts in the auto and outdoor recreation industries. Not a huge chunk of what ‘the big guys’ can do and do cheaper, but if you add, “Sourced & Make in the USA” for example, and be faster and offer more customized options, you have an opening. Branding is secondary of course, but even for these suppliers lost in the shuffle, they are taking the time to name and frame their ventures.
Build a Brand No Matter Your Industry or Business Model
Agency blogs are here to be found and plug our service (oops, was I not supposed to say that? -haha).
It goes without saying that here at Suited, we love to help new ventures brand their companies and build full-funnel marketing, or even just the visual foundational assets for an on-budget ‘year 1’ approach. We do the same for existing groups ‘stalled’ on a plateau needing to quickly differentiate and drill down on local geographic regions.
From naming to trademarking, to seeing the initial idea canvassed across all printed & digital mediums, we are branding experts sitting front-row to this shift in business and commerce, and we are warmed up to whatever challenge is thrown our way.
Your service, B2B, or manufacturing company can and should have a brand to some degree. It comes down to your target audience & decision-maker, as well as your competition. What does that look like? Who are these managers at the businesses you’re trying to get a demo or sales pitch in front of? Who are they using now for that same service? What is different about yours?
I can promise you that the ‘edge’ of having not only the brand ‘look’ but the well-thought-out full experience approach to back it with meaningful follow-up marketing and technology will put you head and shoulders above the rest when you get that moment to offer your alternative!