I agree with Gertrude Stein when she so eloquently wrote “a rose is a rose is a rose” but the same cannot be said that “a brand is a brand is a brand…” Not all brands are created equal (and I am not being a brand snob here). By their intrinsic nature, some brands must be different; specifically, B2B brands must be different from B2C brands.
In order to create an effective brand one must first understand what said brand needs to achieve. B2B and B2C brands have their own distinct functions, are created through different methodologies and follow different trains of thought.
Let’s begin with the basics: They speak about two different things, address different audiences and most of the time, have different goals.
B2B brands speak about corporations - entities that are complex business systems offering large scale, often bespoke, solutions to other businesses. They speak directly to other corporations or to the individual roles within an organization; their target market is usually buying teams that evaluate their proposition in a rational, benefit driven way. These brands are not about selling a product but a complete offer - one of products, services, channels and people. They are about providing an experience that a specific customer seeks. A B2B brand will be built around consumer preferences rather than on individual products.
B2C brands on the other hand speak about consumer products. They speak to the individual, focusing on that individual’s characteristics and demographics, such as marital status, spending habits, household income, age and gender. These brands focus on meeting transitory needs and will be deeply influenced by a product’s attributes. They focus heavily on marketing rather than strategy and are based on a volume-operation model focused on providing high volume markets with standard products and services.
There are other important characteristics that differentiate B2B brands from B2C ones, like motivation, wants and needs. B2B purchases are motivated primarily by logic; decisions are made based on facts and emotions usually only play a part in reference to the fear of making a poor decision. B2B customers are driven by need. Companies don't hire a new design consultant on impulse; they seek out products and services in order to solve a specific problem or do something better. In contrast, B2C purchases are motivated either by emotion - fear, attraction, the desire for status - need, want or impulse. Branding is directed at appealing to the target market’s emotions and may elicit an almost immediate reaction.
B2B brands also need to appeal to a large group of people, as a purchase decision may involve many levels of approval. These brands usually need to appeal to a number of stakeholders in different jobs all of whom will probably have their own specific criteria for the purchase in question. B2C products on the other hand are sold directly to individuals, and while B2C purchases may in theory have a few influencers, in reality it is only the person who will be doing the final transaction that needs convincing.
B2B companies have a smaller number of clients to target (even though each client effectively may comprise many decision makers). They must be created to address specific customer needs and demonstrate they have an in-depth understanding of these. A B2B brand will seek to build a long term working relationship with a client and will offer a comprehensive solution to the client’s problems.
B2C companies target massive numbers of customers. They don’t have to appeal to all of them to be successful; they mainly need to build brand awareness among the greatest number of target customers possible. This type of branding is more transactional and less about a long term relation. (the relationship is usually short-term, often a one-time purchase).
As a brand develops, be it B2B or B2C, unique situations and characteristics will help shape what the brand becomes. But it is of the utmost importance to always keep in mind that to create a successful brand, we must understand our brand and our customers in depth. So next time you are tempted to think that a brand is a brand is a brand…. you might want to think again.