Branding is a vital component of any retail business. From the consumer’s point of view, there are so many businesses to choose from, many selling the same goods for the same price, that choosing the right one can be overwhelming. A strong brand helps one business stand out from the rest and appeal to a segment of consumers. Branding also creates a uniform look and feel across all marketing and selling channels so that brand values and associations are reinforced anywhere a consumer encounters that company.
But branding isn’t just for retailers. A strong brand identity should be part of any business to business supplier’s marketing strategy, as well. As we recently reported in “How the Pandemic Has Changed B2B Commerce for Good”, many B2B transactions moved online during the pandemic, and buyers and sellers alike seem to prefer this arrangement. With 70-80% of B2B decision makers preferring remote interaction, B2B ecommerce is here to stay. Retail buyers will most likely encounter your company online rather than by meeting in person with a representative, making clear, consistent branding more important than ever.
But you can’t just decide to be a brand. A company or a product doesn’t become a brand on its own. It’s a two-way street between intentional branding strategies and consumer perception. Part of shaping that perception is in the things we typically associate with branding: logos, packaging design, and a consistent look and feel across your entire web presence. But another part of branding is presenting not just a consistent message but a consistent experience in all of your interactions with clients. An experience, an attitude, a way of doing business that consumers can invest themselves in: this is what branding offers.
It doesn’t have to be expensive or require additional staff to achieve this vision—you just need to do a little research and give it some thought. Here’s an example. Three companies may all make the same product, but clients perceive one company as honest, the other as producing products that are durable, and the third as producing products that are innovative. Or maybe one brand projects an image of fun, while the other’s image is hardworking. It’s this brand differentiation, not the products they sell, that opens up a market niche for each company. If you try to be everything to everyone, you are left without an identity, and you give no one a clear reason to work with you. It’s impossible for any one company to get 100% of the customers. But with a little work, the right brand identity can help you attract the right customers, people who are going to believe in you and stick with you.
With this information in mind, you might approach branding cynically or a little more authentically. The cynical move would be to analyze where there is space in the market and force yourself to be whatever you think customers want. Maybe your competitors are all no-frills, no-nonsense, straightforward companies. At the same time, you know the clients your industry serves are a little more laid back and fun. There is an opportunity for you to give your company a fun and quirky image, or maybe a reliable but creative and innovative one. But if these descriptions don’t fit you, your staff, your approach to business, or your values, you’re going to have a hard time method acting that role day-in, day-out. The branding won’t stick because it’s not reflected in the customer’s experience.
The authentic path is clearly the better path. In order to brand authentically, look at yourself, your staff, and your business. What do you do differently from your competitors? You’re all trying to sell the same merchandise to the same retailers. What makes you stand apart? It might be your experience, your reliability, your enthusiasm for integrating the latest technology into your business. Or it might be your personality, the quality of your customer service, or some philosophy or set of values.
After you choose which foundation to build your brand on, make sure that this attitude or approach is reflected in everything you do. All of your social media platforms should have a consistent look and messaging, and they should be used to tell the story of your brand. Telling stories is about showing that branding in action: those times you went above and beyond to give great service, or how your ethical values determine who you work with.
You put forth a vision, and you live that vision every day. If your branding is successful, you bring clients on board with that vision, and you make it easy for that client to come back to you again and again. You’ve got a client who will stick with you through price increases and shortages, a client who will tell their friends about you.
Successful branding has to exist in the middle of the Venn diagram of what people want and what you know you can deliver. It must be authentic, consistent, and reflected in everything you do, in person and online. Want more tips for crafting a consistent, effective online presence? Check out this previous post. “Best Practices for B2B Online”