What makes a modern B2B brand stand out?
Many B2B businesses are faced with a harsh reality – your competition has the same toolkit and the same playbook. They’re matching your competitive offers with variants of their own, they’re incentivizing your customers to jump ship, and they’ve got loyalty programs in place just as you do.
That’s why it’s time to go back to the fundamentals. Because entering a rat race with your competition doesn’t leave room for significant brand differentiation. But accentuating your branding through storytelling, responding to your customers’ deepest desires, and highlighting your unique selling points can help you cut through the noise.
1. Consider the B2B Elements of Value
Just how fine is the line between B2B and B2C purchasing decisions?
Harvard Business Review set out to find an answer, and they discovered that the line is thinner than you might expect. They unearthed many subjective reasons that drive buying decisions, including desires to decrease anxiety or expand your network.
HBR identified forty elements of value, organized under five distinct categories. They are:
- Table stakes, including elements like acceptable pricing and ethical standards.
- Functional, including cost reduction, product quality, scalability, etc.
- Ease of doing business, which includes access, productivity, and relationship values.
- Individual, which includes values like network values and personal growth and development.
- Inspirational, including vision, hope, and responsibility.
The forty values are organized in pyramid form, with the most objective values forming the base and subjective ones topping the pyramid.
Understanding these values is crucial to differentiating your product or service offering. Because while your customers are indeed swayed by competitive pricing and rich features, they are also motivated by the desire to impress their superiors and save their own time.
Moreover, HBR’s research indicated that the latter may influence brand differentiation more in today’s commoditized B2B market. To quote the review,
The more emotional elements at the middle and upper levels have traditionally been difficult to isolate and quantify and, therefore, harder to implement. But the battle for differentiation is shifting toward these less transactional aspects. – Harvard Business Review
Thus, as B2B sectors become increasingly competitive, brands must tailor their offerings to respond to more elements of value, especially more subjective ones
2. Tell your brand story
Brands can compete with you on several fronts. They can match your competitive pricing with a lower offer, introduce an eleventh product feature to surpass your ten, and extend their trial period to 60 days to outclass your 30. And you can certainly fight back, but to what end?
Yes, optimizing your offer is crucial. Bad offers don’t convert, no matter how extensive your marketing and advertising efforts are. But when it comes to standing out, businesses should prioritize brand differentiators that invite no competition. In other words, telling your brand story.
Your brand story is potentially one of the most potent differentiators in your arsenal. While competitors can attempt to replicate your product features, benefits, and design, they will seldom share your experiences. The challenges your brand overcomes and the milestones it achieves are truly yours. So share your lessons and successes with your customers. Celebrate with them and involve them in your journey. These efforts help you establish a more emotional connection with your customers, encouraging brand loyalty and differentiating your business.
“The importance of your brand story is about how it positions your customer – they should always be the ‘hero’ while your company serves as the wise sage that helps them achieve their goal,” says Red Stag Fulfillment Senior Copywriter and Storyteller Geoff Whiting. “In B2B, your story matters because it demonstrates expertise and your capabilities. It’s how you tell the reader that you know their pain and are already working to solve that for them. Treat it as your opportunity to tell a potential customer, ‘You’ve got this, and here’s how we can help.’”
3. Know your customers inside and out
One of the most fatal mistakes a brand can make is not knowing their customer well enough. Because transactions are fundamentally human-to-human, not business-to-customer or business-to-business.
In the simplest inception of a target audience, brands identify the prospect whose problem they solve. If you are selling digital marketing services for SMBs, your target audience is SMBs. If you are selling subscriptions to a keyword research tool, your target audience comprises marketers, advertisers, SEOs, etc.
But this classification reveals little to nothing about your customer’s desires and motivators. Knowing who your customers are is different from knowing them, and the latter is essential to speak to their needs. Thus, to differentiate your brand substantially, it’s vital to learn more about your customers. Which of the B2B elements of value motivate your customers the most? What personal and professional goals do they aspire to achieve? What changes would improve the quality of their daily life?
Everything you learn about your customers helps paint a clearer picture of your buyer’s persona. And after knowing your customers inside and out, you can speak to them more clearly than any of your competitors.
“Don’t stop after you make those initial personas,” says Whiting. “Keep refining the message and how you approach them. Revisit personas with your sales teams to see if things have shifted. No company is ever done defining and studying their best customer. Great B2B brands have internal steps that keep this as an ever-evolving process so they understand who to target now and next.”
4. Highlight your USP
The fundamental requirement for unique selling points (USPs) to be effective is this: your target customer should perceive them as valuable. That’s not to say that your customer must be aware of the USPs prior. On the contrary, having USPs that are novel in your market may help you better differentiate your brand. But you must convince customers of the USPs’ value.
And again, knowing your customer and understanding B2B elements of values helps here, too. You must identify which of your customers’ needs are not being met by your competition.
A straightforward example of this is to consider a B2B SaaS market where businesses primarily offer self-service support models. Customers may have access to training academies, knowledge bases, and some level of customer support where required. And so, businesses must train their entire teams to use the software.
In such a market, differentiating your brand as a full-service or fully managed solution may help you stand out substantially from the competition. You may realize the need for a fully managed solution after researching competitors and target audience, and realizing that customers are looking for more support.
So, whatever your industry may be, identifying meaningful USPs that resonate with your prospects can be a powerful differentiator. But after outlining your unique selling points, do not be modest about promoting them. If you’ve tailored them specifically to your audience’s needs and desires, then the most sincere course of action is to vocalize your offering. Let customers know that you’re prepared to help them in ways your competition has failed to.
5. Be quick
The demand for speed has increased across both B2B and B2C; no business was spared. The lowest goal is to match your competitor’s velocity. And to stand out, you’ll need to exceed it.
This means being quick across all channels that concern your customer. Faster customer support, deliveries, transactions, returns, and refunds. If you’re selling a digital solution, it means getting out updated and new features quicker. If you’re selling a service, it means producing results faster.
Meeting the demand for greater speed is trying but essential. And, as always, achieving higher operational velocity requires a combination of digital transformation and strategic planning. For example, customer service can be streamlined and optimized by leveraging automation, CRMS, artificial intelligence, and self-service options. CRM implementation alone has been attributed to a 29% increase in sales.
However, to achieve desired results, you’ll need to strategically observe your customer service ecosystem and how customer’s transition through their support journey. Doing so is critical to outlining touchpoints that can benefit from digitalization or automation.
Similarly, optimizing B2B supply chain management requires more than robust digital enablement. It’s true that supply chain operations have accelerated rapidly in recent years, thanks to innovations like IoT, RFID, automation, and advanced management technologies. However, many processes can only be optimized through strategic planning.
For example, your warehouse layout and inventory placement significantly influence picking times. Technology like barcodes or RFID scanners can make the process more efficient, but initial strategic considerations lay the foundation for success.
The last word
Whether you’re offering a B2B product or service, the fundamentals of successful brand differentiation remain the same. Matching your competitor’s offering is necessary to remain relevant, but to effectively surpass them, B2B brands must:
- Understand their customers on the most fundamental level, including their motivations, desires, preferences, behavior, and expectations. Speak to your customers more intimately than your competition can ever hope to.
- Improve operational efficiency, flexibility, and agility. Being quicker than your competition is a significant differentiator in itself.
- Focus on building a brand, not just a business. Tell your story and broadcast your USPs.
In effect, focusing less on competitors may actually help brands differentiate themselves better. Because prioritizing customers and your own branding is key to achieving substantial differentiation.