IBM: making branding matter in B2B

Does infusing your marketing communications with strong, pervasive branding really make a difference in business-to-business marketing?  We think so, obviously.   But there are still objections and hesitations from some quarters about whether “brand strategy” has the importance — if any — for B2B that it does in the B2C space.

It’s an argument that may never be fully resolved, in some minds.   Some of the objections to branding’s place in B2B?

  • B2B buyers are rational decision makers who make objective judgments — and aren’t swayed by emotional factors.
  • B2B purchases are all about the relationship between the sales rep and buyer; any “branding” is driven by the sales rep.
  • B2B products don’t promise aspirational or self-gratificational attributes — price and objective performance are all that matter.
  • B2B companies sell to narrow audiences, so brandbuilding using advertising or other broad media doesn’t make sense.
  • B2B products are too complex to encompass in a mere tagline or ad.

There are counterarguments to be made against every one of these points that support the unassailable fact (one we’ve seen in action countless times) that branding matters in B2B…it’s just branding that’s based on a different set of positionings, priorities and concerns than in consumer goods.

IBM provides a clear example of how branding works in the business realm, and their Web site shows how branding and digital user experience are inextricably linked, and can do enormous good together in building perceptions.  Because branding isn’t just a logo, or tagline, or style of copy or graphics…it’s about how the brand walks its game, and there’s no better place than to discern that than on the Web.

IBM often sells to the most senior of enterprise managers, at the very largest of enterprises…as well as to midmanagers and purchasing specialists.  There’s plenty of track record for them to call on, lots of rationality that can be leveraged…and they do an excellent job of it.  But there’s a basic understanding of human nature that percolates throughout the site, and of the customer-provider relationship, more specifically.  That baked-in understanding of what IBM customers want, and how they use the Web — both as objective searchers and as people — is extremely telling.

The IBM site is, first and foremost, a subtle but sophisticated example of solutions-based navigation — there’s an enormous complexity of products and services under their umbrella, yet this site makes it simple to find the answer that suits any user’s inquiry, because the site is designed around that process of expeditious discovery.   Copy and content is directed toward the user’s needs — not toward bragging on IBM’s own story, which is certainly considerable.

So what’s this structure, content and approach say about the company?

  • It knows how to manage and clarify complex topics and information
  • It knows enterprise site design
  • It’s focused on the customer or prospect’s needs, not on its own ballyhoo (which must have taken great discipline)
  • It’s sophisticated yet approachable; technological yet human, driven home through consistency of in how site integrates with the tone and humor of all other IBM advertising and communications

Add it all up…and you’ve got a case study in great B2B branding.

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