Millad NX8000 is not exactly the kind of brand name that rolls off the tongue, nor does it have the easy brand recognition of a Nike Air, Apple iPad, or Diet Coke. Yet Millad NX8000, a chemical additive from Milliken Chemical, a division of privately held Milliken & Company, refers to a product that is present in more households than any of these better known consumer brands: it is the clarifier that gives polypropylene plastics such as Tupperware products their transparency.
Business to business (B2B) brands may not have the widespread recognition or glamor associated with many consumer brands, but they are important assets that serve to connect the company on a platform of trust with its customers. But among the vast majority of B2B firms, conventional wisdom appears to be that building brands makes sense in a consumer setting, where a firm needs to reach large numbers of consumers simultaneously with a consistent and simple message. In B2B markets where smaller numbers of customers with more specialized knowledge and complex needs are to be served, many managers cling to the belief that personal selling trumps brand building.
Success is thought to reside in the ability of firms to deliver on technical specifications to hard-nosed customers, through a well-defined selling process, in which brands have little to add. So while attention and resources are directed toward recruiting, training, deploying, and managing an effective sales force, the planning and building of a sound brand architecture gets relatively short shrift from management, except during major upheavals such as mergers or acquisitions.
In reality branding and personal selling are not substitutes and the power of brands in non-mass markets should not be underestimated – though they often are by less informed B2B leaders. Sound brand architecture for B2B firms is not just a means of differentiating from competitors, but also supports the sales process, underpins customer relationships, and sustains trust with customers.
Brand architecture can help overcome the risks that B2B customers perceive at each phase in the evolution of a business relationship.
A firm’s brand architecture is its collection of brands and their interrelationships, and typically consists of umbrella, line, and modifier brands. For example, HP, the umbrella brand that over-arches the firm’s various products and services, communicates the benefits of its advanced laser printing technology for business customers through its “Color Laser Jet” line brand, and further captures the technical features such as power consumption, paper handling, and dimensions in its modifier brands such as the 5550dtn.
Brand architecture should be shaped by numerous considerations, including market segment and targeting imperatives, mergers and acquisitions, competitive positioning, cost-driven consolidation or rationalization of brands. To make brand architecture responsive to these forces, one must keep constant principles in mind for effective brand architecture design.
First, the organization’s degree of centralization should be reflected in its brand architecture, and second whether the offering is standardized or customized influences brand architecture. But even more fundamental than these design principles is an axiom that should guide all B2B brand architecture design: brand architecture reduces customers’ risk and supports the sales process.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Niraj Dawar with Steve Muylle and Deva Rangarajan.
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