The Brand Version 2.0:
Business-to-Business Brands in the Internet Age
By Peter De Legge
Brands are more important than ever.
Sure it’s a cliché. It seems every book I have read on branding contains
that sentence. Yet, the Internet has created an
environment that makes that statement truer than at any prior point. The
Internet enables incredibly fast access to an enormous
amount of information and provides connectivity and community that can
According to a popular branding theory, when marketplace choices increase,
buyers tend to have an increased preference for
familiar brands, thus, saving them research time and limiting their exposure
to risk. The Internet has, without question, increased
the amount of choices for business-to-business buyers.
Buyers increased access to information often results in increased
expectations. In markets where products and services are
largely perceived as commodities, or strong weight is given to technical
specifications and price, given that all other things are
equal (e.g., delivery time, etc.), a strong brand may be the single
characteristic that differentiates a product from competitive
The significance of geography, which had once created advantages for many
companies and obstacles to others, has, in many
instances, been greatly reduced. Customers can now quickly and easily
research product information, detailed specifications,
experience computer-based presentations, search competitor offerings, find
peers through professional associations or affinity
groups where they can ask questions and share experiences, as well as make
PROPAGANDA IS OUT. DELIVERING ON PROMISES IS IN.
There's an old saying in the advertising world: "Nothing kills a bad product
faster than good advertising." With the mainstream
adoption of the commercial Internet, the time it takes to kill poor or
undifferentiated products (for the sake of simplicity, this
paper uses the term "products" to describe both products and services) has
been shortened considerably. Innovations are
quickly imitated by competitors, rarely providing long-term sustainable
It is clear that the most sustainable advantage any company can have is a
In the age of the informed customer, the concept of "image is reality" is
dead. The revised formula is: Image + Information +
Customer Expectations + Customer Experience (delivery) = Reality.
Customers new found access to seemingly endless amounts of information
results in their being more demanding than prior to
this access. While image remains significant, the new access to information
often results in placing increased weight on
specifications, capabilities and price during the buying process. This
complex situation may appear to lessen the significance of
brands, but, in actuality, it has elevated the significance of the brand.
Great B2B brands have the right technical specifications, connect with
customers, deliver on promises that matter, exceed
expectations and have a positive buzz within the buying community.
Consider the popular mantra of IT professionals: "No one ever got fired for
buying IBM." This is a good example of a brand
that stands for quality in the minds of customers and provides them with a
shortcut in the buying process that helps them avoid
The ideal brand connects with customers on an emotional level.
Think B2C brands are the only ones that do this? Consider commercial
photographers and Kodak; graphic and multimedia
designers and Macintosh; business executives and recruiters and Harvard
Business School; computer professionals and IBM;
and mechanics and Snap-On.
Smart B2B brands use the Internet to deepen emotional bonding between the
brand and customer. These marketers will often
create places customers can go online that help encourage their bonding
where they can find out more information about the
brand, communicate with other brand advocates and feel a sense of a
community that is connected by the brand. Microsoft is
excellent at creating emotional bonds with the developer community through
its various developer groups. These groups have
their own special sections of the Microsoft Website, training (including
some at no cost), special access to information (they can
receive advance notification of announcements prior to the general public),
membership, online events such as seminars,
discounts on Microsoft products (software and books) plus offline meetings
Microsoft understands how to meld the offline and online worlds together for
the benefit of its brand.
THE FALLOUT FROM THE “NEW ECONOMY” HYPE
During the dot-com explosion, the Internet became so over-hyped it seemed
that many people had lost touch with (or never
understood) sound business principles. Huge amounts of cash were spent in a
mad rush to be first to create strong brands in
“Internet Speed.” Now, long after the Internet bubble has burst, in many
instances, there has been a reactionary backlash --a
tendency to discount all things related to the Internet.
Either extreme is unwise.
The Internet is certain to play an increasingly significant role in how
business is done and the management of brands. Those
interested in building and maintaining strong brands need to understand and
exploit the Internet’s power, integrating it with
Peter De Legge is an
eBusiness strategy and Marketing
Consultant with over 10 years of Marketing Management, Marketing Communications
experience, primarily in the business to business arena. To learn more visit http://www.businessmarketing.net.
© Copyright 2002, Peter De
Legge. All rights reserved.
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