It’s a Brand Thing...
6 September 2006 Simon Rowland
We may think that bosses put the bottom line before everything else, but nothing could be further from the truth. Simon Rowland, Head of Research and Strategy at UffindellWest investigates.
A new survey reveals that UK business leaders actually value trust and relationships so highly when choosing suppliers or business partners, that they're prepared to pay a premium to get what they want.
However, it's not all good news.
The results also highlight that when it comes to brand management and the benefits it can bring, many B2B companies are still in the dark and are missing out on potentially huge opportunities.
How do you market your products or services in the B2B sector? Does it take a quirky brand personality or clever advertising to stand out from the crowd? Is it a question of undercutting the competition, or are potential clients simply interested in referrals and recommendations from trusted sources?
The problem is that unless you understand the decision-making process and the factors that influence it, all of your efforts to engage potential clients could be in vain. As John Wanamaker famously said "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is I don't know which half."
THE REPUTATION AND TRUST IN B2B SURVEY
So to answer this question, and to identify where time and money would be best spent, independent brand consultancy UffindellWest commissioned the 'Reputation and Trust in B2B Survey'.
Examining the views of 500 businesspeople with responsibility for the selection of financial services, office support, professional services, telephony or travel supplies, the study set out to understand how UK business leaders perceive and interact with companies.
The survey polled the views of a wide-ranging sample in terms of age, gender and seniority; from chairmen and CEOs right through to managers and administrators.
Each was asked a series of questions relating to their attitude towards selecting the right partner for their business needs: What brands did they trust? What were their feelings towards existing business suppliers? And what role did they believe marketing played in influencing their opinions?
The biggest surprise when the results were analysed was that despite what we all think, business leaders don't deserve their hard-nosed reputation.
Only the youngest and least-experienced managers or administrators, those who are still trying to establish themselves within the company, were focused on cost savings above all else.
A staggering 83% believed that cost was unimportant when compared with quality and consistency. To them the important consideration was the strength of the product and an ongoing relationship with suppliers built on trust.
In relation to evaluating existing business partners this trend continued with 72.5% of those surveyed saying the most important factor was positive past experiences while 70% claimed to judge suppliers on their relationship with that company's representatives - all of the elements that make up a perfect brand experience.
The survey provides a fascinating insight for marketers trying to develop a successful B2B strategy. In turns out that the old adage is true; people really do buy people.
In each of the sections of the study, the relationship with the company was deemed as important as the relationship with the products the company offered. All of which proves that just like consumers, businesses actually respond to and interact with brands on an emotional level. They value trust and reputation as much as the size of a business or its location and as a result actively ignore advertising.
When asked what factors most influenced their decision when evaluating a supplier, newspaper recommendations and advertising were by far the least popular responses with 16.8% and 15.9% respectively. However, when asked if a recommendation from someone in their peer group would affect their decision, 61.1% of the sample agreed it would.
To capitalise on these findings, all companies have to do is rise to the challenge of developing a more engaging brand experience - building emotional rapport to support ongoing investment in products and services. As the survey shows, this is what clients respond to best and actively seek out.
However, that might be easier said than done. It may have been a pleasant surprise to discover that businesses are indeed closely related to consumers, but what came as a huge shock was the fact that on the whole, businesses don't appear to understand what a brand is or the benefits a carefully managed brand can bring.
This is despite the fact that they were naturally drawn to businesses with strong brands when seeking out suppliers.
When asked what features of their own company best influenced the perceptions of others, the 'way their company engages' and 'the personal touch' were the top responses with 55% and 45% respectively, while brand languished near the bottom of the scale, picked by only 11% of the sample.
The fact is that all three responses are elements of the same thing - brand management. The way a company interacts, its reputation and its people are its brand.
"The paradox of ranking the more emotional attributes of branding like customer experience as of higher importance than the brand itself reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the very nature of branding."
"It seems that businesses fail to recognise the influence of the emotional connection brands have with their customers in building trust and reputation," said UffindellWest Managing Director Erika Uffindell, when asked about the findings.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BRAND EXPERIENCE
This misapprehension continued when the business leaders were asked to name the activities that would most improve their company's performance. Given the importance of the brand experience in their own dealings with suppliers, logic dictates that the most popular decision would be to build their brand in order to capitalise on market share and seize new opportunities.
However, when polled, identifying new market opportunities and a re-examination of company strategy were the top responses. Engaging consultants (17.5%) and rebranding (16.4%) were only beaten into last place by the instigation of redundancies which totalled only 9% of responses.
In order to perform in the B2B sector, brand and brand experience cannot be underestimated. Throughout the survey, the most crucial elements to a successful business partnership were always relationship, experience and trust, while competitive pricing or promotional activities came bottom.
As Erika Uffindell explains, "We have always proclaimed that trust is a brand issue and brand experience is as important as brand identity.
Many business leaders still possess a limited perception of branding, seeing the brand as cosmetic and overlooking its wider potential. The brand experience influences buying decisions in ways not immediately associated with 'the brand'."