The subject of branding doesn’t often get much coverage in the B2B and B2G tech sectors. At Acacia, we are clear about the powerful role that brand plays in the ultimate success of the companies in our portfolio – both as a flag of identity that brings employees closer together, and as a differentiator that informs client decision making – and we invest accordingly.
We work with some of the best brand professionals in the business. We recently brought two of them together to unpack this complex subject with a view to helping business owners who are considering how best to give their brand more attention. Simon Case trained as a designer and Alec Rattray began his career in market research and planning. Together they lead the strategic and creative consultancy, Chromatic Brands. They have recently worked with Acacia on two major branding projects – Highmetric, which was part of the Acacia portfolio until its divestment earlier this year, and its successor brand, MajorKey Technologies.
Why do you think branding still receives relatively little attention in the B2B and B2G sectors?
Alec: I think it’s perhaps because not everyone has thought about exactly what’s wrapped up in a brand. It’s still understood largely in terms of design, a logo, a name, a website, an advert. It’s not seen as a fundamental aspect of strategy – thinking about who you are, what you’re for, your role in the market. We find it helpful to think in terms of three simple concepts: What do you stand for? How do you stand out? Where should you stand up? These things are as much to do with culture, behavior and innovation as they are to do with design and graphics.
Simon: In my experience some in the B2B tech sector believe that branding is more important in consumer tech. It’s as if brand is viewed a distraction from the business impact they are trying to have through the products and services they sell. That attitude is changing, however, and many B2B and B2G organizations are now catching on to the importance of a strong brand as a major asset in the success of their businesses.
Alec: There’s still also a widespread misapprehension that brand is something that can't be measured, can't be assessed, can't be valued. I’ve worked with clients that talked about brand as fluff because they found it very difficult to actually measure the distinction, the difference that brand made in a consumer's buying decision or in a set of relationships.
Why do you believe branding is so important in the B2B and B2G markets?
Simon: Differentiation is a big challenge in a crowded tech market. A strong brand can really help to make the difference. When potential clients are considering your business, when they've evaluated all of the other table stakes, how do they decide between choosing one company or another that might have similar products or services? Brand and reputation and the assurance they give to clients are huge factors in being chosen.
Alec: The line between business and consumer brand behavior is blurring. B2B and B2G brands should understand that we are all human and that it's the experiences and interactions that we have of products or services that make a difference. That’s something that can be captured and communicated in a brand. Companies like IBM have always understood this, and with the likes of Amazon and Google now dominating in the business sector, business customer expectations are changing.
So how should B2B businesses be thinking about brand definition and development?
Alec: Traditionally, branding was seen as the marketing department's concern, but it’s really the whole company's business. It's also remarkably easy and incredibly important to assess the importance of brand in a buying decision, the importance of brand in shaping a sense of cohesion and in making a company an attractive place to work. If we accept that brand is multi-faceted, it's a much more inclusive thought than just marketing and just communications. Branding is an important discipline internally for alignment, the coherence for strategic delivery, being clear within your organization what you stand for, what you have to deliver, how you have to operate. That's how you deliver the goods the customers really value.
Simon: Brand goes far beyond design and is about more than just a new logo. People focus on the design because it belongs to the marketing department and because, quite often, it’s the tangible use of the brand, an ad or a logo or a color palette. But a branding project should never be about the design until you know what the design is about. Having a meaningfully differentiated story to tell is really important. That then gives you the platform to create abrand expression, whether it's through words or whether it's through design that is different and is anchored in some sort of truth.
Practically speaking, how should a business owner get started on reviewing their brand?
Simon: There are lots of reasons for looking again at your brand, whether you're just becoming a bit stale, whether you're not winning the war for talent, whether you're taking the business in a new direction. So, start with why you want to do it in the first place. Because if you haven't got a really clear rationale for doing a brand review to begin with, you won't have a direction for where you want to end up.
Alec: Start with a dispassionate view of your marketplace. Look at your competitors. Look at their language and the imagery they use. Look at how they're communicating their propositions and pull that together to see what opportunities there are to be more relevant and distinctive. Then turn that lens on yourself and look at the messages you're articulating. Try to identify with your colleagues whether there's a shared and common belief in what makes your business or your brand different and build consensus around what that opportunity could be. Bring people together, get them to think and talk about what really makes this business different. Why is it we have a right to play? What would make a customer engage with us? That's an iterative process, is a collaborative process.
Simon: The process of bringing people together is an important part of it. If you want the story to be right, you have to give people a sense that they were involved in the creation of the solution. Seeking different voices and involving them in the decision-making process is enormously powerful and has a huge effect on whether a solution will be adopted and embraced or not.
Alec: A rebrand or even a brand refresh will likely require some external support. Thousands of agencies offer brand consultancy and deciding who to work with can feel overwhelming. When meeting with potential partners, be wary of any consultancy too in love with its own process and weighed down by jargon. If you're struggling to explain to your colleagues what the consultants were talking about, you're probably talking to the wrong people!
Simon and Alec worked together with Acacia to create the highly distinctive MajorKey brand.
Interview conducted by Acacia Partner, Tim Matthews.
To see more of the work of Chromatic Brands, visit www.chromaticbrands.com