The most recent BrandZ report by WPP and Millward Brown includes a ranking of the Top 20 Most Valuable B2B Brands, with the top 5 spots going to:
What can we learn from these companies about the changing ways in which B2B companies are using digital opportunities to engage with their key audiences and build their brands, particularly in an increasingly challenging and competitive environment?
1. The corporate website is becoming more focused and aligned
B2B company websites are becoming more focused and aligned, with homepages no longer being a conglomeration of every type of stakeholder communication. Rather, we are seeing the emergence of a more considered attempt to get across key issues and topics on the homepage. There is now an increased understanding and expectation that seasoned users, be they journalists, investors, career seekers, or others, will use the navigation to find any specific but standard content (including press releases, publications, and corporate information) that they are looking for. Tellingly, none of the main sites of the above five companies have a statement describing who they are on their homepages, instead placing marketing and editorial content at the forefront. This stems from an increasing realisation that reputation, corporate brand and B2B marketing are closely aligned and that providing simplicity and clarity in the overall brand and user experience is a lot more fruitful than using the website to broadcast an overwhelming amount of siloed information.
2. B2B companies can do content marketing too
We already know that content is king – great stories engage audiences, and companies need to compete with a deluge of other content to get their messages across in an attention-light digital world. But it’s hard to actually do this well, and to do so continuously. And to top it off, there’s a common misperception that compared to their B2C counterparts, it’s a lot harder for ‘boring’ B2B companies to excel at content marketing. GE proves this wrong. The company has done an amazing job at creating unique content across multiple channels and formats in a way that’s consistently bold, relevant and engaging. From the jargon-free and visually interesting GE Reports to a range of innovative virtual reality content to the lightweight but hilarious ‘Hey Girl’ memes on Pinterest to the ‘What’s the matter with Owen’ recruitment campaign, the company’s approach to content marketing has had a huge positive impact on their brand. At the heart of this approach is the culture and ability to think and act like a publisher – combining speed, agility and experimentation with an understanding of how to create an emotional response from audiences while staying true to who they are as a company.
3. More B2B companies are adopting a campaigning mindset
Digital technologies have empowered B2B companies to run more impactful, data-led, engaging and tailored campaigns, be they for sales, marketing or lead generation. However, the scale and speed of digital communication reinforces the importance of careful campaign planning and implementation. IBM’s #HackAHairDryer campaign was viewed as patronising and sexist and missed the mark, but the company was quick to apologise and withdraw the campaign. Arguably this quick reaction, coupled with their strong brand equity, negated any long-term reputational damage. IBM’s recently launched ‘Watson at Work’ campaign feels more in line with the company’s DNA, and demonstrates the multitude of benefits of IBM’s work in cognitive intelligence in a compelling way. The campaign has a strong customer focus, but doesn’t feel like a traditional customer campaign or an aggressive sales pitch. Instead it tells stories that are newsworthy and uses platforms that have a broader reach and appeal. The impact of this campaign remains to be seen, but this is undoubtedly the new face of B2B campaigns – creative and visual, human and emotive, wide-reaching yet personalised, and facilitating conversations rather than broadcasting information.
4. Social media is not an option anymore
Social media is not just for B2C companies, and needs to be (sensibly) integrated into B2B marketing and communication strategies rather than being an afterthought. UPS has been doing this well for a number of years now. Its employer brand proposition and recruitment efforts are largely driven by Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and it has also leveraged Periscope for live Q&A sessions to efficiently but meaningfully engage with potential employees. The company has also enhanced its customer service model using a variety of social media platforms to listen to and engage with customers and potential customers in a timely way. Beyond harnessing social media for their own marketing and communications efforts, UPS has also identified it as a relevant topic to engage their customers with. A majority of UPS’ customers are small businesses, and through Compass, UPS’ business insights publication aimed at its customers, the company provides social media information, advice and guidance for small businesses across a range of different sectors.
5. Reputation still matters, and is hard to rebuild
At the end of the day, no matter how good your brand and reputation is, it needs to be backed up by credible business practices. Wells Fargo may have been identified as a top B2B brand in mid-2016, but later that year, a fake accounts scandal tarnished its reputation and the trust that customers placed in the brand, with a tangible financial impact. Wells Fargo is trying very hard to win back the trust of its customers and improve its reputation with initiatives including suspending executive bonuses and a new brand campaign called ‘Building Better Every Day’, but it is going to be an uphill struggle.
Written by Gauri Mahtani at Addison Group