Three years ago, I had a sales experience that was a real wake up call. After providing a compelling argument to a prospective customer about our company’s latest product, showing how it was clearly superior to the competitor’s offering in every way, our team was flatly shut down by the client. He told us that, “even if you gave me your product for free, I wouldn’t take it.” The problem? He had an emotional connection to the competitor’s brand.
On October 9th, Interbrand, the leading global brand consultancy group, released its annual Best Global Brands Report and the top 5 most powerful brands in the world stayed the same for 2014. Not surprising, these top brands are companies with market leading positions and strong reputations:
Interbrand examined three key aspects that contributed to each brand’s value:
- The financial performance of the brand
- The role the brand plays in influencing customer choice
- The strength the brand has to command a premium price
While much has been said about how the emotional connection of a brand affects the purchasing decision for consumer products, the significance of brand in business-to-business (B2B) transactions may even be more powerful. A poor purchasing decision of a consumer product, like a soft drink or a mobile phone, would have a minor impact for the buyer. A poor decision in acquiring a large piece of capital equipment, however, could lead to years of negative financial impact and possibly the loss of a job for the buyer.
A recent McKinsey & Company study showed that brands have a strong influence on B2B purchasing decisions. Like consumers, professional B2B buyers use a vendor’s brand to shortcut the buying process. Knowing the reputation of a company’s brand helps the buyer reduce risk and simplifies the evaluation process. In fact, they found that brand was a central element of the final evaluation of a supplier’s value proposition. Brand had an 18% share in the purchasing decision, compared to only 17% for the sales effort.
According to Mohanbir Sawhney, Professor of Technology at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, there are three dimensions of benefits that B2B companies need to build into their value proposition:
- Functional (what the product does)
- Economic (what the brand means to the customer in time and money)
- Emotional (how the brand makes the customer feel)
Traditional B2B sellers tend to talk in terms of product features, functionality, performance, and ROI. Professional buyers need these details but they are also looking for the emotional connection – trust, reputation, confidence, ease of doing business, and security.
IBM famously played this emotional connection to their advantage in the 1970’s by spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) about any of IBM’s competitors. The argument used by the IBM sales force at that time was that good things would happen to people who stuck with IBM but bad things loomed over the competitors’ equipment and software. This was epitomized by the phrase used by purchasing agents that “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.”
The challenge for B2B sellers is to recognize is that brand plays a major role in the purchasing decision. There is an emotional element for professional buyers that can’t be ignored. Smart companies are reviewing their value propositions and asking: What is the reputation of our brand? How can our brand address the emotional needs of the buyer better than the competition?
Realizing the importance of the emotional connection of our brand made us completely revamp our value proposition. We already had a great product with a strong functional and economic message but our emotional message was weak at best. Tying in a strong message about our brand to add that critical element of trust, reputation, confidence, ease of doing business, and security was exactly what was needed. This simple change helped us create $20 million of new business for our company.