Why B2B Needs Branding

“Brands” in the most frequently understood sense of the term (especially among laypeople) refer to well-known, everyday consumer products (often including the companies that make them). From surveys like, “What brand of toothpaste do you use? What brand of car do you drive? (Or maybe: What brand of cigarettes do you smoke when no one is looking?), a brand, and the value of one, would appear to largely sit in the B2C, business-to-consumer space.

So why would branding be relevant to a business-to-business product or service?

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Seven Branding Lessons from iOS 7

Now that the pixels have settled a bit on the iOS 7 release (which, despite some early detractors, is turning out to be one of the more successful releases in the company’s history), let’s look at what all this signifies about Apple as a brand, and what branding lessons we can take away from the industry and user chatter.

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The Three Pillars of Content Strategy

With deference to Roshi Kapleau’s classic, The Three Pillars of Zen, it occurs to me that many of the recent discussions about content keep coming back to three essential ‘pillars’. While the ideas are easy, implementing them are not. Let’s talk about what the pillars are, and how to build them to support more effective content marketing.

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The Semiotics of Branding

Is a brand a sign, or is it the destination? Or is it both? Or is it something greater than either one?

How you answer that question may well depend on where you sit professionally,  in-house in a product or sales group, as a strategist or communications expert in or outside the organization, or at an external design or branding agency.

In an earlier post we talked about how brands are, essentially, languages, with ‘grammar rules’, a lexicon, and ways of speaking that pattern very much as they do with natural languages. In fact, brands, as communicative media, are something even more: they’re semiotic systems.

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Can China Create Brands?

New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote a piece on the role culture and society play in creating a context for great brands. To wit, it requires something quite different from heavy government investment, a cheap currency strategy, or a vast labor market: rather, great brands come forth from freethinking individuals who can pursue their vision–a vision that has as much to do with the personal dreams of the individual as with tomorrow’s next big market opportunity.

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Sending the Right Message

If the brand is the message, content strategy is how it gets delivered:  the sum total of the activities to enhance the written and spoken expression of a company’s brand.

The term ‘content strategy’ is best known in its digital context: the structuring, development, and management of content for websites and digital applications. However, in a broader definition that includes all channels and contexts, content strategy would come closely on the heels of brand strategy (the identification of a company’s unique positioning and personality). Much as with a graphic design brief, the brand strategy becomes the basis on which communications can be built and a ‘strategy screen’ to determine if those communications continue to be on-brand.

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The Linguistics of Branding

My day job (that takes a few nights as well) is helping companies connect to their customers through ‘verbal branding’: that is to say, positioning, messaging, corporate language, and brand voice. It’s somewhat unusual in that to many people, brands are visual constructs, consisting of logos, color schemes, visual vocabulary, and guidelines. However, that’s not the end of the story.

What makes a successful brand is the combination of the visual and verbal: a visual presentation that captures the spirit of what the brand is about, combined with the right messages, crafted in the right tone. Without key messages, a piece of brand communication is a beautiful box with nothing inside.

Positioning is, essentially, the company’s credo, or its belief about the world and how the company helps make it a better place. Whether it’s simple, desirable user experiences that let people get more out of life, a ‘third place’ between work and home where you can enjoy a latte, have a short escape, or be productive, successful companies have a simple, clearly articulated idea about what they do that is bigger than the flagship product offer in any given business cycle.

Brand messaging unpacks the positioning into a set of key ideas. It has to explain three things: what the organization stands for, what the organization offers (not always literally what the organization ‘sells’), and why this matters to the recipient of the message, whether it is customers, employees, or hiring candidates. Successful messaging allows companies to better position themselves in the marketplace, gain more effective product communications, and retain and attract the best people. With messaging, any employee can answer the question “What does your company do?”, and any customer can understand, “What does this company do for me?”.

Brand voice and corporate language are the expression of the verbal brand. Using some classic examples, whether it’s Apple’s famous “Ten thousand songs in your pocket”, or Nike’s “Just do it”, it is the product or company brand put into words that have a spirit and viewpoint.

In short: brands are languages. They have a syntax and semantics, speakers and listeners. You could go even further and say a brand, because it is a language, is also a semiotic system. In other words, that means brands have signs, symbols, and interpretation tools the same way languages and other forms of communication do. By understanding brands as languages, companies can go far in structuring and managing their communications.

Stay tuned for more on this topic, or get in touch.