The Problem of Non-Branding
At Resound, we believe branding is all about uncovering your authentic identity. But many people (especially in a highly technical B2B company like manufacturing, technology, or engineering) don’t believe in “branding”, or don’t believe it is capable of reflecting anything like an “authentic” identity. They think of branding as a B2B company’s way of “putting lipstick on a pig”, and want nothing to do with it.
We call this “non-branding.”
What is Non-Branding?
Non-branding is when a “brand” consists of nothing beyond an arbitrary name and logo (though the logo may just be the name in a stylized typeface). The B2B company has no interest in knowing or communicating what it is outwardly, usually because of skepticism that there is anything authentic about its identity which could ever be known or communicated. The brand is an empty shell and doesn’t really think of itself as anything more than an empty shell.
Why your company might be skeptical about branding:
First, some people in B2B are skeptical about branding because they’re skeptical about their own B2B company. They don’t actually believe in themselves. They’re discouraged by the lack of purpose and vision. They doubt that there is anything beneath the surface to be discovered about its identity. They just can’t buy into the idea that there could be anything authentic, genuine, or intrinsically remarkable about the identity of the company itself. The company really is just a piece of paper filed with a government entity and maybe a couple of bank accounts.
Second, some B2B industry folks are skeptical about branding because they’re skeptical about everybody else’s companies. They’ve seen “branding” before, and it’s all a massive hoax to them. Branding to them is empty, deceptive, and profoundly inauthentic. “Branding” is just a bit of hocus pocus a marketing team makes up with no substance to it. Maybe they’re afraid that “branding” wouldn’t really fit them. When you see a lot of superficial branding pasted on that doesn’t match anything underneath, the most honest approach might look like not branding at all.
Obviously, we’re biased. As a B2B branding agency, we don’t at all share these doubts. We truly believe there is something remarkable about every B2B company which continues to survive in a hostile world where, as W. B. Yeats wrote, “things fall apart”.
The 4 Causes of Non-Branding for B2B companies:
There are four primary beliefs causing non-branding:
- The company believes it has no purpose.
- The company believes it is inhuman, not made up of people.
- The company believes it is not unique.
- The company believes it has no story to tell.
All four of these beliefs are false. We argue that companies can and should take themselves seriously, and find their authentic identity.
1. Your Company Has a True Purpose
You have a purpose. If your B2B company has survived more than a few years then it inevitably serves a purpose in the larger marketplace or community. Some people must find you valuable, and you must hold true to some sort of values.
The faster you spin a ball on a string in a circle, the stronger the string must be to keep the ball from flying away. The centrifugal forces pulling people away from one another in a modern world spinning at an ever-faster pace are so powerful that it takes a very strong bond to exert the opposing centripetal force needed to keep them together for any length of time. Whatever faults a business may have, it has at least succeeded in keeping people together. That bond that keeps the business from flying off into pieces is some sort of purpose it serves.
A Company’s Purpose Doesn’t Have to be Flashy or Profound
Not every business exists to, say, cure cancer or solve the AIDS epidemic, or end homelessness. The purpose your company serves may be fairly modest: it might exist to serve its customers by giving them a better way to organize their projects online, or access to some of the brightest software engineers in the world, or a machine to package their new brand of breakfast cereals, or whatever business your company is in. Nonetheless, assuming a free market and the free flow of information, companies that don’t serve their customers don’t survive long.
Companies that do not communicate their purpose communicate that they do not have values. No one wants a relationship with a company that has no values. A company that avoids branding, that avoids reflecting on its purpose, only attracts customers who have no other choice. It is very limiting. Your “word of mouth” network wouldn’t extend very far if your customers didn’t share your values.
If your B2B company has survived so far, then you probably do serve some sort of purpose, and you do have some underlying set of values. Take the time to reflect on that. Identify it clearly, and you have the starting point for communicating your brand.
2. Your Company is People
Every company (or organization, if you prefer) is made up of people. The word “company” derives from the root word for “companion”, compaignon, literally, someone who shares bread (pain) with (com) another. Companies are composed out of companions who accompany one another in some shared common work.
What is being “organized” in the term “organization”? It’s not papers in a filing cabinet, expenses on a spreadsheet, or digital assets in the cloud. Once again, it’s people who organize themselves into an organization. An organization is people. Your organization is people.
One reason companies tend to neglect branding is that they forget that they are made out of people: living, breathing human beings. The corporate name takes on a life of its own so that the individuals whose paychecks bear that name forget that they are part of the very thing for which they are working. Customers view the business as a kind of temperamental super-human demigod, and they feel lucky if they can get what they want from it without sacrificing too much. The “corporation” feels abstract and distant to the very people who physically embody it. It’s completely crazy and completely normal.
Caring About Your Brand Means Caring About People
Ultimately, caring about your own brand is a matter of caring about people. Your brand is how employees in the office identify themselves to the outside world. “Where do you work?”, is a question they have to answer all the time. It is the lens through which employees relate to one another, whether in an office or over long-distance video calls. Your brand is the intermediary through which your customers (whether they are individual people, or companies made up of people) relate to your business and your employees. If you care about relationships between people, you care about your brand.
What if a business simply doesn’t care about relationships between people? What if its employees really are completely expendable? And what if how well it serves its customers is irrelevant? Well, then it doesn’t really sound like much of a “company” or an “organization” at all, and one has to wonder how it survives! When an “organization” manages to survive without seeking to produce value in the world . . . like a personality cult, a criminal gang, a state-sponsored monopoly, or a pyramid scheme. . . well, then, frankly, that sort of “organization” is simply too far gone for any of our advice on branding to apply.
We take it for granted that most businesses seek to produce value and are concerned about customer relationships: as Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, put it, “Look after the customers and the business will take care of itself.” So, we take it for granted that relationships matter for all value-producing businesses.
Don’t Get Caught in the Non-Branding Trap
There are still two more causes of non-branding that we need to unpack. We’ll do that in the next article so be sure to get on our email list so you don’t miss it.
But until then, I want to leave you with this thought: non-branding is a real thing.
With our branding agency, Resound, I’ve seen it first hand with clients and others. There are companies in every industry (and especially B2B) that don’t believe that branding is important. They don’t believe that they have what it takes to be remarkable. And they don’t believe that it’s all worth the time and effort.
That’s so unfortunate, not because it’s just good business sense to build a remarkable brand, but because those companies really are remarkable. They simply need to be reminded that they are and why they are.
So don’t forget: you are remarkable.
Check out our branding services on our website if you want to find out more about how Resound helps build remarkable B2B brands. And if you want to improve your own brand, we have a treasure trove of free branding resources that will help you out.