A strong, healthy B2B brand builds a community.
If a B2B brand is serving customers well and consistently, and guiding its employees with a strong vision, then its community will see the B2B brand through ups, downs, and adaptations to a changing marketplace.
Of course, there’s always some hot new companies riding the trends like a tidal wave. Like the occasional daredevil surfer, they might pull off a gnarly, 80-foot drop and survive the wreckage.
But not many. In fact, changing on a whim and throwing consistency, reliability, clear marketing and their entire purpose overboard is how many brands fail.
One case in point is Weight Watchers, which changed its name and brand identity to ‘Wellness and Wellbeing’ with the idea that the body positivity movement was giving the whole notion of ‘watching weight’ a bad connotation. Unfortunately (but obviously), this change in core purpose came with dwindling customers and overall confusion.
With a trendy, virtue-signaling rebrand, a company people knew and trusted to do one thing changed itself out of existence.
It’s also true that brands, companies, or even B2B brands which don’t adapt can fall by the wayside. With a quick Google search, you can tour the graveyard of companies that couldn’t, or wouldn’t make the necessary changes.
So how do enduring brands do it? How do they unlock loyalty and build communities that stand the test of time? How do they balance adaptation and consistency in a way that unites stakeholders over the long haul?
Let’s take a look.
Athletic? Try Authentic
You can’t talk about lasting brands without Nike coming up.
Although we may not be able to duplicate Nike’s success (at least not yet…) there are plenty of things we can learn from the athletics giant.
Most people know Nike from their product line, and primarily from shoes; that association is clear enough. They started by making running shoes for professional runners, and for over a decade, that’s the only product they sold. Today, their product line ranges from all types of athletic shoes to apparel, sports equipment and even fitness software.
The fact that they’re pushing out a lot of highly regarded products could be chalked up to marketing, R & D, fine work from a branding agency, responsiveness to their customers, or no doubt all of the above. But beneath it all, Nike exists for a core purpose—helping people achieve authentic, even optimal, athletic performance. This purpose beats at the heart of the brand, giving direction and meaning to everything the brand and organization does.
For that reason, there are certain products they’ll never get into. We’re not going to see Nikevodka coming down the pike anytime soon…even if it’s fortified with electrolytes.
Purpose Over Product
Although Nike’s brand might prevent it from getting into distilled alcohol, it doesn’t limit it to just shoes.
Nike’s brand mantra is “Authentic Athletic Performance,” which gives it a broad scope for exactly how it supports athletes. We see that reflected in almost everything they do, including their decision to take a celebrity-forward approach to messaging, showcasing and sponsoring high-achieving athletes.
Even more, Nike’s image and reputation lend themselves to a strong sense of community, one that’s more than the people or retailers who devour its products.
Go With the Grain
Whether you’re a large corporation or a regional B2B brand, your company is made of people, and people need purpose. Vision comes from owning one’s purpose, and from applying it to making one corner of the world a better place.
In many ways, a company is like a type of wood. If you’re into carving wood, there are certain things you can or can’t do with a specific piece of wood because of the grain, hardness, and color, among several other factors.
To take an enduring brand like Nike—and with any brand, its vision, culture, community, and following—and force it into the business of mental health would be a bad idea. It would probably never work. As successful as Nike’s been with athletics, it may not even be average in the mental health awareness game.
Going against the grain makes things hard, and like most people, most companies can’t overcome a bad fit.
What’s the Center of What You Do?
Let’s apply Nike’s example to our everyday life.
A few basic questions — thoughtfully considered — can make your brand stand out. But first, the answers to the questions have to be truthful, layered, and deeply tied to a core purpose you may still be discovering.
Finding the center often takes mileage. But if you keep pushing into your brand, you’ll see it take on an identity that other companies can’t match. When you discover this authentic identity, the one that aligns with your values and purpose, it’s actually fun to live it out every day.
With your finger on the pulse of your brand’s identity, it’s easier to see how you’re connecting (or not connecting) to the natural desires of your employers, your colleagues, and especially the people you want to serve.
If your whole company (of course, that’s a lofty goal…) is made up of people who understand and treasure this identity, then you’re literally paying them to live out their values.
You can start by asking:
- What’s the center of what my company does?
- What is it that we’re uniquely suited to do in the world?
- Who do we want to benefit?
Need another suggestion?
Have Patience with Every Detail
You can’t rush authenticity.
But you can start your B2B brand journey with the small stuff…and build from there.
Don’t get discouraged when you see big companies — the Apples, Starbucks’, and Nikes of the world who spent twenty-five years in business before their brand really took off.
How long did it take Steve Jobs to realize Apple wasn’t about circuits, but about design?
Part of the Apple legend is a young Steve Jobs preaching the same message to his hardware teams over and over: “It has to look really pretty inside, even though no one’s going to open these things. Everything’s got to be laid out really well.”
Jobs wanted the design ethos expressed in every small detail.
In short, and as Apple’s success shows us, staying consistent to a core purpose is worth the work. By that metric, and lest we forget, most of those companies were still successful before they exploded…and when they did, that rapid growth was made possible by everyone on the team having a deeply instilled sense of duties, values, and their role in the company’s purpose.
What About Rebranding?
Sometimes the need to rebrand sneaks up on you, especially when you brand in a way that’s too focused, such as on a product. Taser, with its product-focused branding, sits on an extreme end of the spectrum.
Taser sold their product — Tasers — for 25 years. At the end of that time, they started running out of customers. Every police department now has Tasers, and the company found itself without a market.
Luckily they had other products, like body cams…but what if they’d thought of this years ago? How many millions would Taser have saved in lost sales? In a failed attempt to sell Tasers to the general public? In a late-game rebrand to embody all of its equipment and the functions it serves?
So… You’re Saying I Should Rebrand My Russian-Themed Vodka?
Outside pressure may influence a brand’s change in direction, even if everything’s going great.
These days, everyone’s anti-Russia because of their invasion of Ukraine. And if you listen to the podcast, David asks me if I’d recommend changing a Russia-inspired vodka brand to something not so Russian.
But for the answer to that, as well as some other branding topics, you’ll have to check out the podcast.
Go Slow…and Don’t Take a Step Backward
In the early stages, a B2B brand is still discovering their core purpose. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to get on the right track as early as they can.
Let’s say you’re five years into your business.
Things are going well, but you’re branded around a product or an idea that’s too vague. How do you get the best chance of beating Nike and Starbucks to success in less than twenty-five years?
You start today.
Start thinking like an enduring brand with values and traits that make sense to others. Build consistency into what you do, every detail, and how anyone who works for you can present yourself.
And if you need some wind in the sales, give the Resound team a call, or check out the resources, articles, and audio content on our website.
Here in Phoenix and around the country, I’ve helped B2B brands rebrand, discover, and refine authentic identities that resonate with people. You can even read my book about authentic branding “You are Remarkable” out now on Amazon.
Until next time, happy branding!