Welcome to Brandsmart 2010!

Attend the Chicago AMA Conference on June 24

Join us here for lively discussion and interaction about brand relevance. Find out what topics and issues will be highlighted at the conference and contribute to the conversation.


BrandSmart 2010: From WOM to Lady Gaga

What do WOM marketing, low-budget, community-based marketing, keeping an eye on the future, and Lady Gaga have in common?

All will be highlights of Thursday’s BrandSmart 2010 thought-provoking sessions and discussions. Click here for the full agenda.

Word of mouth (WOM) marketing, and the control brand marketers gained over it, will garner attention through Dave Kissel, partner at Zocalo Group, and his presentation “Word of Mouth Marketing: The Most Powerful Form of Influence Is Now The Newest Way to Build Brands.” Sharon Feigon, CEO of I-GO Car Sharing will spotlight how her company was able to build awareness and grow a diverse membership base with a relatively small budget – a topic all marketers can take something away from, given organizations’ general budget tightening over the last 18-24 months.

Following lunch, FedEx Services Vice President Len Hostette will deliver the afternoon keynote. Len will draw on his experience at FedEx to demonstrate how the company has remained relevant by focusing on the future – more specifically, focusing on what is important to the company’s next generation of customers and employees.

And Lady Gaga? She will be discussed by Jon Pollock, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Polaroid. Earlier this year, Polaroid announced a partnership with Lady Gaga for the entertainer to serve as creative director for a specialty line of the company’s imaging products. How is the partnership between a 70-year-old brand and a 20-something British pop superstar going? Join us at BrandSmart to find out more.

The day will also feature even more relevant topics in the areas of innovation, engagement strategies, and social media.

See you there!

(These topics are great, but don’t forget about the awards – brand marketer’s version of the red carpet! During lunch, peers will be honored in the categories of consumer, business-to-business, non-profit, new product launch, small budget, and pure digital.)


BrandSmart 2010 Shines the Spotlight on Relevant Brands

BrandSmart 2010 brings together a diverse spectrum of experienced brand managers for a top-level conference that will illuminate the challenges and achievements of global brands as they navigate the turbulent waters of today’s marketing environment. You’ll hear insights from leaders of established brands as well as some up-and-coming companies who are making a name for themselves.

If Danielle Paris, director of US menu management, product innovation & development at McDonald's Corporation, has her way, we’re all gonna be lovin’ it a lot more this summer. Paris is credited with the launch of the McCafé line in 2009 and has been instrumental in McDonald's foray into the frozen blended beverage category.

The global brand is set to introduce some
new menu items such as Angus Snack Wraps, McCafé Real Fruit Smoothies, and McCafé Frappés (which have been rolling out nationally for the past few months). At an exclusive product-tasting event in NYC in early June, McDonald's executives and representatives “made it loudly known that they care about the quality of their ingredients, they are constantly innovating and they base many of their actions on customer feedback.”

While all McDonald's product innovation is the result of brainstorming sessions with, and reactions from, “food scientists and engineers, high-caliber chefs, suppliers, [and] independent store owner/operators,” feedback from customers is key to  determining what is eventually developed. According to the company bio posted on Twitter, “We’re here to listen and learn from all of our fans and followers.” 

Some of that feedback may not be quite what McDonald’s wants to hear, but customers and columnists voice their opinions over everything from remodeling to menus and ambiance. Attend the BrandSmart 2010 conference this week to find out how McDonald’s uses customer feedback to implement changes in its offerings.

Meanwhile, over at Walgreen’s, the dispute between the company and CVS Caremark Corp. seems to have been resolved, as reported by ChicagoBreakingBusiness.com. Kim Feil, chief marketing officer of Walgreen’s, may be able to shed some light on the outcome of the falling-out that recently concluded in a truce. Walgreen Co., with 7522 outlets, is the largest U.S. drugstore chain operator, slightly ahead of CVS.

The dispute threatened to prevent thousands of people from getting their prescriptions filled at Walgreens stores. Here’s an excellent example of the impact of the media on brands—and the ability of relevant brands to weather the storms surrounding corporate business decisions. According to an article at ChicagoBreakingBusiness.com, “shares of Walgreen and CVS Caremark jumped more than 3 percent each in (Friday) morning trading after tumbling more than 5 percent since the public battle began.”

Not only are Walgreen’s stock prices up, but the company recently inaugurated a new feature: prescription text alerts to let customers know when their prescriptions are ready for pick-up. Walgreens also has launched mobile applications for the BlackBerry and Google’s Android platform.

“These new applications follow the previous release of the company’s iPhone application in the fall. That program has been updated with new features, including the ability to view a prescription history and search for the nearest store using the phone’s GPS function,” reported ChicagoBreakingBusiness.com on June 15.  Feil may spend some time on these latest developments during her presentation at BrandSmart 2010 this Thursday.

If the big brands aren’t enough to whet your appetite, perhaps the VP and Brand Alchemist of SCVNGR, John Dobrowolski, will provide some tasty morsels for your consumption. The recently-released consumer version of Google-backed app SCVNGR awards points to users for taking photos of themselves at various locations, its chief difference from the likes of Foursquare. At this time, Chicago currently only offers up a President Obama-based trek and a search around Millennium Park. You may be able to suggest additional treks that could become part of SCVNGR’s searches in the future.

Don’t let the lack of local pickings keep you from joining the hunt—SCVNGR’s location- and mobile-based social gaming platform “goes beyond the check-in process…to provide challenges that put the mobile phone owner in the game. It's about participating in challenges, going places, earning points and unlocking badges. People who play the games scan QR codes, take photos, and solve riddles.”

We’re only a few days away from the BrandSmart 2010 conference, where you’ll hear from these—as well as several other—speakers from top companies who will share stories of how their companies stay relevant in a world that is in constant flux. 


Social Media Gains Traction and Empowers Small Businesses

Small business owners of all ages are embracing social media networks and using them to empower their organization in today’s highly competitive marketplace. One in five small business owners is incorporating social media into their marketing plans according to a study done by the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business and the Small Business Success Index (SBSI). All types of small businesses doubled their adoption rate of social media usage from 12% to 24% in 2009. Naturally, this helped to spur on an increase in time spent on social media, +82% more time, or 5.5 hours per month in 2009.

Who are these small business owners? According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics,“More Americans Start Own Business” by Laura Petrecca, USA Today, the fastest growing sector of small businesses, +29% growth rate, is among those aged 65+ years old (10% of the total). That translates to some 213,000 senior citizens, or baby boomers, spurring on our economy with their ingenuity and experience. The next largest sector of growth is among those aged 20-24 years old, at 16% growth (3% of the total). However, the largest sector of small business owners, 26% of the total, is still the 45-54 year old boomers who experienced soft trends of -2% vs. 2008. It’s interesting that the very young professional or new graduate and the mid-career professional and the senior citizen professional are all playing a vital role in keeping the US small business sector healthy.

No matter how old you are, if you are a small business owner, you may want to know how other small businesses are utilizing social media, why others are using it and does it pay off? The Small Business Success Index™ (SBSI) reports the major social media trends:

  • 75% have a company page on a social networking site
  • 69% post updates/articles on LinkedIn and/or Facebook
  • 58% feel that it met expectations, 12% feel it exceeded expectations and 25% feel it fell short of expectations
  • 57% have built a network through a site like LinkedIn
  • 54% monitor positive/negative feedback on social network sites
  • 50% say it takes more time than expected
  • 45% expect social media to be profitable in the next twelve months
  • 39% have a blog on an area of expertise
  • 36% Tweet about an area of expertise
  • 17% express that social media give people a chance to criticize their business on the Internet, yet only 6% feel that social media use has hurt the image of the business more than it helped
  • 15% us Twitter as a customer service channel.

Here are the most common reasons for using social media for small business owners:

  • 73% claim that social media identifies and attracts new customers
  • 56% say it develops a higher awareness of your organization within your target market
  • 46% use it to stay engaged with their current customers
  • 34% claim it allows them to collaborate more effectively externally, with suppliers, partners and colleagues
  • 25% claim it allows them to collaborate more effectively internally.

One of the big issues today is whether or not social media efforts are worth it. Here is an article that speaks to the success of Twitter and blogging in effectively increasing lead generation from Hubspot in eMarketer’s online publication. Businesses are just now figuring out how to measure and calculate the effectiveness of social media, so watch out for more studies examining the ROI of social media in the future. In the meantime, the Small Business Index report indicates that 22% of small businesses have made a profit already while 53% feel that they will make a profit in the next 12 months and only 9% say they will lose money. With these preliminary numbers in mind, it is safe to say that social media networks do in fact work and empower a small business in staying competitive.

If you are not using social media networks or have no clear plan, here are just a few articles that may assist you in how to approach them and some simple steps on what to do.

  • The nuances of the unspoken etiquette and on participating with integrity from MarketingProfs.
  • How and why you should use the top three social medial networks, e.g. Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter, from MarketingProfs.
  • Tips, tools and trends for mastering social media from Small Business Trends.
  • Social media marketing tips by type of social media from Mashable/Business.

For some examples of companies that are using social media networks, see below. You can learn from representative of these companies at the Brandsmart Conference 2010 in Chicago on June 24th.

I-Go Car blog

McDonald’s Facebook

Hard Rock Hotel Linkedin

Discover Network Linkedin

Chicago Cubs Twitter

Zocalo Group Blog

Is your small business or company using social media more these days? Tell us how social media has changed the marketing landscape for your company or business.


The Future of Brands - Certain or Not?

Brands have evolved and changed throughout the decades. How can we predict what the future of brands will be? What trends should be aware of when considering our branding efforts?

Perhaps the future of brands is best summed up in this statement from Interbrand's The Future of Brands: "The future of brands is inextricably linked to the future of business. In fact, the future of brands is the future of business if it is to be about sustainable wealth creation. Further, because of the interaction of brands with society, and since so many socially influential brands are in the not-for-profit sector, the future of brands is also inextricably linked to the future of society."

If the future of brands is linked directly to the future (and success) of business and society, it's difficult to completely identify indicators about what is next with certainty. That said, there are recent trends that have been adopted by various brands that may give us clues.

  • Engage your audience.
    Successful brands can no longer deliver a one-way message. Competition is fierce in the market place. As a result, it has become more important for a brand to engage and relate directly to its consumers. Car makers have really stepped up to this trend. Think about Ford's "Swap Your Ride" and Toyota's Sienna minivan advertisements. Toyota makes driving a minivan cool. Ford reminds us why more people choose their cars over the competition.
  • Participate in partnerships and collaborations.
    Brands need to think above and beyond their bottom line and many are doing so by giving back to the community. This community kickback drives profits for the brand, but it also engages consumers beyond the scope of the product's use. Consumers feel good about giving back to the community and as a result feel good about the brand. Take a look at Dawn and its most recent campaign. For every bottle of Dawn soap purchased (up to $500,000) $1 will be donated to help save wildlife in the oil spill. Yoplait in its "Save Lids to Save Lives" is another brand that has partnered with a non-profit organization to raise money for breast cancer. How can your brand make a difference and still leave a lasting impression?
  • Provide a social experience. Create a community.
    What better way to develop a deeper connection with your consumers than to develop an online community for them to share, discuss and socialize with other consumers within the context of your brand. It is also a great way to learn more about your consumers. This has been an increasingly popular trend and many organizations are either developing their own platforms, such as Harley-Davidson with HarleyLot and Pepsi with their Pepsi Refresh Project. The future will certainly include many new online platforms. How will your brand stay relevant and ahead of the curve with its online outreach?
As new brand trends arise, adaptation will need to be made. The most important thing to recognize about the future of brands is that it is constantly changing. What does your company do to prepare for these changes? How far in advance to plan your brand's messaging and campaigns?

FutureBrand's Ten Trends for 2009+ gives great insight to the future of brands. Specifically with its #10 Trend: Fear of the Unknown. As stated, "The point of this trend is to push home the point that the future is ultimately unknowable. Yes you can see general patterns and make well-educated speculations about next week or next year based partly on past events and human behaviour. But if history teaches us anything, it is surely that totally unexpected ideas, inventions and events ... have a habit of ruining logical and well laid-out plans."


Personal Branding and Today's Job Market

With 9.7% unemployment rate in the US, how do you land the right job offer, or any job offer? The average length of time someone is unemployed is 34.4 weeks or 8.5 months. What if it takes you longer? How long can you go without replacing your leaky roof? Frankly, the TV ad for The Ladders portrays the situation perfectly. You are one of a large pack of job hunters running frantically all over the tennis court after the same, dinky little tennis ball. People all around you are pushing and maneuvering around the same target. Deep down inside, you know you need a personal strategy to not only keep you in the game, but to differentiate yourself from the rest of the tennis pack. What choices should you make? Do you spend money and time perfecting your resume? Should you start your own website? Should you beef up your social media efforts? How do you juggle the myriad of choices at your fingertips?

The answer is easy but difficult to execute well. One must build and nurture a strong personal brand in order to stay in the game and win the match. Overtime, a personal brand that is honest, unique and relevant, will edge out your competitors and get you the job you need to survive, and the position you deserve.

To help you effectively manage your time and communicate your personal brand, listen to the inside recommendations from two marketing recruiters, Geri Kleeman from The Kleeman Group, Marilyn Vojta from Vojta & Associates and marketing consultant David Kissel, Partner at Zocalo Group and AMA Brandsmart Conference speaker, June 24th. Here’s how they collectively rated and evaluated the following key components most often used in building a strong personal brand. (Scores from 1-10, 1 Low Importance to 10 Most Important).

(Personal Brand Activity with respective rating and evaluation in order of priority)

1. Job Interview 10+

Of course, an interview is the most important factor in landing a job. There were three simple things our experts wanted to share:

  • Be consistent and portray your personal brand with 5-7 prepared stories that exemplify who you are, what you stand for and what your promise is.
  • Kleeman suggests you should avoid the trend of “panel interviews because they are a huge injustice to the person being interviewed.” Companies are justifying panel interviews because it saves time for the panel members. Regardless, it’s not an effective means to get to know the candidate.
  • Use behavioral techniques, like the STAR technique, to quantify and describe your main points. Make sure you provide clear examples of what you’ve done that can lead to how you can deliver results for this potential employer and be as specific as possible.

2. Resume 9.3

This vehicle, to no surprise, is not going away. Kissel says “it is the common currency that documents oneself in the marketplace in a condensed format. However, it’s vital that you have a well-written resume because recruiters see plenty poorly written resumes (believe it or not). This is the first opportunity for you to communicate and solidify your personal brand. “Make sure you take a stand and speak to who you are, what you stand for, and what your promise is” says Kissel. In order to uncover your personal branding qualities, he recommends that you “think about if people were talking about you, what would you want them to be saying? Somewhere in or around those words is where you should start in defining your personal brand.” Are you known to be passionate, a master with numbers, or someone who knows how to get things done?

3. Phone Interview/Conversation 9.3

Both recruiters felt that the phone was key and pivotal throughout the entire process. Do not underestimate the fundamental power of a two-way, personal conversation. This vehicle can sway someone into either making you a job offer or even convincing them not to hire you. Here are a couple of ideas to help:

  • Whenever you can, get a conversation going and be persuasive about selling your personal brand.
  • Align your conversations or stories around your personal branding qualities and what the truth of your promise is. Always remember that your written key messages should be consistent with your verbal key messages.

4. Linkedin.com 8.7

Eight-percent of employers seek new employees using Linkedin and recruiters rely heavily on this social media channel to seek out new candidates. Therefore, in order to be competitive, you must have a healthy presence on Linkedin. Here are some tips:

  • Quality of links are more believable and important than quantity, 50+ is OK
  • Make sure your personal brand shines through and matches your resume.
  • Take advantage of this channel because it is more dynamic than a resume, says Kissel. All three sources believed that you should join pertinent organizations and engage in conversations for the purposes of widening your network and building trusting relationships with individuals you don’t ever meet face to face.
  • Kissel also explains how Linkedin can be a short cut for trust when used well. For instance, enough of the right recommendations can portray trust. One way to get recommendations is to give them out to others unsolicited and you will automatically get them back in return. However, don’t forget that quality is more important than quantity, where thirty is definitely too many. Lastly, ensure that your recommendations align with your key personal brand messages.

5. Verbal References 8.0

Recruiters use references in two very important ways, one way you may be aware of and the other may be a surprise.

  • Recruiters rely heavily on casual references. Unbeknownst to you, they are calling your former supervisor or someone else in their network that knows you for a quick chat. This is part of their regular due diligence so it’s in your best interest to never burn any bridges, even under the most trying of circumstances like a firing or a lay-off.
  • Once a company is ready to give out an offer, a recruiter calls your “official” references for a longer 15-20 minutes chat. Ensure that your references are aligned with your personal brand messaging because the recruiters are looking for continuity and fit. So, if you claim that you are passionate about your work and none of your references bring this quality up, this weakens your claim.

6. Professional Extracurricular Activities 7.0

Do not be lazy or so busy that you fail to participate in professional associations. . Basically, involvement in organizations is evidence that you are still learning, well connected and on top of your game. These are qualities that are more desirable than someone who is stuck inside their own cocoon.

  • Vojta feels that “being a part of a professional organization shows that you are a global thinker”.
  • Kissel adds some good spin by suggesting you should take these activities and extend them, publicize them into the social media channels in order to extend the reach of your personal brand
  • Don’t become involved in so many organizations that it’s impossible for you to stay involved and keep up.

7. Organic Name Search on Yourself 7.0

There is some variation on how much recruiters and employers search your name organically. Regardless, you should search yourself in case you need to correct anything misleading, differentiate yourself from someone with the same name or improve a lack of meaningful listings. Our sources share that:

* It is more appropriate to search a name for senior level positions.

* You may never get the phone interview if someone is not impressed with your listings or even a little curious.

8. Blogging for yourself or for your company 5.3

According to our two recruiters, blogging for the purpose of expressing your personal brand is not monitored by those who are vetting you for a position. So, they do not advise blogging in order to to get found. However, there are other venerable reasons for blogging such as expressing your opinions as an expert on some subject, for the purpose of being heard, helping others, garnering advertisers and earning an income as a blogger and more . Here’s what the experts had to say:

  • According to Vojta, it’s possible that your opinions could be misconstrued or considered too strong and it could actually work against you.
  • Kissel had a pertinent warning that “if you can’t think and express a unique, meaningful point of view, don’t blog. It’s all about what makes you special, your point of view.”
  • Kleeman would not bother investigating anyone’s blog unless it was a part of the position they were applying for.

9. Facebook 4.0

Presently, the majority of recruiters and most employers don’t seem to be checking Facebook profiles, walls or photos according to our three experts. Facebook has a strong personal social aspect to it and is not as professionally oriented as Linkedin. However, look out!

  • Although Kissel recognized Facebook’s personal utility, he realized that it could negatively impact your professional life. More than half of employers surveyed by Harris Interactive recently reported they did not hire candidates based on provocative photos or references to drugs or alcohol. Needless to say, that is not considered good personal branding.
  • One recruiter predicted that more and more companies may start reviewing Facebook for younger, new hires in order to discover things they cannot ask legally, e.g. gender, race etc. In addition, a company could also use a Facebook presence to judge your integrity and character. Regardless of age, it’s wise not to put anything on Facebook that could malign your professional character or negatively sway a potential employer.

10. Twitter 3.7

Every one of the sources claimed that Twitter is not highly relevant in the job search today. Only one out of three sources Twitters diligently despite the fact that there are 110MM Twitterers. Overall, this new social media channel is still immature and crowded with noise, but, if executed regularly, efficiently and wisely, I believe there may be some opportunities waiting to happen. Some companies recruit directly on Twitter. What successes have you heard about? In the meantime, here are some comments from our sources.

  • Aptly stated by Kissel, “Twitter is a lot of talk and not a lot of meaning.”
  • Kleeman uses it as another channel to stay in touch with candidates and gets the word out with tips, advice and announcements of job openings for her followers. This alone may be good reason for a job hunter to follow recruiters and their Tweets.

11. Personal Branded Website 1.0

All three of our experts saw no value in developing a personal website. It may be a big waste of time and is not the most effective means to communicate your personal brand, especially since there are so many other vehicles that can do the same thing.

Take a deep look inside of yourself to uncover the truest attributes that make you special, differentiated and competitive in the workforce. Take time and effort to consistently communicate these qualities across all methods, verbal and written, and throughout numerous social media channels, in order to extend your brand into new territory.

Like Marilyn Vojta wisely reminded us, “if you can brand and market a widget, you can brand and market yourself”. What successes have you had in some of these channels?


Brand, goodwill, and the balance sheet: More than just a feeling

$104 billion. An impressive value for just about any organization. A company with $104 billion in revenues would rank 16th in the Fortune 500, between General Motors and AIG.

But this $104 billion doesn’t represent a particular company’s revenues; it equals the difference between Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) market capitalization ($150 billion) and its book value ($46.6 billion). According to P&G’s 2009 annual report, “The difference is the value P&G shareholders place on the Company’s brands, the earnings and cash these brands generate today, and the confidence that these leading brands will continue to grow in the future.”

$89 billion is another impressive number. It represents the value of net goodwill and other intangible assets on P&G’s balance sheet. These facts raise questions for brand marketers: Why are there tens of billions of valued intangible assets on the balance sheet, and what does this mean?

London-based consulting firm Brand Finance teaches us that brand valuation and other “intangible assets” began to figure more prominently on balance sheets over 20 years ago when, “the corporate raiders and asset strippers of the 1980s who targeted brand rich companies and paid significantly more than their net asset value. This resulted in huge ‘goodwill’ values that had to be recognized.” All of a sudden, companies realized that they needed legitimate means to account for brands so that the true value of a company was recognized on the balance sheet.

CoreBrand is another company specializing in brand valuation; others include Interbrand and Millward Brown. CoreBrand defines an intangible asset representing, “the reputational portion of goodwill.” (CoreBrand published the CoreBrand 800 that tracks top brands. P&G ranked 50 in the Q4 2009 rankings. CocaCola ranked first. According to its 2009 annual report, CocaCola’s combined goodwill and intangible asset value was $6.6 billion.)

For P&G, its $89 billion net goodwill and other intangible asset value has been built over decades of investing in research to deliver innovative products, and well-executed, highly strategic marketing and branding initiatives. The company puts it pretty simply, “P&G’s billion-dollar brands are platforms for innovation. They are global leaders. Consumers want them in their homes. Retailers want them in their stores. They enable us to bring innovation to consumers around the world effectively, efficiently and profitably. They make consumers’ lives a little better, every day.”

Numbers like these clearly have the attention of company CEOs and CFOs, as evidenced by their appearance on balance sheets. However, brand values have further financial implications for annual reports. First, brand valuation plays a critical role when a parent company moves to sell or divest a brand. The purchase of Pabst Blue Ribbon at $250 million is a good example of brand valuation driving a sale. Second, brand strength is a key factor in stock price. We’ve already discussed the $104 billion gap between P&G’s market capitalization and its book value, but also take a look at this interesting story about company stock performance following appearances on this spring’s successful Undercover Boss. Each public company’s stock was higher since the episode aired.

$104 billion and $89 billion – these numbers are more than just a feeling, they are real numbers vital to a company’s financial health. How does your branding strategy fit into your company’s financial strategy? We welcome your thoughts.


Strong Brands and Bottom-Line Value

Brand relevance and brand value are two sides of the same coin, both of which affect brand strength in the marketplace. Brand value is a key differentiator; it is more than just a collection of perceptions in consumers’ minds. Strong brands have real value when it comes to customers’ purchase decisions and deliver an economic impact that positively affects a company's bottom line.

When a brand has a strong presence in the marketplace, it reaps a number of economic benefits that include:
  • Premium pricing: Consumers pay more for branded items that they believe have higher value and lower risk than lesser-known alternatives. This preference is based largely on the trust that a given brand engenders. Think Grey Goose vs. Smirnoff or Tumi vs. American Tourister.
  • Lower cost of sales: Consumers of valued brands make more frequent and repeat purchases, which spread customer-acquisition costs over a long-term client relationship.
  • Lower cost of promotion: Consumers of valued brands become ambassadors who spread positive word-of-mouth at no cost to the brand.
  • Higher market share: Valued brands acquire loyal customers who recruit more customers to the brand, increasing the brand’s share of market while reducing customer-development costs and building immunity to competitive attacks.
  • Lower employee turnover: Great brands attract passionate employees who pass their enthusiasm to satisfied consumers, who in turn make employees’ jobs more enjoyable, reducing employee turnover as a result. The trust factor is significant among employees as well.
  • Higher stature: Valued brands enjoy a high level of awareness and esteem in the minds of consumers, industry leaders, community leaders, news editors, financial analysts and investors, which leads to yet higher brand preference and marketplace prominence.
In his well-known book, Strategic Brand Management, Kevin Lane Keller states, “the ability of a strong brand to simplify consumer decision-making, reduce risk and set expectations is…invaluable.”
The same is true for B2B brands. How can B2B companies truly differentiate their offering and be relevant to customers over the long-term?  The answer: brands.

According to Kevin Randall, Director of Brand Strategy & Research at Movéo Integrated Branding, “A strong brand becomes the customer’s ‘shorthand’ for making good choices in a complex, risky, and confusing marketplace.”

In an article on BrandChannel, Randall posits that “brands produce economic value in the B2B marketplace. According to a [previous] Interbrand/BusinessWeek ‘Best Global Brands By Value’ ranking, IBM, GE, and Intel, largely B2B-focused brands targeting sophisticated enterprises and ‘technical buyers,’ are among the most valuable brands. Their intangible asset of ‘goodwill’ drives billions of dollars in value and market capitalization. IBM’s 2009 brand value is US$60,211, (GE $47,777 billion, Intel $30,636 billion). Their brands, not their products, are their differentiators that lead to competitive advantage.”

Randall identifies that the intangibles, or “trust factors,” are even more important than the tangibles in determining which buying decisions are made. He cites GE as making more money and achieving greater differentiation through its value-added intangibles in the form of its “branded” offering (services, assurance, solutions, people, etc.) than its “parity products,” such as aircraft engines and medical equipment.

Says Randall, “Today’s B2B customers may articulate their need for ROI, higher performance or a better mousetrap; yet, what they really want is to avoid doing business with ‘an Enron.’ They want a name or people they can trust; they want to buy from a ‘leader.’ Strong brands play to these important drivers.”

Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, reveals a well-known “secret” among neuroscientists and new wave market researchers that “the driver of their real feelings, thoughts and actions is their unconscious. Buyers make split-second decisions (“thin-slicing”) based on stored memories, images and feelings—which is what a brand is all about.”

Such research has spawned an entire industry and created the field of neuro-marketing. Find out how Campbell’s Soup launched a redesigned label using neuroscience research or check out Dan Ariely’s book, Predictably Irrational.  

Do you agree that a strong brand equals a strong two-second impression, whether you’re buying potato chips or specifying microchips? Leave us a comment and add your voice and thoughts to the discussion.