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Branding B-to-B Offerings

February 09, 2015 | By Marisa Kopec

  • At SiriusDecisions, we get the following question all the time: "How should we brand our products or solutions"
  • Names for b-to-b products, services and solutions should be based on a master brand strategy
  • f your product name does not work to strengthen the company brand, something is wrong with the naming approach

On a recent airline flight with my teenage children, the flight attendants were routinely going down the aisles, asking passengers what they wanted to drink. When a flight attendant got to my son and asked for his drink preference, he requested a Sprite. The fight attendant frowned and said to him, “Unfortunately, we only carry Coke products on our flight.”

The response struck me as odd. Rather than say they didn’t have Sprite, she said “Coca-Cola products.” Instead of referring to the product brand, Sprite, she referred to the master brand. It seemed so b-to-b for something like soda to be referenced in terms of an offering from the parent enterprise. Even a well-recognized product brand, with huge advertising and promotional resources and talent behind it, failed to be recognized or reflected in the marketplace because the underlying dynamic was b-to-b. The airline must have an exclusive contractual relationship with Coca-Cola, and the distributor (i.e. the flight attendant) expressed the brand in the way that b-to-b brands are expressed, at the master brand level.

B2B Branding

I found it fascinating.

As SiriusDecisions analysts, we get the following questions all the time: How should we brand our products or solutions? Should we create catchy and clever names for our offerings, similar to consumer branding? Or should we just organize our portfolio clearly in language that makes sense to the buyer audience? Our answer is the latter.

SiriusDecisions recommends that our clients take a master brand strategy when conceiving names for products, service and solutions, and here are three reasons why:

  • The nature of a contractual relationship between a provider organization and a buyer organization. In b-to-b, companies buy from companies – and companies sell to companies. In essence, that’s why master brand trumps product brands. What’s the name on the business card? What’s the URL of the Web site? It is (or should be) the company logo or master brand in most instances. As described in my flight attendant example, because of the contractual nature of the relationship between organizational entities, our brand strategy has to promote, support and strengthen the brand of the organization at all times. If your product name does not work to strengthen the company brand, then something is probably wrong with the strategy.
  • Marketing and selling is different in b-to-b. We also advise clients not to deviate too far away from the master brand in a product naming exercise because the mechanics of marketing and selling in b-to-b are different from b-to-c. For the most part, it’s the master brand (brand perception and previous or current customer experience with the organization) that influences a buying decision. A buying process evaluation does not solely look at the merits of the offering. Buying decisions are also founded on the ability to trust the organization, its financial security, the leadership team, the ability of the organization to provide service and support, etc. A product seldom stands alone, and neither should the product name. Just think of cross-sell opportunities and expanded sales strategies. How hard would it be to increase wallet share without a strong master brand established in the buyer organization around the current products already purchased?
  • The reality of marketing investment, or lack thereof, in b-to-b. Let’s get practical: think dollars. Is there budget set aside to build a product brand in the marketplace? Is your leadership team ready to invest the dollars necessary to build a unique product brand? Most likely, the answer is no. We track budget data across the b-to-b industry, and can comfortably state that advertising and promotion investment is not happening at a level equivalent to consumer marketing. The reality is that brand building can’t happen without money.

The bottom line is to keep your product and solution naming clear, simple and understandable. While we all feel our offerings are special and deserve special names, keep in mind, in a b-to-b world, branding strategy is not about the Sprites or Dr. Peppers. It’s all about the Pepsi and Coca-Cola – the master brand.

Marisa Kopec

Marisa Kopec is Vice President of Innovation and Product Management at SiriusDecisions. She is member of SiriusDecisions' Executive Leadership Team and also serves as a Research Fellow. Follow Marisa on Twitter @Marisa_Kopec.

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