B2B Brand Architecture: building and sustaining customer trust

The importance of branding and brand architecture is well established in business-to-consumer (B2C) settings. But in business-to-business (B2B) settings, managers tend to believe that personal selling is the key, and brand building tends to be overlooked. However, authors Steve Muylle, Niraj Dawar and Deva Rangarajan argue that B2B branding and personal selling should be seen as complements, rather than as an either/or choice.

B2B brands may not have the widespread recognition or glamour associated with many consumer brands, but they are still vital company assets. In this article, the authors demonstrate how sound brand architecture not only differentiates a B2B firm from its competitors, but how it also supports the sales process, underpins customer relationships, and sustains trust with customers.

B2B firms tend to neglect their brand architecture in favour of investments in their sales force – when, in fact, sound brands might be the best support platform their sales force could hope for.

Reducing Customer Risk

Every successful B2B customer-seller relationship represents a great deal of effort spent by both parties to build mutual trust. Based on their work with dozens of B2B firms, the authors propose a brand architecture framework applicable to the B2B context in which they examine:

  • The 5 phases the customer-seller relationship evolves through on its way from initial contact to collaboration on joint strategic initiatives
  • The risks the customer perceives in each phase
  • And the complementary roles the sales force and the brand architecture play in reducing those risks

The authors conclude by urging managers to keep 3 things in mind when designing B2B brands:

  • Brands are long-term assets that accumulate meaning for customers over time. So, don’t expect immediate results from a brand (or re-branding) launch, and do manage sales force expectations
  • No brand stands alone. The starting point for developing a hierarchy of brands is determining the customer risks in each phase of the buying process. Brand architecture (how the brands inter-relate) is a systematic way of addressing those risks
  • A coherent collection of well-positioned brands serves as a powerful competitive advantage in the field

At the end of the day, a selling organisation’s brand architecture can help the organisation reduce its cost of doing business and command a premium price for its market offerings. Brand architecture is in the vanguard as a firm’s reputation precedes the sales force in the marketplace.

Related article

Muylle S. Dawar N. Rangarajan D. 2012. B2B Brand Architecture. California Management Review. 54 (2).

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