With four in five B2B businesses repositioning their brands this year, experiential approaches will be essential to get closer to your customers, and bring them with you.
From AI to climate change, to automation, as the reverberations of technological and social change echo through the business world, B2B business strategists and brand managers grapple with how to retain today’s customers while positioning themselves to win tomorrow’s.
We see it played out starkly in the results from our study of 375 leading marketing decision makers that revealed that, across the board, almost three-quarters of brands plan to reposition themselves in some way this year.
What was remarkable is that the statistic for B2B brands was higher than B2C, with almost four in five (78%) of B2B brands planning to reposition their brand this year.
This level of brand activity occurring over the year is certainly unusual, probably unprecedented.
This is The Great Repositioning.
Cascades of change
Why such a remarkable focus on brand for B2B businesses?
We believe that it’s closely related to changes in strategic direction in many B2B sectors, caused by changes in technological, regulatory and geopolitical dynamics.
According to our research, B2B brands were more likely than consumer brands to adopt a new strategic direction last year – more than three in five (62%) B2B brands compared to just over half (51%) of total brands.
B2B brands were also more likely to expand into new markets, with 57% taking this opportunity compared to 49% of the total.
On the technological front, AI has created enormous opportunities for businesses, both in improving efficiencies of the core business, and in innovating new products and services.
This knock-on effect of external changes means that B2B businesses are rethinking their strategies and their proposition to customers, in the light of changing expectations.
The role of brand in creating trust
Why should brand matter? Because trust is *the* most critical factor for most B2B customers. Turning awareness into consideration and consideration into sales is directly related to the depth of the relationship – the degree to which a customer trusts in your ability to deliver on the promise.
Deepen the relationship and increase the trust.
As strategies shift, so the brand must shift too. If the brand is the collected perceptions, associations and expectations that your customers and prospects have of your business, then a new strategy will often require a shift in those associations and perceptions.
In general, B2B businesses are the most likely to want to improve brand perception (79% for B2B against 72% of the total). Their biggest problems are engaging their target market (62% for B2B against 54% of the total) and making emotional connections (51% for B2B against 46% of the total).
Relatability leads to rapport
As a result of these shifting sands, many B2B businesses have accelerated their repositioning. But, it’s a common misconception that this has to be driven by big, above the line campaigns. While iconic messaging and media campaigns are important parts of signalling the shift in brand positioning, campaign messaging alone is not enough to build trust in the new promise.
It’s no coincidence that Account Based Marketing (ABM) is a preferred approach in B2B marketing. This is because B2B marketing is so much more relationship-based than consumer marketing. ABM gives you nuance and the ability to tailor messages and make them relevant.
B2B marketing is also much more intertwined with business strategy compared to consumer marketing, and why B2B products and services are often customised or solve specific problems for clients.
The role of experiential marketing in building brands
This alignment with business strategy is why experiential approaches have a critical role to play in successful brand building and B2B growth. Alongside customer experience, experiential marketing is the closest point of contact between a business and its customers or prospects. It’s the point at which the proposition and capabilities of the business can be truly demonstrated, the point at which trust is built. This might be trust in technical capabilities, in its deep understanding of a client’s business, or perhaps in its approach to ESG.
Experiential marketing is where these capabilities and approaches can be demonstrated and experienced in real life. Experiencing really is believing.
Examples include customer innovation centres - designed to enable B2B customers to experience and understand products and services and enable salespeople to co-create solutions and build a deeper understanding of their customers.
This closeness to customers brings several behavioural factors and cognitive biases into play which give marketers the opportunity to build deeper trust, and closer affinity. These include reciprocity – those who are given something are more likely to give back; and the peak-end rule – in which thoughtfully designed experiences create deeper, more positive memories.
By including powerful, thoughtfully designed brand experiences in their brand and marketing toolkit, B2B marketers and growth teams can increase the speed of understanding and adoption of a new strategic direction.
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Chief Strategy Officer, Imagination London
Tom Gray is our Chief Strategy Officer, who is focused on evolving Imagination’s business and those of our clients.
Tom specialises in helping businesses and brands to develop game-changing propositions, products, services and campaigns that can create sustainable growth. His experience spans the BBC, deep tech start-ups and boutique innovation consultancy Fahrenheit 212. He has worked with clients ranging from IKEA to Land Rover, Shell, HSBC and Diageo. He is an Associate of the Imperial College Business Design Studio and lectures MBA students on Design Thinking for Business.