Advancing beyond Branding 101 in industrial, B2B firms

Manufacturers, construction firms, mining and chemical companies, and other industrial, B2B firms are prone to making two significant branding mistakes that restrict revenue growth and destroy firm value.

The first mistake is placing too much responsibility for the brand on the marketing function. When this happens, the concept of the brand revolves around logos, visual identity standards, websites, and anything else that customers typically look at. This is a mistake because customers are only one type of stakeholder, and what people see with their eyes is only one form of sensory perception. If branding stops with marketing, then investors, employees, communities, and trade associations are basically served brand leftovers and a hodgepodge of uncoordinated brand ideas. Plus, there is no accounting for what people hear, smell, feel, or taste.

The second mistake is underestimating the power of branding entirely because the world’s most valuable brands tend to be consumer, tech, or financial brands. Because of the constant hype behind glamour brands such as Apple, Coca-Cola, Visa, or Google, industrial firms can easily conclude that they aren’t really in the brand business. Cummins, Parker-Hannifin, BASF, Siemens and a host of other powerful industrial firms would disagree. These mega firms are successful because they approach branding with a coordinated, holistic brand strategy that works in firms of any size.

A simplified breakdown of C-suite brand responsibilities in the holistic approach

As a refresher, a value-building brand is a commitment to consistently communicate and deliver a specific set of desirable benefits to everyone who interacts with the brand. That’s it. There’s nothing about logos or websites or advertising in the core definition of a brand. Value-building brands come from a C-suite approach where everyone understands their role in carrying out the brand strategy across the enterprise and in relevant publics.

Chief executive officers are tasked with brand authenticity. The CEO is the chief architect and engineer of the brand. The CEO ensures that all the brand parts fit together aesthetically and are structurally sound. She or he must define and communicate a complete view of the brand as it effects all stakeholders. The CEO presents the brand to investors, the media, the organization and VIPs at high-dollar networking events. CEOs are thoroughly scrutinized, internally and externally, and are ultimately held responsible when brands say one thing and do something else.

Chief operating officers are tasked with brand integrity and stability. The COO plays a crucial role in brand building by ensuring products and services meet the brand promise every single time it is used by a customer. The COO executes the brand through design, quality, availability, cost containment and supply-chain management. If the COO does her or his job is done correctly, the jobs of everyone else are much easier. If there is any doubt, ask what a recall costs in terms of lost sales, lost market share, and reputation. The COO presents the brand to vendors, process engineers, line workers and quality professionals, to name just a few.

Chief financial officers are tasked with feeding and measuring the brand. Brands represent an investment in a revenue-producing asset and must be treated as well as any other critical asset. The rise of intangibles on the balance sheet is clear proof that savvy firms build value through branding. The CFO ensures that all projects support the brand and, to the extent possible, calculates the brand’s value. The CFO presents the brand to investors, regulatory bodies and potential partners in mergers or acquisitions.

Chief human resource officers are tasked with brand fulfillment. As of this writing, machines, production lines, processes and all the safety and quality protocols in the world do not create brands. People create brands because people create machines, production lines, processes, and safety/quality protocols. The CHRO is tasked with ensuring the right people are in the right positions, trained and motivated to fulfill the brand promise. This requires a thoughtful approach to employment branding that supports the overall brand vision. The CHRO presents the brand to current and potential talent and is often the brand ambassador at community events.

Chief marketing officers are tasked with brand diffusion. No matter how well the other team members do their jobs, if people don’t know about the brand, the brand is not worth very much. The CMO is charged with getting the brand known and adopted in the marketplace, preferably with speed and scale. Here we find all the traditional branding tools that must break down barriers to adoption: naming, logo, collateral, the website, advertising, and on and on. The CMO presents the brand to prospects, customers, the sales team, and all external stakeholders.

If you want to maximize firm value, your industrial, B2B brand must be designed, engineered and executed within and across the C-suite. It must be fully documented as any trade secret would be, and it must be communicated clearly, regularly, and consistently throughout the enterprise.

About Carn International

Carn International is a global executive and professional search firm providing dynamic and seasoned leadership talent to clients. For over 25 years, our consultants have collaborated with companies and executives across a range of specialties and industries, fostering mutually prosperous relationships. Shawn Overcash, Carn International Senior Consultant and author of this article, can be reached at shawn.overcash@carninternational.com.