Handcuffs on wooden table background
Handcuffs on wooden table background

If you’re a B2B marketer, open up your brand guidelines and turn to the photography section. I’ll bet it says something like: “We use real people in real situations.”

Flip to your brand tone of voice page. If it says, “our voice is human and jargon-free”, that’s another tick.

Go to your ‘brand mission’. Read it – then ask yourself, “Is this really a mission? Or is it just a category description that could easily belong to our main competitor?”

If any or all of this sounds familiar, you have the same problem as a lot of B2B brands right now: your brand isn’t a differentiator and is, in fact, handcuffing you to a position where you look and sound like everyone else.

The wrong comparison

Here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong with real people in real situations or a human, jargon-free voice. We’re not suggesting that robotic language and bland stock photos are going to help you stand out.

The problem is everyone else knows that too. In so many cases, B2B rebrands compare themselves to the wrong thing. Not ‘the rest of the industry’ – but the old brand guidelines.

And, yes, ten years ago, in a lot of B2B businesses, crap stock photos were everywhere. Copy was dry, rational, and sclerotic with its lack of emotion. It’s good that so many brands have realized this and embraced things like reportage photographic styles, human-sounding language, and the rest.

But nowadays – and this is the crucial point – that stuff is table stakes.

To make brand investment worthwhile, B2B brands have to be way more ambitious. Not just refreshing worn out guidelines with a few splashes to the colour palette and a sprinkling of emotive words but getting to a big idea that leads to a visual style and language that is truly distinctive.

Creating a ‘Forever Brand’

There are three ingredients to creating a B2B brand that works and lasts – and none of them involve colour choices or photographic styles. If you’re thinking about a B2B rebrand, your new brand has to be:

  1. Enduring: It has to have a strong enough centre to flex across audiences, platforms, and campaigns while maintaining its core truth.
  2. Relatable: It has to have an emotional pull to win your customers hearts, backed up by the solid facts that allow them to justify their decision.
  3. Championable: It has to be the kind of thing your customers want to share, making it easy to turn your best buyers into your biggest fans.

So, how do you do it? It’s all about asking the right questions before getting into the practical weeds of guidelines and mock-ups. Here are our suggestions.

What gets us out of bed every day?

You don’t have to go full Simon Sinek about it, but a rebrand done right starts with finding your ‘why’. Not your ‘what’ (generic industry category) or your ‘how’ (your offering), but the thing at the very heart of your business that makes you different to other businesses.

How does your audience see things?

Take an honest look at the market and your place in it. From an outsider’s perspective, does the way you talk about what you do seem all that different from your competitors? If someone asks, ‘why should I choose you?’, what’s the one thing you can say that no one else can.

Where does your ‘why’ overlap with your audience?

Your brand needs to exist at the precise place your offer meets your customers’ need. That might sound obvious, but to get there you have to be ruthless. You have to discard all the things your brand could talk about and focus on the one thing that your audience really cares about. That can be tough, especially when it means you might alienate second and third tier potential customers. But it’s a price worth paying to build a brand that appeals to your best customers.

The B2B brand rebrand starts now

The B2B brands that win the next few years will be those that aim for true distinctiveness. The focus of marketing is moving away from gathering MQLs and making sales towards generating customer lifetime value.

And that means the importance of having a brand that engages customers – and keeps them engaged when they become users – is only going to increase.

“Real people in real situations” isn’t going to cut it.