B2B Branding: What It Is and Why It's Not Optional Anymore

B2B Branding: What It Is and Why It's Not Optional Anymore

JK Sparks 5 min

When you reach for a soda in the gas station, what compels you to go for the Coke and not the generic “cola”? In a word: brand name. One bottler has over one hundred years of brand strategy and brand awareness behind it. The other is an unknown commodity with zero brand positioning.

Maybe businesses like to think their C-suite buyers are fundamentally different personalities than ordinary consumers. But the truth is, B2B branding often works on the same principles as B2C branding.

B2B branding is the application of corporate messaging, company identity, and marketing strategy aimed at getting key decision-makers to buy from you. But business-to-business isn’t the same as business-to-consumer: in B2B branding, you’ll need to build higher levels of trust to justify larger sales.


Why B2B Companies Need to Invest in Branding

In 2011, a computer named Watson appeared on Jeopardy! Even Ken Jennings, the greatest champion in the show’s history, couldn’t withstand the prowess of the AI. The show generated headlines and a million dollars in prize money. But more importantly, it was a sly form of branding aimed at key decision-makers in the world of technology.

That decade, IBM switched its B2B focus to identify itself as the “cognitive business.” No, the tagline isn’t quite “Have a Coke and a smile.” But the idea was the same: build name recognition with its target audience. IBM’s marketing campaigns aimed at stakeholders who wanted to use AI as collaborative technology. Using Watson as a demonstration helped position IBM as the go-to source for cognitive technology in business.

True, not every company has game-changing technology like Watson up its sleeve. B2B branding in the context of modern digital marketing means there’s a lot of noise to cut through. Other B2B marketing teams are hard at work, too. B2B SaaS categories are especially crowded. As a result, B2B services like yours have to convince business buyers that they’re not just run-of-the-mill commodities.

A strong brand cuts through all that noise.

Having a recognizable brand is half the battle. According to Douglas Van Praet, author of “Unconscious Branding,” many decisions—let alone a purchase decision—become predictable seconds before an individual makes them. He points to research by John-Dylan Haynes. “By the time consciousness kicks in, most of the [decision] work has already been done,” writes Haynes.

Building your B2B brand is that “work” preceding the buy. People tend to trust brands we’ve heard of, and we especially trust brands with a clear brand identity. Your goal: get B2B buyers to know you and trust you before the moment of their decision. Earn their trust and respect before it’s time for them to decide. Because at that point, your brand will be top-of-mind. Purchasing from you will feel like a foregone conclusion.


B2B vs. B2C Branding: Key Differences

Trust and respect are among the most important differences here. If B2B and B2C branding were totally alike, traditional advertising would work—you’d just need to identify who your B2B customers are. But anyone building a B2B brand knows the differences aren’t so simple.

Social media should be different, especially with 77% of media experts agreeing that trust in social media is eroding. A viral TikTok video might be enough to build the brand of a fitness influencer—but will it build trust in a financial management brand trying to sell 401(k) services to companies with 500+ employees?

And the B2B brand strategy should be different from B2C strategies. Trust is always important, but it’s especially vital as a value proposition for B2B brands. You develop that trust by getting your content in front of B2B buyers as soon as possible. According to MarketingCharts, 52% of B2B buyers say they’re ready to buy after reading a brand’s content. Why? It may come back to unconscious branding—building your brand as a presence in the mind of your target audience before you ask for the sale.


Elements of a Strong B2B Brand

What does it look like in practice? There are a few keys to building a strong B2B brand strategy and establish a foothold with B2B buyers:

  • A clear point of differentiation. The average person sees anywhere from 50 to 400 ads per day. Most of it is noise—except what’s different. In modern marketing, being different is being recognizable. The critical lesson here: show, don’t tell. Take Twilio. Their approach to SaaS communication tools could look like everyone else’s. Instead they open up tools and API to put more hands in the power of developers. The difference baked into the cake of who they are.

  • A distinct visual identity. It’s good to keep your visual color palette consistent as a brand. But look for the subtle distinctions that make you stand out. Stripe, for example, looks blue from far away. But look more closely at their palette and you’ll see turquoise, purples, pinks—an altogether distinct visual identity that makes them memorable.

  • Social proof. Every brand needs an introduction, after all. IBM’s Watson defeating Ken Jennings wasn’t just a headline grab. It was proof of concept. Forming a brand message today doesn’t have to be quite so stark. Establish brand value through associations with micro-influencers in the same niche as the decision-making buyers you want to influence.

  • Clear points of view on a market. A brand story isn’t much without a point of view. Deloitte’s Insights blog is a great example of this. It’s hard to find a research paper published by Deloitte that doesn’t come away with a clear position on some issue. A point of view can be risky, but it’s another way to differentiate your content from the noise.

Examples of Strong B2B Brands

What if you only have the marketing budget typical to small businesses? There are plenty of B2B companies besides IBM using these principles:


Front’s client-facing communications services could make them sound like lots of other B2B brands. But they’ve developed a unique brand voice through thought leadership like the Front Academy. This academy targets the precise buyer personas they want to work with—a key point of differentiation that takes their content marketing to a new level.


Lavender establishes social proof with clear, definitive testimonials and case studies. These go beyond website blurbs and into extended YouTube videos where businesses discuss their experiences using the AI-powered sales email tool.


Crossbeam’s visual presence is undeniable, using a three-tier color palette with horizontal cues. The result: you see a “crossbeam” every time you look at their content, even if those come in subtle color overlays on photographs. Even when highlighting case studies of different brands, they stick to the Crossbeam palette:



How an Owned Media Strategy Fuels B2B Branding

The best B2B brand building is distinct—both visually and by identity—with consistent targeting of the key decision makers who comprise its audience. But you’ll notice another trend coming up time and again: smart B2B brand marketing should build an audience you get to keep.

Your marketing efforts need to realize every company is becoming a media company. B2B brand success comes when people recognize your brand for its consistency and its unique contributions to the industry conversation. That’s why you’ll be even more credible when business buyers invite you into their inbox. You won’t just have to pitch your brand in the midst of a sales cycle. You’ll be pitching your brand year-round.

Think of being a “media company” as simply owning your own content distribution systems. This lets you collect first-party data on customers, who hand that data over to you willingly. You can use this data to see what resonates with your audiences, which helps you build more relevant branding efforts in future marketing campaigns.

Yes, you’ll need to do the foundational work of establishing your brand before you can take the owned media strategy to the next level. But it’s an iterative, ongoing process between the two.

And that’s where AudiencePlus comes in. We help companies differentiate themselves based on the quality of their content, which encourages new customers to subscribe to their community. Done right, you can build more market share over time, which enters a virtuous cycle of brand name recognition.

Ready to get started with effective B2B branding with AudiencePlus? Join the waitlist to build your owned media property.



JK Sparks | About the Author

Head of Marketing, AudiencePlus

JK is allergic to the words “guru, ninja, and hack” when used to describe anything marketing related. Instead of chasing the latest “growth hack,” he’s focused on building sustainable and predictable levers that fuel long term success. By implementing this approach over the last decade, JK has helped organizations in both bootstrapped and well-funded environments scale from <$100K to more than $100M in revenue. You can follow him here.

JK Sparks 5 min

B2B Branding: What It Is and Why It's Not Optional Anymore

Learn what B2B branding is, why it's a critical investment, and how to use an owned media strategy to fuel your brand.

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