“Our business is built-in. We work in relationships and commodities. We don’t need cool branding or a whiz-bang website.”
This is a direct quote from an engineering company that approached us about breaking into the beer industry at CBC 2019. We’ve heard similar refrains from yeast manufacturers, brewhouse and tank builders, malting companies, can suppliers, and all manner of Business to Business (B2B) companies looking for branding help. “We need something cool, but not too cool.”
While this outlook is certainly understandable, as far as we’re concerned, it’s wrong.
It is true that B2B purchases tend to be behind-the-scenes, utilitarian, and subject to commodity-based decisions (stuff like price at time of purchase, availability, locality to customer, etc.)? At first blush, it’s easy to conclude that branding only applies to customer-facing enhancements, like a deluxe taproom buildout or snazzy flagship package design.
But consider this: The culture surrounding beer production has undergone a fundamental shift, both at home and abroad. The modern pint is as much about personal expression as it is about refreshment. More brewers are bringing more products to the market than ever before—talk to any of them, and they’ll tell you they aren’t making a commodity. Why, then, would any company want to treat their offering like one?
Or perhaps more importantly: Why should brewers buy your stuff, if you’re content to present it as just another box to tick off?
We’ve met our share of engineer-types who think branding is fluff. The working assumption is that product quality, service and acumen are more than enough to sustain their business—depending on your competitive landscape, you may be able to skate by on this approach. For the rest of us who wake up every day to new competitors in an ever-evolving industry: good customers are a moving target. We have to use every advantage we can get to stand out.
This lone article will not help you to properly brand your B2B company. But here are a few crib notes to get the ball rolling:
Position or Die
Positioning (in conjunction with branding) is one of the most important things any company can do.
Take it from me, a co-owner of a small branding firm in the middle of Indiana. The only reason we’re able to attract clients from across the Unites States (and around the world) is through our positioning as craft beer branding experts. We do not operate on a coast. Our team is comparatively small, and we curse too much. BUT, because we have a track record of creating impactful work for breweries of all sizes, we actively position ourselves as a top runner in this space.
You can do the same thing by understanding your competitive landscape. What distinct value do you bring to your potential customers? Start by developing a matrix to get an idea of who you’re competing with, and where you land.
A matrix is a strategic mapping tool that categorizes you and your competitors. What do they do well? What don’t they do well? How do they tell their story? How much of the market do they own? Learn as much about your competition as you can, but don’t obsess over them. You need a solid lay-of-the-land so that you can spot key branding opportunities. Read more about how to build your own matrix here.
Once you’re done with this, try to answer the following questions:
What do you do?
Who is your ideal customer?
How are you different (not necessarily better, but different) than your competition?
“This works well in conjunction with the ‘Start with Why‘ exercise.”
Capture the Lightning
It is critical that you understand what is exciting about your offerings. You shouldn’t default to “dull” just because you’ve been selling the same floor drains for 25 years. We have seen brewers geek out over floor drains, and far dryer minutia beside. It’s actually kind of weird.
But look, what happens between a brewer and their floor drain behind closed doors is their business. Your business lies in channeling and celebrating their enthusiasm, offering a solid product, and helping them brew better beer.
Simplify your message
So far, we’ve covered higher-level strategic work. With the 2019 Craft Brewers Conference on the horizon, we now need to think more tactically. How do we hit the ground strong and tell our story to potential customers?
Beyond your foundational branding package, don’t discount the power of dynamite take-home pieces. Everyone at CBC has a tote or backpack (or, for the bold fashionista: A snazzy fanny pack). Give them the business card/rack card/one sheeter/promo piece they need to reference once they get home, and increase your chance of getting that call.
A final note
We believe that B2B and B2C branding isn’t that different: at the end of the day, you’re selling to people. More specifically, beer people. Smart, sophisticated yet rough around the edges—leading with their guts while pouring their hearts and soul into what they do—Beer people.
While context, story, and positioning should drive your brand’s personality, a major element to consider are the customers you’ll be selling to. Who are they? What gets them excited? What problems do they have that you can solve?
To go back to the quote that opened this piece, you don’t necessarily have to look “cool and whiz-bang” to resonate with people. But you do need to understand your story and how how you can bring lasting value.
Interested in branding your brewery? Check out our comprehensive craft beer branding guide over at www.craftbeerbrandingguide.com