For decades, the idea of B2B brands was dormant, but post 1990, two developments seem to have triggered the interest in the idea, says Sharad Sarin in ‘Strategic Brand Management for B2B Markets’ (www.sagepublications.com). One is the widely shared story of ‘Intel Inside’ since early 1990; and the other is that out of world’s top 10 brands, five (including GE, Intel and IBM) are essentially B2B brands, he adds.
In Indian literature, the author seeks ‘brand’ insights from Kabir’s couplet – ‘Karta tha to kyon kiya, Ab kare kyon pachtaye/ Boya ped babool ka, to aam kahan te paye.’ That is, ‘When you were doing, you did not question as to what you are doing. Having done what you have done, there is no point repenting on it. When you sowed the seeds of bitter babool tree (acacia), how can you expect sweet mangoes from that tree?’
Translating it thus, Sarin feels that the couplet is a crude reminder to innumerable B2B marketers with weak brands. It is not a chance which would give you a strong brand, i.e. mangoes, if you in the first place never thought of creating strong brands, i.e. planting and nurturing a mango tree, he explains.
Observing that a large majority of B2B marketers focus their energies to managing the business for survival, especially in the formative phase, the author notes that ‘me too’ comes out to be the meaning of their identity. “There seems to be no attempt to create a distinctive identity for themselves. And when realisation dawns, they appear repentant and helpless.”
Music lovers will be happy to know that the book discusses ‘raga’ to delve into the philosophic dimension of brand. “Raga has its own meditative meaning. It cannot be created but discovered. The mood of raga is not merely playing on the swaras, it is living the swaras. It has a nostalgic past but it cannot be stored… As the artist plays, the raga’s meaning starts unfolding in the present,” writes Sarin, drawing on music literature.
He informs that the above description almost echoes what Scott Bedbury had written about the creation of brands, as follows: “Building a brand is the most challenging, complicated, and painstaking process that a company can embark on. It’s more intuitive and analytical and most of the time it can’t be seen. But it can always be felt.”
While swaras played by a novice may sound like harsh and un-rhythmic cacophony, the same notations of a raga rendered by a maestro may result in an excellent lilting and lasting experience, Sarin distinguishes. He mentions that the similarity with brand is what accounts for the different experience customer gets from each supplier though the product may be as per the specification.
A chapter titled ‘Websites and B2B brands: A low-cost goldmine lying unexplored’ reports a striking result of a mini survey among 600 SMEs in Jamshedpur, that not more than 50 had their own website. The chapter also cites Indenty, a Dutch SEO company, for its whitepaper on the effectiveness of B2B websites stating that ‘only 1 per cent of the 200 websites under research were doing a good job as an effective B2B website.’
Another example from closer home is of Kapston’s research, that 95 per cent of Indian B2B sites fail the usability and user experience. Barriers to a better looking and usable website, according to Kapston, include lack of awareness of the importance (42 per cent); absence of quality internal resource (65 per cent); inappropriate technology (30 per cent); budget unavailability (37 per cent); and resistance or ‘politics’ within the company (55 per cent).
First impression, suitability
Of value in the book is an XLRI evaluation of 50 companies – mainly operating in B2B marketing – on 12 features in the ‘first impression’ category, such as sitemap, search function, text that is easy to scan, enough branding, ease and consistency of navigation, availability of company logo, use of images, and browser compatibility.
And there are17 further features – such as testimonials, technical papers, online demos or trials, availability of newsletters, references, technical product information, language support, comparison with competitors, detailed information about the company, and contact details – in the ‘suitability for the B2B market’ category.
The author frets that 84 per cent of the websites surveyed do not have a sitemap, and 58 per cent do not have an inbuilt search function. “Almost 50 per cent of the websites do not properly update all necessary information. Perhaps this is the most neglected aspect of website management…”