Our Study of Top B2B Brand Positions Reveals A Secret To Their Dominance

The image of B2B customers as cold, unemotional negotiators focused solely on price concessions is a myth – one that the most valuable brands in the world hope their competitors continue to believe.  We learned this when we studied how the top B2B brands (several of whom are Impact clients) position themselves in their markets (see Table further below).   Here is what else we learned:

  • The top 10 most valuable global B2B brands (according to a BrandZ 2016 analysis) base their positioning on a “human truth” – a unique understanding about the core motivators that drive the human beings in their target markets
  • In contrast, many B2Bs focus on price and functional messages and ignore the benefits of human truth-based positioning
  • Of those B2Bs that do understand the value of human truth-based positions, many fall short of the standard – though they may think they have nailed it.

The good news:  Any company in any market, armed with the appropriate persistence, mindset and tools can find a human truth to build their strategy around.

What Does a Human Truth-Based B2B Positioning Look Like?

A human truth overlaps a bit with the popular concepts of “values” and “insights”, but pushes a little deeper into the psyche of customers.  They illuminate a resonating reality about love, power, evolution, achievement, happiness, etc. that no one else in the industry is leveraging.

Identifying and associating your brand with a human truth creates a deep and enduring emotional connection with target segments. This is something the top B2B brands appear to understand and take full advantage of.

Here is our analysis of the Human Truths driving the positioning of the top 10 most valuable global brands (according to BrandZ as of 2016):

The Human Truths Behind the Positioning of the World’s Top B2B Brands

human truth table 3

Our conclusion:  Emotion-based marketing in B2B works!  These brands all have the power to bludgeon competitors on price and scale alone, so why else would they invest in a human-truth based approach?

Here’s Why This Type of Approach Works

Human truth-based approaches work because, behind the complexity of multiple stakeholders and complex products, B2B customers are humans.  Just like in the consumer world, they have more choices than ever, and can be easily overwhelmed when making decisions.

Companies with a message that breaks through the clutter in a way that is not just a diversion, but that promises the resolution of a human dilemma, are winning today more than ever.

Ask Yourself:  Is Your Current Positioning Human-Truths Based?

Unfortunately, the answer to the above question is most likely “no.”  Many B2Bs position themselves blatantly on functional benefits.

But many others would argue that their positioning is human truth-basedThe fact that many believe their positioning is already up to this standard is dangerous and makes them vulnerable to a competitor who grabs the emotional high ground.

The problem stems from logic that goes like this: “B2B customers are profits-driven, and their career and financial future is linked to improving the bottom line.  So, our positioning is based on being the best combination of service and price, which will lead to better profits for our clients.  Their career is emotional for them, so this appeal is human-truths-based.”

This probably sounds meaningful to you and your internal colleagues because you really believe it.  But to your clients, it sounds like same-old, same-old!!

Contrast this with going up against a competitor like IBM that positions around a human truth as follows: “It’s an exciting time we live in, with technology having the potential to totally change industries and outcomes.  Improving the world is a focus that IBM has in common with many of our clients.  Can we talk about how our solutions are delivering on this vision for many of our customers?” 

The Good News Is That Any Company Can Get to a Human Truth-Based Positioning

If you relentlessly pursue a human truth to build on in your industry, you will find one.  in our collective 50+ years of working in the B2B space, we have never seen a company that is insistent on uncovering this type of insight fail to do so.

However, these truth-seekers are in the minority.  Many of the B2B markets we analyze and work in do not have a human truth-based brand. So, there’s a lot of open space.

How To Conduct a “Human Truth Workshop” 

Finding human truths requires doing a deep dive into your customer’s world.  Fortunately, according to Pete Boland, former SVP of Brand at Charles Schwab & Co., it can be done quickly.

Pete discovered that a single-day, 6-hour working session with customers yielded several truths for Schwab to choose from in their re-branding.

“We discovered that by putting customers into an interactive session with facilitators helped us understand their personal motivations and journeys.  This was a critical step.  As we worked with real customers on things like defining ‘ideal’ providers or building perceptual maps, several human truths emerged in just a few hours.  The secret was getting out from behind the traditional, one-way focus group mirror and engaging with clients.”

Ultimately, Pete’s team settled on the human truth that “when done right, investing liberates you to control your own destiny.”  This meshed well with Schwab’s unique reputation for “investing done right.”  Ultimately, Schwab’s “Own Your Tomorrow” positioning transformed the brand from laggard to leader in just a few short years.

If this sounds interesting, you might enjoy our free 20-Minute webinar on “Building a Human-Truths-Based Positioning and Strategy” with Pete Boland, architect of Charles J. Schwab & Co.’s. B2B2C brand transformation, on November 1st at 11AM ET.  Click here to register.

Conclusion:  Without A “Human Truth” Based Positioning, Every B2B Brand Is Vulnerable

As a result of our study, we are convinced of three things:

  1. Not only does emotionally-based positioning work in B2B, it’s a secret to the success of market leaders
  2. Many B2B brands and products are vulnerable because that are not positioned emotionally (even though their brand stewards may think they are).
  3. All B2B brands can find a human-based truth to position themselves if they move quickly, using the proper mindset, tools and research techniques

The bottom line:  B2B product and brand managers who are searching for excellence can no longer leave the discussion about “authenticity” and being “purpose-driven” to the consumer world.  It’s time to find a human truth to build your brand and strategy on.

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