I read with great interest a summary of research done by McKinsey. It appeared in the October 2013 issue of the McKinsey Quarterly.  Let me share a bit of what I learned from this and discuss implications for business-to-business companies.

The research team first selected 90 business-to-business companies in the US and Europe.  The 90 were selected based on their market capitalization (largest).  They then reviewed publicly available documents that brand themes and reviewed brand messages from these companies to determine how well their messages aligned with the themes.  They identified thirteen themes across these 90 companies.  I want to mention them all but here are a few examples of the themes with which the companies had the most affiliation:

  • Provides a broad product line
  • Is a driver of innovation
  • Has global reach
  • Role-models corporate social responsibility in its work
  • Promotes diversity and equal opportunity
  • Shapes the direction of the market
  • Promotes and practices sustainability in its products and services
  • Have low prices

The research team then interviewed 700 senior executives to find out what things mattered most when thinking about a brand.  It is fair to say there was a significant mismatch.  The things that mattered most to the executives were:

  • Cares about honest, open dialogue with its customers and society
  • Acts responsibly across its supply chain
  • Has a high level of specialist expertise
  • Fits in well with my values and beliefs
  • Is a leader in its field

In short, the things that business-to-business companies were saying about their companies the most didn’t greatly influence the brand perception in the minds of customers.  What customers want to hear about a brand, companies are not promoting to a great degree.  A real mismatch.

What are the implications for your business?

  • If you are doing branding work, make certain what you say about the brand matters to customers.
  • One of the themes that most influences brand perception is having an open, honest dialogue with customers and society.  You may want to have a discussion with your customer-facing employees, especially your sales force to determine how they see the company performing on this.
  • Being consistent in messaging is one key part of building a strong brand.  This is where customer service comes in.  Think about the number of times your service teams touch customers.  In most companies, the numbers are large.  Are they doing it in a consistent way?

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How consistent are you in your branding messages?  Do they resonate with your customers?  Two important questions to answer!


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