Business-to-business (B2B) branding is just as, or even more important, than business-to-consumer (B2C) branding. Businesses can no longer rely on the traditional direct sales force approach alone to gain market share. Branding and marketing must be part of the equation and can be the most efficient way to contribute to the bottom line.

However, many b2b CEOs still view the marketing function as the domain of consumer brands—which is no longer the case. In fact, Interbrand’s Best Global Brands Report, notes that Microsoft, Intel, IBM, and GE generate far more B2B revenues than sales to end consumers.

To shape a prosperous brand platform, you must create a “difference”—the promise that when your customers do business with you they can expect a superior product, service, and customer experience. And the more specific and often you communicate the difference—the better.

John Morgan, author of “Brand Against the Machinesaid “Branding is not just about being seen as better than competition. It’s about being seen as the only solution to your audience’s problem.”

But it’s important to remember that different isn’t always enough. You need to ask yourself several questions—are we different in a way that is compelling? Do we solve the customer’s problem? Is our promise and execution of that promise enough to own the market? Will branding build brand loyalty to protect us from lower-priced competitors?

Christopher Ryan said, “One good thing about being different is that it helps those that are not good prospects disqualify themselves. If you are very clear about what you do well and not so well, you will need to have fewer conversations that waste your time. And the conversations you do have will be more productive. Your close rate will go up and your sales cycle will go down—two great B2B marketing metrics.”Christopher Ryan is CEO of Fusion Marketing Partners, a B2B lead-to-revenue consulting firm, and a frequent author and speaker.

Salesforceis a great example of b2b branding done well. The brand name is descriptive, the product is good, and their branding moved them to the top of the cloud software industry. For example, Salesforce aggressively promoted themselves as the software alternative. Initially a small player, they positioned themselves as a leader and soon became the hottest company in the SaaS/cloud space.

The leadership team should build the corporate branding philosophy from the top down. So how is that accomplished?

  1. The CEO is the brand cheerleader, believes in the brand heritage, and knows how to build and communicate the story. The CMO sees his or her goal as helping the CEO achieve this role.
  1. The CEO understands that building brand reputation reduces commercial risk, protects the company in crisis, and creates a common purpose to engage and enfranchise its staff and stakeholders.
  1. Initiatives are focused on a single, global corporate brand rather than individual product brands.
  1. The results of marketing expenditures are measured rigorously to ensure that they are supporting and meeting sales goals.

What b2b brands are doing it right?

Intel has zero sales to end consumers’, yet it built a consumer demand pull for its chips that required every PC manufacturer to incorporate them and to advertise Intel Inside on their products and in their ads.

GE and Microsoft are hybrid brands with some direct-to-consumer sales that have helped to build the reputations of what are primarily b2b firms.

Accenture sells nothing to consumers. But its “Performance Delivered” campaign, featuring Tiger Woods, created a positive awareness of the brand among hundreds of thousands of people who may be working for the enterprises to which Accenture consults.

So how to you begin to incorporate the basic fundamentals to establish a strong b2b brand and marketing strategy?

  1. Find and stake out your unique space, by conducting competitor research.
  1. Consider a new pricing or delivery model and make this part of your brand promise.
  1. Be human. Be inspiring. Be authentic. This will build trust.
  1. Tell a good story. Seth Godin, author and entrepreneur said, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories that you tell.”

Leaders of the future realize that strong brands build market share. And in many cases, brands outlive products. The bottom line is that brands are valuable, well worth the investment, and show their dominance on the balance sheet.