It seems like I have been talking with a lot of b2b businesses (technology, software, backroom type stuff) lately and we inevitably begin talking about ‘brands, branding & being different.” Three painful B’s.
And then a lot of discussion circles around understanding b2b versus traditional consumer marketing (which usually drives me slightly nuts until we get past that discussion).
- note: I have an entire downloadable white paper on b2b marketing so I won’t waste a lot of time on that discussion here.
However. Here is the deal.
Unless you have worked only at “glamor brand” companies (think Nike, Coke, McDonalds, etc) you have spent an entire career making your unglamorous brand/company/service not look like a commodity (because pretty much all non-glamor brands all get thrown into some confused perception/awareness cluster).
By the way.
Even ‘glamor’ brands struggle with differentiation (or not dropping into a functional commodity status) in the b2b market (see Kodak, IBM, etc. as prime examples).
All that said..
Unless you have worked on a glamor brand where people line up to show your logo somewhere on their body you have had to become an expert in the decommoditization business.
I know I have on my resume (somewhere) something like “an ability to differentiate in commodity like categories.”
What do I mean by ‘commodity-like’? Think banking, grocery stores, department stores, pest control, motor oil, eye drops, pretty much any P&G product you can think of, healthcare, cellular.
(all industries of which I have worked in).
Nowadays with the advent of the internet and an endless depth of available information almost everyone is in a commodity like category.
And other than a happy few this also summarizes almost the entire b2b category. Everyone fighting to get themselves out of the ‘lowest cost provider’ status into ‘great value’ (which by the way is called ‘brand’) status.
Branding people and those who glorify ‘all that is branding’ will hate this … because it doesn’t sound glamorous.
But I haven’t been in the branding business or the marketing business or whatever strategy business someone wants to call it … I have been in the decommoditization business. And this is actually true for all those brand consultant and brand experts and anyone who has ever claimed to know anything about brands and branding.
And, in fact, (beyond me) anyone who has the kahones to say something like that in an interview?
And hire them now.
In today’s world the moment you stop and rest on the thought you are a ‘brand’ and have added value in someone’s mind (b2b or consumer) is the moment you start creeping back into commodityland (which is not nearly as fun as Disneyland). It takes work (inside a company and outside a company – marketing stuff) but it can be done. You can get someone to drive past 3 supermarkets to get to yours. You can get someone to pay more money for some software program written in code Albert Einstein couldn’t understand. You can get someone to choose your widget over 22 other similar widgets. But only if you are relentlessly focused on clearly and concisely de-commoditizing.
Hugh MacLeod did this cartoon and I laughed because I don’t know him personally but he used almost the exact same words I/we used in a new business presentation to a state tourism business in the late 90’s (and then used over and over again with retail and commodity-like businesses).
It’s not just advertising.
If you own a business or selling anything to anyone life isn’t top down (brand to product). Life is down to up (constantly seeking to insure your head is above the commodity water).
Does that sound defensive?
God. I hope not.
It’s just smart.
It doesn’t mean you aren’t on the offensive and building value and thinking long term it simply means you have a practical objective.
What’s that objective?
I don’t want to be a damn commodity.
I am going to end on a personal note about de-commoditizing. Hugh wrote this (I believe .. I lost the source):
“The best way to offset one’s own commodification is to build one’s own personal “global microbrand”, irrespective one own employer.”Brand You”, as the great Tom Peters called it way back in 1997. A good blog works about as well as anything. And no, you don’t have to be an A-Lister.”
I guess while I talk the talk in interviews and with businesses and whomever will listen to me … I am also in a way walking the walk by building a blog (two of them in fact) and maybe I can become my own global microbrand.
How cool would that be?
Bruce. No longer a commodity.