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Branding: From Product to Connection

By Alan Brew

Interbrand’s annual survey of the Best Global Brands is always an interesting read. This year, Jez Frampton, Interbrand’s CEO, says, “Uncertainty is the new status quo, so today’s brands need to be quick and nimble.”

Then I looked at the list again. There is something about it that does not quite sync with his remarks. There, in the top 5, along with Coca-Cola and Google, are IBM (#2), Microsoft (#3) and GE (#5). Powerful they are, but quick and nimble? I think Jez is missing something.

He goes on, “This year’s Top 100 Best Global Brands have demonstrated that, despite an erratic economic landscape, they are constantly flexing, evolving and innovating – all in an effort to meet the new needs of today’s consumer.”

See what I mean? He glosses over the fact that IBM, GE and Microsoft are not consumer brands. They are B2B brands.

They sit there on Interbrand’s list like uninvited wrestlers at a fashion show. Today’s consumer couldn’t care a toss about IBM and GE. And Microsoft is just a fact of life for most people when they turn on their computers.

The real story here is the rise and significance of B2B brands and their increasing dominance in the business world and their growing presence on Interbrand’s annual list.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when branding strategy was regarded as a marketing exercise limited to the “quick and nimble” consumer product industry.

How can it be relevant to B2B giants such as IBM, GE, Microsoft, Cisco, SAP, Intel and Accenture? They are complex enterprises that specialize in tackling large-scale problems with individualized solutions combined with a high proportion of consultative services.

The role of branding has changed. Just as business success is no longer just about making and selling products, branding is no longer about the packaging, advertising and promotion of those products. It’s about connection. Organizations that focus on ‘connection’ configure themselves around customer preferences and groups, not around the products they make. They focus on knowing their customer and building long-term relationships with them. They provide easy access through multiple integrated channels, often with alliance partners. When it comes to customer service, these companies do have to be quick and nimble, but they set the branding course for the long-term.