SMPL Q&A: 4 questions on B2B branding with Preanka Hai

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SMPL Q&A is a blog feature in which we interview our experts on all things relevant to brand experience and design. Recently, we spoke with Preanka Hai, strategist, on how B2B brand experience is changing, which B2B brands are embracing “consumerization,” and what others need to do in order to create greater relevance.

We’ve seen a trend in the “consumerization” of B2B. What exactly does that mean, and how would it manifest in brand experience?

Consumerization means that B2B brands need to respond to two questions: “How is your service or product made and delivered?” and “Why should I care?” For a number of years, consumers have been becoming savvier shoppers because of easier access to information and freedom to choose among many competing options.

Effective B2B brands interpret this trend by embracing transparency. This means demystifying their behind-the-scenes process and constantly demonstrating their value to business partners and consumers alike.

Which B2B brands have started to make this shift successfully?

Healthcare brands in the US have begun to out of necessity, and they’ve been learning on their feet. Obamacare has required health insurance companies to adapt their predominantly B2B sell to be a consumer sell as well. Although the health insurance exchange is still an emerging business, Oscar stands out in a sea of unapproachable insurers for emulating the look and experience of a tech brand. Oscar’s ability to sustain loyal consumers, in spite of its approachable appearance, will determine its success.

Healthcare companies have also become increasingly vertically integrated. In this respect, CVS Health has smartly entrenched itself in many different parts of the customer journey, becoming a recognized “one-stop health shop.” Whether interacting with other businesses to manage prescription benefits or with consumers in their CVS Pharmacy and Minute Clinic locations, CVS Health is bridging the distinction between B2B and B2C.

B2B brands and buying cycles are perceived to be complex—is there a role for “simplicity” in this context?

Simplicity cuts through artificial distinctions. As the boundaries between B2B branding and B2C branding have become hazier, organizations must speak with a clear point of view and make their target end-users (be it other businesses or consumers or both) the true litmus test of their brand experiences.

Pantone, once a provider of solely paint chips, pivoted to become an editorial brand with a perspective. Every year, it announces Pantone’s color of the year, which quickly influences the latest beauty and fashion merchandise. Intel, still predominantly a B2B company, considers the intelligence and criteria of its end-users. It embraces transparency with its emphasis on conflict-free sourcing.

What should B2B brands start doing differently to embrace this movement?

A few things come to mind:

  • Stop talking to yourself, and listen: Activate the things that are important to your end-user, including consumers. These things may be neither what you like best about yourself, nor what you do best.
  • Seek inspiration in unexpected sources: Look outside your competitive set to explore how others surprise and delight consumers. Disparate industries often run into similar obstacles; they just have different ways of solving them.
  • Be prepared to make tough choices: Creating a consumer-friendly B2B brand may require changing up how you’re used to doing things. These changes could involve anything from hiring different talent to working with new partners.

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