Metalworking Marketer
Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Brand Loyalty Is a Key to B2B Success


Brand Loyalty: Backbone of B2B Marketing

Brands R Us

By Mark Semmelmayer
Chief Idea Officer
Pen & Inc. Marketing Communications

Many think branding is a product of advertising’s golden age, but it goes back much further. For more than 30 years, I worked for a “brand aristocrat,” Kimberly-Clark. You may not connect to that name, but I’ll bet you connect to their brands. When you have a sniffle, you don’t ask for a facial tissue, you ask for a Kleenex®. The power of brand: Exhibit A.

(P.S. My wife worked for the Coca-Cola Company for almost 30 years. Ditto the above.)

The Kleenex® brand dates back to 1924. Over time, it’s become generic for an entire category of products. The same might be said for K-C brands like Huggies® or Kotex®. In B2B, the Kimberly-Clark brand, represented a gold standard in health care for surgical and infection control products. Their Wypall® and Kimtech® are the most recognized, best selling brands in industrial wiping products.

Brands like these, and customer loyalty to them, drove K-C from a $2.5 billion business when I joined in 1982, to nearly $15 billion when I entered “private practice” in 2014. Brands and brand loyalty matter.

What is a brand?

In the purest sense, your brand is most powerful in what it represents in a customer’s mind. Buyers look for products that fill a need or solve a problem. A brand represents the product they think does it best.

The process of building a brand hasn’t changed since Kleenex® in 1924. It takes time, consistent investment in marketing, consistent product quality and the acquisition and retention of consumer trust.

As Laura Lake put it in a blog on Branding Journal in February, “Branding is strategic and marketing is tactical . . . what you use to get your brand in front of consumers. Brand not only creates loyal customers, but it creates loyal employees. Brand gives them something to believe in, something to stand behind. It helps them understand the purpose of the organization or the business.”

A successful brand engages your target audience and differentiates your company from the competition, creating loyal customers and employees who champion it. That’s where loyalty starts to pay.

What’s the value of brand loyalty?

Acquiring new clients costs money. It’s less expensive to keep existing customers than find new ones. Experts say it costs seven times more to win new business, compared to keeping old business. Studies compiled by Salesforce have shown a 5% increase in customer retention can increase profits by 125%, and a 2% increase in customer retention is the equivalent of decreasing costs by 10%.

As Steve Damerow, CEO of the Atlanta-based Incentive Solutions Group put it: “It pays to know that retaining customers costs businesses less than getting new ones. In B2B, where the costs of contracts are significantly bigger than B2C, the impact of retaining customers is even more pronounced.”

In an article in Forbes, Bain Insights contributed this: “"Passionate customers who love doing business with you: that’s an aspiration that only matters to consumer-market companies, right? Clear-eyed buyers at industrial customers don’t put much stock in loyalty. They base their decisions on a cold assessment of product features and price. Think again. It turns out that, even in business-to-business markets, customer loyalty can accelerate growth and create a competitive advantage."

B2B Meets B2C: Fostering Brand Loyalty is Becoming More Consumer-Like . . .

B2B selling relies on a relatively small number of customers, in long business relationships that have lasted for years. Relationships built on trust, performance, honesty and good communication. But, as John Coldwell, Managing Director of InfoQuest wrote in a B2B blog on

“The Internet has changed brand value and brand positioning. Today, people have more personal relationships with brands, since marketing has become more individually targeted and people have more information to research when choosing brands. Becoming a meaningful brand is the foundation of securing loyal customers in today’s business world.”

B2B companies make a mistake in assuming customer complacency and customer loyalty are the same. Customers may stick with a brand for years, cutting training, maintenance and spare parts costs. They might be inconvenienced by switching . . . but that doesn’t equate to loyalty. If they have a problem with a brand, they might shake off complacency and go to a cheaper competitor.

I won’t go deep into detail here but, in the Information Age, your name only gets you so far. Building and maintaining relationships is the new reality of branding. It’s a race. Ask yourself, “my customers know me, but how do I lap the competition?”

Lessons from the Cash Register

We know what CRM means. Customer Relationship Management. Most of us have CRM software in place. But, if that’s your sole relationship strategy, as we say in the South, “that dog won’t hunt.” To engender brand loyalty, learn lessons from our B2C colleagues. Customer-centric thinking is the key.

Think check-out at the grocery store and customer loyalty rewards. Swipe your member card and get a discount, maybe even future discounts or cash rewards. So, why not reward B2B customers for milestones, like being a partner for five years, or purchasing $XXXX worth of product, with perks or discounts? Or, offer incentives for a first purchase. Remind them how important their business is to you. Your brand will carry a more personal meaning. Make sure your sales force knows which relationships need to be nurtured, face to face. Human-to-human interaction is still a trump card.

Selling via distribution? Distributor relationships are as important as direct sales to the customer. Offer rewards to distributors for completing online training that makes them more confident in knowledge of your products. That knowledge, and its impact on purchase and ongoing service, can be very meaningful to buyers.

Finally, align your marketing and sales staff. Turn them loose to think about ways to engage and retain your brand customers. Follow their recommendations. Your bottom line will thank you.

These are my thoughts on the value of B2B brand loyalty and how to build it today. What are yours?

Need more information?
Mark Semmelmayer
Chief Idea Officer
Pen & Inc. Marketing Communications
Marietta, GA


About the Author

Mark Semmelmayer

Mark is a past chairman of the Business Marketing Association (BMA), the 2015 recipient of their prestigious G.D. Crain Award and an Inductee into the Business Marketing Hall of Fame. He is a former national Chairman of BMA and an officer of BMA’s Atlanta Chapter. A 40-year B2B marketing pro, including 32 years with Kimberly-Clark, he’s the founder and Chief Idea Officer of Pen & Inc. Marketing Communications, a consultancy in Atlanta, GA.


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