Navigating the Wave: The Surging Influence of Brand Purpose in B2B

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There’s an old adage in customer experience. Where B2C goes, B2B follows. But, the distinction between the two is fading. CX is everywhere. Expectations are set by the best experience on offer – inside and outside of the workplace – in Europe, in Asia, and across the globe. Businesses want a seamless CX just as they do in their personal lives. They are also actively seeking out companies that share their sense of purpose and values. Businesses that are doing good for the planet, people and society. They are judging companies on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) claims, and more importantly the action they take.

Business customers care about what your brand stands for. It can be more important than innovation or market dominance. We’re not getting existential here, but without purpose, do you have a business? Price and quality matters but consumers and buyers are increasingly making decisions driven by values-based preferences aligned with customer experience. And the shift isn’t anecdotal.

McKinsey with NielsenIQ looked at five years of sales data from 2017 to mid-2022. It found that ‘consumers are shifting their spending toward products with ESG-related claims’. People are opening their wallets based on ESG criteria. These people also work for businesses buying from companies like for yours.

Brand purpose should be the driving force behind everything you do. It’s about more than the words in your logo, on your website and in your content. It’s the foundation of a differentiated customer experience and employee experience. Employees that are driven by shared purpose and values feel more motivated, engaged and empowered = a better CX. In the battle for talent, purpose is a big differentiator in attracting the calibre of people you need to deliver the calibre of customer experience you promise.

But …

The value of a purpose-driven strategy hasn’t always been obvious in B2B. Few brands have paid as much attention to it as it requires. Until now. Historically, lists of the top purpose-driven brands didn’t change much. But the evidence is mounting that a significant shift is under way. When MarketingProfs ran its Purpose Power Index in 2021 it noticed a big change – and the arrival at the top of B2B players was the biggest surprise. Six of the top 25 purpose brands were B2B brands, as were 11 of the top 50.

The data is in – high-growth B2B brands invest in brand purpose

Purpose-driven businesses build hard-to-break bonds because the people they do business with are also emotionally invested in doing the right thing. People get that making a profit keeps the lights on so you can continue to do good. But, they are being switched off by businesses that motivated by profit alone. This includes B2B. The reward for purpose-driven brands? Higher growth – in good times and bad times.

Trust is a prized commodity

Having a clear brand purpose instils trust.  A prized commodity in the best of times. Trust is an emotion. Businesses that build emotionally committed relationships are rewarded with loyalty, an increase in referrals and higher growth.

The one certainty we have now is uncertainty. People tend to seek safety in tough times. This includes business buyers. Forrester found that B2B brands also often seek safety over excellence when in buying or renewal mode. Trust can help you overcome cautious or defensive decision-making.

So … if you want to be in a better place to be a trusted, high-growth brand, whatever the economic weather, brand purpose is crucial to your CX and EX design. It’s what separates the leaders from the rest of the pack.

What’s different about high-growth businesses?

Economic uncertainty is becoming the strapline for the ’20s and we’re only three years in. The investment decisions you make now will tip the scales on keeping your business stable and growing. And it’s clear that high-growth brands are spending now on their reputation to do this. They’re not cutting costs to try to insulate themselves against the economic headwinds. They are investing in their brand and brand purpose.

Forrester discovered that almost a quarter (23%) of high-growth B2B companies – with more than 1,000 employees and >20% annual revenue growth – plan to increase their reputation programme budget by 10% or more.

Where is the money being spent?

The research highlighted three trends that are shaping B2B CMO planning.

  • Addressing changing buyer behaviours
  • Implementing a purpose-driven brand
  • Focussing on post-sale customer engagement

Shifting strategy – on purpose

Research from Deloitte echoed the Forrester findings. It found a divergence in the way high-growth brands (those with 10% or more annual growth) put purpose into action. Higher growth brands saw purpose as an holistic strategy.

Almost two-thirds (66%) were more likely to see purpose as a means to guiding employee decision-making
41% more likely to have purpose drive the corporate social responsibility investment strategy

They also placed a higher premium on accountability.

Whether you’re pure-play B2B, or have a mix of consumer and business customers, if you want to emulate the strategies of high-growth companies now is the time to rethink your purpose, and how it aligns with all stakeholders. The wrong decisions could take years to undo. It could mean the difference between between thriving and surviving.

 If you want use brand purpose more effectively as a way to differentiate, how do you get started? Here are four elements to consider.

Define your brand purpose before you embed it into your CX and EX
Why does your business exist?
What are your core values and what do you believe in?
How does this align with stakeholders?
On which issues can you make the most tangible impact?
Everything will flow from here.
How can you bring your purpose and values to life?
How will you achieve your goals?
How do you align your whole organisation around your renewed purpose?
How do you shift to a purpose-driven culture? It’s hard work changing culture. Your management team needs to be the biggest advocates for the change to bring the team with them.
How do your leaders kick start the process of communicating the renewed purpose.
How should they role model new behaviours?

We get onto how to use your purpose to guide employees in a moment.

Embed your purpose in your CX design

As we mentioned earlier, brand purpose is crucial to your CX and EX design. Neither will work without the other. Your purpose should be the north star that guides your customers and employees experience. Let’s first look at your CX.

Infuse your purpose into every touchpoint – your brand identity, messaging and content, product and service delivery. Be consistent.

Remember to first take a step back. B2B buyers experience your brand before they ever become customers.

Revisit your journey maps and your customer data to also understand what drive buyers experience before you know about them. 

 Buyers and sales cycles are forever changed. Many B2B futures are built on relationship building, repeat business and referrals. For complex B2B solutions, sales cycles can take months. Signing on the dotted line is just the start of the relationship. As Forrester pointed out, focussing on post-sale customer engagement is crucial. But this is way downstream.

Prospects do their own research. They may not contact you until they have a shortlist. Before you’ve even had chance to say hi, they are forming an impression of your business – your values and credibility. They may order online and never contact your sales team.  A shared purpose and values are a powerful way to stand out – on your website and through your content – before you even know about them.

Infuse your purpose into your EX planning
If your employees don’t understand and buy into your purpose, it’s going to be very difficult for your consumers to do it ”
– Jorge Casimiro, Chief Social and Community Impact Officer, Nike”

Think about how to embed your purpose into your EX planning. Think about the moment someone sees your job advertisement to the moment they leave.

How can you empower all employees to live your purpose?
How does a shared purpose and values help you harness creativity, innovation, skill and commitment?
How do you reward and recognise positive contributions and behaviour?
How can you encourage your team to create meaningful and lasting impact – by taking part in voluntary work, for example?
Communicate, and activate, your purpose with authenticity and integrity

European consumers often demand more transparency than in other parts of the world. People will judge you by what you do, more than what you say. They’ll quickly spot virtue signalling and don’t want empty phrases or promises. There have been lots of cases of ‘purpose washing’ or ‘green washing’ in the headlines. B2B brands though are arguably less guilty of this. Communicate, and activate, your purpose with authenticity and integrity.

None of the above is a one-off exercise. If you want to use brand purpose as a way to differentiate, you might need to revisit your purpose and change how you express it as buyers and marketplaces evolve.

Revisiting and reinforcing your brand purpose – lessons from Philips, IBM and P&G India

Philips – ‘Our purpose is to improve people’s health and well-being through meaningful innovation’

Dutch multinational Philips aims to improve the lives of 3 billion people per year by 2030. The company is dropping its ‘Sense and Simplicity’ brand promise to better reflect the ‘meaningful innovation’ it sees as its future differentiator. This is where the brand can uniquely set itself apart from competitors. The company isn’t changing its essence – just how it expresses it.

IBM – ‘To be the catalyst that makes the world work better’

Tech giant IBM is another example of a brand that evolves how it communicates its purpose – as its customers and the world changes. As Forbes explained, IBM’s purpose today ‘is to use its technological smarts to help make the planet work better in areas like healthcare, education, environmental causes, and other areas of critical need’. It’s ‘People for a Smarter Planet’ project is a good example of how a brand brings its purpose to life. Learn more here.

P&G India / Ariel – ‘Share The Load’

Ariel’s ‘Share the Load’ campaign challenges the sub-conscious bias in gender and household chores. Men are literally being encouraged to share the load and become friends with the washing machine.

It’s a wrap

The tide is rising on brand purpose in B2B. European and APAC consumers are adding their voice to the global call for leadership on purpose and solutions to the environmental and social challenges we all face.

Your purpose should be an authentic commitment that drives everything you do. High-growth businesses invest in their brand and brand purpose in good times and bad times. They bake environmental and social responsibility, and good governance, into every aspect of what they do. For market-driven and performance-driven businesses, it will most likely mean a rethink of why you do the things you do and how this aligns with your stakeholders’ purpose and values.

Push the environmental or social agenda you stand by inside and outside your company keep your promises. And embed your purpose into every element of your CX and EX design as in your products and services. Buyers are voting with their wallets and employees are voting with their feet. A clear purpose goes a long way in attracting and keeping customers and employees that share the same views.

Ricardo Saltz Gulko
Ricardo Saltz Gulko is the founder of Eglobalis and the European Customer Experience Organization. He is a global strategist specializing in B2B enterprises, with a focus on Customer Experience, Professional Services, Design and Innovation, as well as data-driven services. Ricardo empowers major global enterprises to generate new revenue and enhance market competitiveness through the delivery of exceptional global CX, and he employs design to drive adoption and growth. The end results of his work include high growth, increased retention, loyalty, innovation ignition, adoption and growth.

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