B2B brands or baby turtles – which can survive?

You can see those little guys now, pecking away with their fleeting tool of consequence, the egg tooth, a hard protuberance on their beaks. Right from the start the odds are against a sea turtle. Each baby born from the clutch of 100 leathery skinned eggs has to now dig its way out. Fancy that! Buried alive, before you are born – life is a bitch, kid, and she gets even narkier.

Once they make it to the surface, the race is on to launch out to sea, before a bird, crab or witless documentary team tramples on top of you. Fleeing their mother’s natal beach, they have to use appendages that are meant for water – in reality they may come back onto land once in a lifetime. So there you are scrambling for all you are worth, with your brothers and sisters in the dark, with limbs that are less useful than a mouth full of raw liver.

Little wonder then that for the sea turtle, their survival is just one in every 4000 who make it to adulthood (remember that fact, it might be handy one day…)

There is actually an upside to this horrible brutality. That once you have avoided all the dangers, from being trampled to death at birth, not getting picked off by a predator, or dying of exhaustion because Mum picked a rough beach, you can live to 80 years. So when they make it, they make it big.

You most likely think this is pathetic, but while watching a documentary about our flipping friend the sea turtle, it struck me that their fight for survival, and indeed their entire life, mimics that of B2B brands.

Both sea turtles and brands have the exact same survivorship curve, namely a concave one. A concave survivorship curve is (if you were bored silly in biology, and did rude things to the Petri dish while this was explained) characteristic of something that produces large numbers of offspring each time they have a go at it.

The interesting part is that the parent or maker employs stuff all parental care, essentially leaving the offspring to make the best of an awful situation. As you would expect, mortality is very high, but the upside is, that by surviving you have a good chance of living to a ripe old age.

Sounds a lot like how many B2B brands are born, live and die.

Often when a brand is born, it is done with the same enthusiasm you would expect from a death row inmate on the ‘big day’. A brand is created with no thought to actually wanting to nurture it, or sustain it, or how to make it grow into something useful. Rather, brands are born using methods such as ‘having a wild stab in the dark’, or ‘can we do this later and just use my cats name for now’.

If I was temporarily insane and believed in reincarnation, I would be terrified that I could return as a sea turtle, or even worse, as the brand of a technology or innovation company who had no understanding or appreciation of what I could do for them, if only given time and half a chance.

B2B brands are really quite interesting. I’ve been involved in the entire process, from when someone reluctantly decides to invest in branding, to when it is born. During incubation you have the brand deniers, grumbling that money could be better used for something more useful, like buying better biscuits for morning tea.

Once the brand pops out, it is left to fend for itself, floating around like a cup lost at sea. And because it is effectively dumped on the side of the road, like a tragic character from a Brothers Grimm story, the brand completely fails to achieve anything of note. Cue the rhetoric flooding in about how stupid it is to invest in that fluffy nonsense called a brand.

One of the issues is that you only notice the ill effects of not having a brand when you face trouble. When sales are tanking, or you need to expand, or your pricing is getting creamed. Rather than taking a methodical and proven approach to branding, too many B2B companies treat branding like a tap, something to be turned on and off when they ‘feel the need’.

The fact is, that a brand is very much like a living thing, baby sea turtles included. Once a brand comes into existence, it needs to be nurtured with a view to it becoming mature enough to help around the house (so to speak). More than that, there has to be a life purpose for it. As a living dynamic ‘asset’ for the business, the brand will experience good times and bad, but at its inception there must be a clear plan for how it will grow up and behave as you need it to.

When creating, revitalising or considering your brand, the single most important question you have to answer is, ‘what perception must I make, in what market, to have commercial value?’ The answer to that question gives your brand a life purpose. This makes the creation of branding assets much easier, because you know exactly what the brand must represent and who to.

The result should be a brand that serves as a means for winning the right type of business, attracting the right type of talent, reflect the internal culture, build confidence for sales staff, and eventually is an asset that has goodwill attached to it in accounting terms: you can sell it!

If people were able to approach branding from this perspective, I’m sure they would display more enthusiasm. I guess the facts might be that too many have experienced brands which had a concave survivorship curve. They have seen brands created and left for dead. All I can do is encourage those people to look at mega brands in the B2B world, and understand that many of those mega brands started off life as an idea in some bloke’s shed who tinkered their way to brilliance.

I don’t know of too many billion-dollar B2B brands that started with a billion dollars in the bank. They have all needed to grow and develop to become the monsters they are today. And if the likes of Cisco, Nokia, ABB, IBM, John Deer, or BAE Systems were to be the target of a takeover and the new owners wanted to use the brands, you bet there will be a price to pay.

Oh dear, a god-awful realisation just struck me. Everything I’ve just written has been completely pointless. This is not a new topic for conversation. Plenty has been documented over the past zillion years about the benefits of a strong, well-positioned B2B brand and how that relates to commercial outcomes. And given the fact that only highly-intelligent and prolific marketers read this blog, means I’ve just squandered an entire rant preaching to the converted.

What would David Bloody Attenborough do?


Kimon Lycos
BY Kimon Lycos ON 29 October 2012
Kimon Lycos is founder of Mihell & Lycos, a leading business-to-business marketing communications agency, helping companies sell technology and innovation to other companies. He is also an Adjunct Professor with RMIT University.

Tweet Kimon: @b2bmarketer, and visit Mihell & Lycos website.