Branding cool in B2B

March 11, 2013

Often times I find that “cool” brands are viewed with skepticism in the business-to-business arena. Buyers instinctually feel “cool” brands may be lacking substance, that they’re all form and no function, and that potentially, the cool factor may be covering up for some operational, service or product deficiency. I couldn’t disagree more.

A few weeks ago, my colleague, Ellen Sluder, wrote a great blog about embracing “uncool” brands. Ellen promoted the idea that often times, it’s “hip to be square.” The fact that I am a Huey Lewis fan notwithstanding, I agree with Ellen completely. Her hypothesis especially holds true in the business-to-business arena. There are many, many strong, relevant, quality brands that are also uncool. Consider, for example, McKinsey, FedEx and IBM, all primarily business-to-business organizations.

Often times I find that “cool” brands are viewed with skepticism in the business-to-business arena. Buyers instinctually feel “cool” brands may be lacking substance, that they’re all form and no function, and that potentially, the cool factor may be covering up for some operational, service or product deficiency. This is where I couldn’t disagree more.

Consumer brands are lauded for being hip. Think Apple, JetBlue, Target, Ikea or Volkswagen. It is not only acceptable, but appealing, to be a cool consumer brand. What makes these brands cool? It can be their modern design, bright color palettes or approachable language that always combines to produce a unique “fun factor.” Not only can these same concepts translate to business-to-business companies, they can provide differentiation from traditional B2B brands.

B2B brands can — and should — be cool. It’s an advantage not a deficit.

One example of a decidedly cool, yet professional brand is Bloomberg. A multi-billion dollar, global information company, Bloomberg is clearly successful — and has always been associated with quality. The company’s brand is also cool. From a visual perspective, brightly colored, strong visuals dominate the landscape. A more recent use of smart infographics makes information accessible with a modern twist. The web site offers a real-time look at a vast amount of ever-changing data, presented in eye-catching tiles that continuously scroll. In essence, Bloomberg uses its data as the actual branding itself. Pretty smart. And cool.

Bloomberg succeeds at being cool because it is also being true to itself. The brand captures the frenetic energy of the offering, as well as the personality of the organization. Additionally, it puts the quality of its offering front and center and turns its internal culture outward.

At the other end of the spectrum is the much smaller The Hired Guns, an employment portal for the creative class. Founded on the model Hollywood-style representation, the company selectively identifies its talent and grows with them over time, helping to manage their evolving careers with a fount of useful and important information. The model is unique as is the brand in a space filled with more traditional recruitment firms.

The Hired Guns brings the cool factor through the manner in which it communicates. Informal, personal, straightforward language pervades communications. The company is a no jargon zone; corporate-speak is markedly absent. Additionally, communications are written in the first person. Similar to the original style of Peter Shankman’s HARO (Help a Reporter Out), messages come straight from Allison Hemming, the “top gun.”

The result of this distinctive brand voice is an approachable, modern, cool brand balanced with clear expertise and value. The brand’s coolness is an asset, differentiating it from competitors and helping users self-select. It’s the reason that during my previous job search, The Hired Guns was my go-to resource.

So what other “cool” business-to-business brands have you seen in the marketplace?

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