B2B Brand Messaging Misfires With Buyers, McKinsey Finds

Business-to-business firms appear not only to be wasting time and money putting out messages about their brands, but also often emphasize what is not relevant to buyers, missing a chance to align brand messages with the values enterprise buyers of products actually care about, a study by McKinsey finds.

That there can be a disconnect between the messages suppliers put out and the importance of those messages on the part of business buyers might not strike you as unusual. What might be important is that the degree of mismatch is so wide, the study by McKinsey suggests.

Significantly, the study finds there is “a marked apparent divergence between the core messages companies communicate about their brands and the characteristics their customers value most.”

“Themes such as social responsibility, sustainability, and global reach” are common themes in much business-to-business messaging. Business buyers tune out those themes, and do not consider them highly relevant, the study suggests.

But two of the most important themes for customers, namely “effective supply chain management” and “specialist market knowledge” were among those least mentioned by B2B suppliers, McKinsey says.

In other words, what customers deem highly relevant in their evaluation of brands is not what suppliers are saying.

“Honest and open dialogue” is what customers considered most important, but was one of the three themes not emphasized at all by the 90 companies in the McKinsey study.

The study also showed “a surprising similarity among the brand themes that leading B2B companies emphasized.” In other words, instead of emphasizing distinctiveness, firms tended to say the same things as their major competitors.  

When every company says the same thing, it is hard to create distinctiveness and uniqueness.

The study was based on a review of publicly available documents of Fortune 500 and DAX 30 companies, as well as interviews with 700 enterprise buyers of products produced by those firms.




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