Where Do You Stand on the Importance of a B2B Brand?

A few MLTers and I met with a prospective client for the first time. During the get-to-know-you’s, as we learned about each other’s business, our prospect made a very interesting comment. He said something to the effect of, “I think brands are becoming less and less important because there is so much information available. A brand is simply a promise, and when information is available, the brand isn’’t as important.

B2B brandingMy initial reaction (as a B2B marketer, naturally) was to think, “Of course brands are still important in purchasing decisions! It’s arguably the most important aspect of a business, and companies spend millions and millions of dollars building and testing awareness of their brands! Are they all insane? Are they throwing good money after bad?” He then admitted that this is a controversial stand to take, and went on to further explain using this example (and again, I am paraphrasing from memory):

Imagine you’re driving down the road, looking for a place to eat, when you see a sign for a roadside diner and a sign for a chain restaurant. You’ve eaten at the chain restaurant many times before, but are curious about the roadside diner. You search the name of the diner on your smartphone and find rave reviews online (“Best roadside diner in the country!” etc.), so you decide to go there. Though the chain offers a name you know, and you’ve had no complaints about it in the past, the information at your fingertips was convincing enough to lead you somewhere else. 

I find this comment and example interesting food for thought (no pun intended), especially as we are seeing marketing channels grow and evolve from traditional “push” methods to the “pull” of inbound (i.e., information-based) tactics. However, the magic of shaping and maintaining a successful b2b brand still lies in finding the delicate balance between investing in traditional brand-building marketing, developing information-based content and encouraging the online conversation (i.e. the fourth “P”…Promotion).

Applying this scenario to the B2B landscape, I think the question can be better addressed by looking at the sales cycles of B2B product offerings, which can be divided into two basic categories (for simplicity’s sake): long-term and short-term. It can reasonably be assumed that long-term purchase decisions are made after extensive research and review of available options, and are generally more complicated, with multiple influencing factors in play and more risk involved (e.g., a warehouse technology upgrade for supply chain management). Short-term purchases are typically more frequent “at the right place, at the right time” decisions and likely have a smaller transaction cost and less risk (e.g., choosing a landscaping firm to groom an office park’s green areas).

Do you think that the importance of a recognizable brand now plays less of a role in purchasing decisions than it did in the past, due to the information available on the web?

Or does it vary depending upon the aforementioned long-term or short-term scenarios?