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Branding a trade publication: most do a poor job

BtoB’s Daily News Alert brought us this bulletin today:

Hanley Wood changes name of ‘Green Products and Technology’ to ‘EcoHome’
Washington, D.C.—Hanley Wood, a b-to-b media company that covers the housing and construction markets, has changed the name of its recently launched Green Products and Technology to EcoHome. The new name debuts with the May issue, the second of four planned for 2008….

The name change aligns the magazine more closely with Hanley Wood’s annual EcoHome Expo and Conference and EcoHome Web site, said Frank Anton, CEO of Hanley Wood.

That got me thinking about names for publications. In general, trade publications do an unimaginative job of naming. They usually go for a descriptive name. Yawn.

It appears that Green Products and Technology would have been OK with Hanley Wood except for the apparent need to align with the EcoHome Expo and Website.

The publication industry is pretty hide-bound. There’s little differentiation in the manner publications are marketed to readers and to advertisers. I’ve been in on many a media presentation over the years – I mean like forty or more years – and they still sound the same. They still quote readership and circulation numbers. They still conduct and present preference studies. They still price competitively by CPM.

This applies even to the newer publication introduced in the Internet Age – Fast Company, Red Herring, Industry Standard – even though each of them have better understood branding. This is most ardently applied through content and an independent editorial stance. Most BtoB publications just won’t upset advertisers in any way.

Anyway, those are the thoughts sparked by the article. As for EcoHome as a name for a magazine, an expo or a website, well, lets just say they could have done better. But it’s certainly better than a utilitarian descriptive like Green Products and Technology.

Martin Jelsema

Should there be different approaches between B-2-B and B-2-C branding?

I first had to come to grips with this question as I cut my teeth as an assistant account exec at BBDO while working on the DuPont advertising account in 1960.

Would the messages we created for consumer ads for Telar the Never Drain Antifreeze, resonate with the auto dealers and service stations who would be our business customers?

The answer, of course was a resounding “no”. The appeals of the product as an end user looking to save money while protecting a vehicle where very different from the appeals to the dealer who wanted profits, fast inventory turnover and no servicing problems.

DuPont ignored the dealer networks, as they had done with other products with some success, to create “demand pull” from end users. This time it didn’t work. Telar was a flop.

And later, while working as account exec and copywriter on the IBM data products account at Marstellar’s New York office, I learned another lesson.

Appealing exclusively to engineers, programmers, systems analysts, operations managers, and business execs meant that rational messages on benefit and specifications were damned important. Making emotional appeals, unless very subtle ones that were meant to assuage human fears – “no one got fired buying IBM” – were not the way to sell computer systems.

Even though engineers were “human”, when evaluating business propositions they wanted to be treated as if they were, well, engineers. Just the facts, ma’am.

So the question I raise is just this: are there approaches to branding a B-2-B that should be significantly different from a consumer-goods company?

Well, I think so.

What do you think?

Please leave your comments, pro or con, about this question.

I’ll be exploring this question in several blogs over the next month concerning those differences and approaches to branding.

Martin Jelsema

Customers brand B2B companies

It may surprise some readers that there are still companies today that are driven by manufacturing.

These are companies that have mastered a particular production technique, or are very well skilled in an arcane technology.

So what does that have to do with branding?

Even manufacturing-driven companies are branded, usually by their customer base and industry leaders. The branding process is actually unconscious on the manufacturer’s part. It just happens.

I was employed by such a company.

For five years I reported to the Vice President of R&D at CoorsTek (then still named Coors Porcelain Company), the nation’s leading supplier of highly engineered, custom-designed ceramic parts and products. My job was to assess various ceramic applications Coors was not serving because they had neither the material nor plant to fabricate them. Many were future applications for high temperature, and/or highly stressed components, mostly for energy-related technologies.

But I also provided much of the information and thought concerning the company’s strategic positioning. I strongly urged the company to change its name from the archaic Coors Porcelain Company. I suggested back in the early 1980’s that they needed to be more conscious of branding and marketing, not just rely on their sales force to establish relationships – which they did exceptionally well.

Over time, after I’d left to form my own company, the company did become Coors Ceramics. And after acquiring metals and plastic fabrication facilities tthey became CoorsTek.

CoorsTek thrives today as a well-equipped engineered materials  fabrication provider  for most problem applications in electronics, transportation, paper making, electric utilities, materials handling systems, etc.

Coors “survived” a major thrust from Japanese competitors, particularly Kyocera in the electronics industry in the 1980’s. But over time its ability to work with customers, to develop relationships with engineers who specified the product, made them able to capture major market shares in the most profitable application areas. It has also survived several reorganizations performed by its then-parent company, Coors Brewery. Now completely independent, the company has developed a reputation for materials and fabrication know-how second to none. .

So what’s the point?

Their reputation is their brand.

Even manufacturing-driven companies are branded through reputation.

Now, as a successful and progressive company CoorsTek is beginning to pay attention to its brand. I am really impressed with their web site, CoorsTek. They now present themselves as a leader and a problem solver. If you go there, click on the “History” link to see just how far they’ve come.

Their current tagline, Amazing Solutions, speaks to the unique materials they have formulated as well as the fabricating processes they have developed.


Did branding get them where they are today? I don’t think their attempts at branding did so, I think their performance in the marketplace branded them. Today’s “new image” will, I believe, help them maintain and grow their brand, but for them and most B2B marketers, brand is tied directly and strongly with performance.

Martin Jelsema

How important is branding for a B2B service provider?

The BrandingWire posse of pundits are doing their monthly “thing” – all 10-12 of us blog on a single branding topic.


This time, Lewis Green of biz solution plus suggested we all blog on a situation I’ve personally encountered: “how to brand and market a B2B consulting firm”.

That’s exactly what I’ve had to do, and what I do for at least three-quarters of my clients. First, I’ll answer the questionin the headline: yes, branding is important – no, vital – to the success of a B2B service provider.

Now, as I begin writing this I became troubled with a case of déjà vu. Last month’s BrandingWire blog addressed the branding needs of an IT provider who is, of course, a B2B consulting (or service) business. Rather than repeat my comments from September, I’ll just supply this link, This IT company needs to focus.

The major points from that blog are three-fold:

Find a viable niche
Demonstrate your expertise in print and in person
Differentiate your business from competitors

Now that that’s out of my system, I’ll share some additional observations, opinions and suggestions.

A question of personalities.

What’s a better tack: branding the company or the founder?

I personally believe both should be “branded” in the sense that the people of the firm are the “product” the firm is offering. In my particular service category, brand consultancy, Profit does a good job of co-branding people and the firm. Scott Davis and David Aaker are both well-known authors and speakers. Aaker is probably the most quoted branding guru around. Profit encourages its directors and specialist to author articles and become guru specialists in certain aspects of branding and strategic marketing. They fill “niches”.

Now Profit goes after the big clients. But the same approach for a consultancy serving smaller clients can be powerful.

In addition to authoring articles, speaking at every occasion and belonging to niche-related associations and groups, the individual consultants can indeed become known as specialists within the firm. They are part of the team an account manager can call upon to address client problems. Even a one-person consultancy can take advantage of this approach if he/she has a competent network of specialists to call on.

When services become products

A common practice, one advocated by Anthony O. Putman in his highly-valued book, Marketing Your Services: A Step-by-Step Guide for Small Businesses and Professionals, is to “package” your services. Based upon knowledge of the needs of the market segments you serve, package your services to provide a complete solution to a problem your customer base commonly faces. Then, establish another package addressing a second problem and so on.

Incidentally, Putman’s book has been my guide book from its publication in 1990. Several other books and manuals I highly recommend to service marketers are:

All of Harry Beckwith’s books: Selling the Invisible, What Clients Love, The Invisible Touch.

C.J.Hayden’s book, Get Clients Now.

Robert Middleton’s website and his Info Guru Manual.

You’ll find other materials abound, but those above will provide a solid base for planning and action.

Building On-going Relationships

This is the key to successful consultancies. And you’ll hear the complaint from some clients that consultants are always trying to sell them something more. What’s a consultant to do?

There are three suggestions here. The first I also recommended last month, and that is to build relationships as far up the organization chart as possible. Speak to those people in strategic terms. Become a confidant.

Second, become the “auditor” or the “educator” in your particular specialty. Accountants and legal firms establish the auditor type of client relationships naturally. On-going education in HR topics and sales are particularly effective for high-turnover employee businesses. If you address a truly valuable function within the company, becoming its auditor is a source of income as well as being a way to continually interact with management.

The third area is to perform on-going research. While an audit is primarily an internal function, research, be it market, technology, competitor, best practices or industry trends, is out-going and can be highly useful to the client and profitable to the consultant. It’s helpful to create a research “product” and brand it.

While working on the Hewlett-Packard account at Tallant/Yates Advertising here in Denver (1974-1978), we conducted benchmark research every year to determine market share trends, attitudes among engineers about electronic products and advertising effectiveness. A great source of income as well as a way to maintain client relationships at the top of the ladder.

Personal experience in relationship building

I admit, I don’t pay enough attention to it. I’ve always been of the opinion that my work speaks for itself. When I end a project I always get a good reference from the client. They are pleased, but they are through with the branding process. I’ll hear from them again in a couple of years to update a brochure or to send someone a logo.

Most start-up small businesses, the niche I’ve targeted, only want a name, logo, tagline, stationery, a brochure and a website. They haven’t the funds for more even if I were to convince them of a need for more.

So what’s the answer?

Find market segments with on-going branding needs. Then develop the service packages and auditing systems they recognize they need. Then I’ll talk and write about those solutions. That’s where I’m pointing my business. It’s a challenge and an adventure.

Now go to The BrandingWire to read the responses from the other posse members. Each site is listed under the blogger’s names in the right column, or go to The BrandingWire blog site to get the overall picture before visiting the various sites. I’m sure you’ll find perspectives, many different from mine, that may be just what your business needs to develop and sustain client relationships.

Martin Jelsema

This IT company needs focus

So this month the BrandingWire posse of pundits, of which I’m a member, blogs about branding a small IT firm serving B2B and non-profit organizations. It is a real company but prefers to remain anonymous.

After reading my blog be sure to visit the blogs of other BrandingWire pundits. Those links are located in the right column of this blog page, and listedagain at the end of this blog. Or you could click the image here to start at the BrandingWire home page where this month’s assignment is presented.


As I see it, this firm is having trouble defining who they are.

Their services, mostly provided through small, hourly contracts, range from 24-hour emergency problem-solving to installations, conversions and upgrades. They serve health care, non-profit, financial and retail clients.

Apparently most of their existing clients and their prospects are not used to paying for good IT services. They don’t perceive the value. As the company freely admits, they are looked upon as an “IT repair service” when their desire is to become a “business partner”.

Reading their goal of becoming a partner with their clients harkens me back to my days with IBM. That was – and still is – their modus operandi.

Building a sound business model

Now I’m getting away from the branding aspects of strategy for a moment because I believe branding needs to be based on a firm business foundation, and that the brand should then align with the business core. I would first want to develop the company structure and orientation.

Is it driven by technocrats or business/marketing people? IBM was driven by marketing and sales, particularly sales. Their sales force was trained and rewarded to be business consultants, working with client IT people and with executives within the company. They held seminars and workshops to promote (in my day) such leading edge technologies as time-sharing systems, linear programming and CAD/CAM. Sales people (called Account Managers) worked conceptually with top customer execs to develop long-range plans and systems based on ROI considerations. They wrote proposals much as a McKinsey consultant might, from a strategic platform.

Then each account had a Systems Engineer (or a crew of SE’s) to work hand in glove with client IT people to implement the systems and help with everyday problems and fixes. Also, Field Engineers were assigned to take care of hardware installation and maintenance on a contract basis.

Even in a small IT company, I believe you need evangelistic account people selling the concepts and benefits of particular system solutions. These folks need to be business oriented instead of technicians. They’ll do most of their work at executive, non-IT levels. The services themselves would then be carried out by top-notch technical people working within the customer environment with customer IT personnel to implement and then trouble-shoot as required. Now you have the basis for a partnership.

Characteristics of viable niches

You’ll need to identify a niche with three minimum characteristics:

1) It’s large enough to provide cash flow and profits for your company and your top three competitors.

2) The niche and its participants can be readily identified and approached.

3) Niche participants feel enough pain from the problems you promise to solve that they will listen and ultimately pay for a solution.

Three ways to differentiate a B2B business

If this structure is in place, you can now differentiate your service in one or more ways:

1) By industry you serve. This particular company was started serving non-profits but found they were not cash-rich. Perhaps they can specialize in retail for example. Find or educate an account rep in point-of-sale data capturing, sku tracking, trend reporting, etc.. Identify those retailers within a 100-mile radius and develop top-level relationships through seminars, association membership and regular information exchanges.

2) By application specialty. This needs to be a broad enough application to make it viable. It might be database development and mining which might appeal to marketing functions in retail, wholesale, fund-raising and medical research. Again, the spokes-evangelist must be hired and provided the technical backup to sell the concept as well as install and maintain such a system.

3) By the way you do business. Here you’re not focusing on a market niche, you’re just selling your approach to helping companies achieve their business goals through IT applications. This is harder to pull off for a smaller organization because their people probably don’t have the knowledge to meaningfully partner with prospect execs. But by focusing on, let’s say, three allied niches you might make it work.

Branding equals information dissemination

Now about branding this new, niched structure: For a service business, providing information – not just promotional literature and data sheets but knowledge prospects and customers can use to develop strategies and tactical plans – is the best way to brand the business. Becoming an expert and letting your market know it should be the main thrust. That means knowledgeable people first and informational materials second.

That doesn’t mean you ignore traditional branding elements. In addressing them, starting with a business name, I’d make sure it wasn’t too “techy”. It shouldn’t be Associated Systems Solutions, or as people will call it, ASS. Rather, the name should reflect the bigger picture. In fact, “Big Picture” might be a good name for this entity.

And of course the logo, tagline, graphic standards and trade dress will need to be compatible.

But of most importance is that the mission, vision, brand story, code of conduct and elevator pitch should be aligned and communicated to and through every single employee. In the service business, employees are really the key to your brand. They not only represent the brand, they are the brand in customer’s eyes.

Employees are the brand

This includes how they dress, how they interact with others, how they communicate enthusiasm and exhibit a helpful attitude. Oh, yes, make sure they’re competent.

It may take time to hire the right people, establish the contacts and get up to speed on the industries and applications required. You’ll need to prepare seminar curriculum and materials; join associations and standards committees; participate in industry trade shows, symposiums and conferences, and constantly publish white papers, technical briefs, trade articles and executive application descriptions.

But to become known as a specialist, the “go-to” company for (name your niche), is a lot easier, faster and less costly than to attempt to become all things to all people. Yes, I know you might have to pass up a piece of business to focus on your niche. But in the long run, the company’s reputation and position in the chosen niche will be a magnet for other niche participants. You can become the authority. You can command higher rates. You will enjoy being a big fish in a smaller pond.

All you need to do is find that viable niche, one that is not already dominated by a big fish competitor, and start to focus your business.

Read the other blogs about IT

Now: read what the other BrandingWire pundits have to say on this subject. Just click here to go to the BrandingWire web site. The individual blogs are listed and linked below”

Lewis Green

Kevin Dugan

Valeria Maltoni

Steve Woodruff

Drew McLellan

Patrick Schaber

Derrick Daye

Gavin Heaton

Becky Carroll

Olivier Blanchard


Matt Dickman

Chris Brown

Cam Beck

I hope you’ll enjoy the discussion and pick up an ideas or two in the process.

Martin Jelsema