What Makes an Iconic Brand in B2B?

Words by Scott Lambert
Date 2023-07-11

It isn’t easy to become an iconic brand. Especially in B2B.

You need a lot of qualities. You need a lot of customers. And more often than not – you need a lot of time.

With all these pressures, it’s easy to lose sight of your brand principles. But these guiding values are key to inspiring internal and external success.

At Design Bridge and Partners, we’ve identified five helpful principles by which best-in-class B2B brands live and thrive by.

Principle #1 – Belief radiates from within

Knowing yourself is a fundamental source of self belief. And this is as true for brands as it is for people.

When you know who you are, and equally importantly, who you are not, it allows you to act and respond from a position of stability. The brands that talk, look, and behave with coherence and consistency, are the brands that are trusted.

Knowing the role you play in your customers’s lives is also fundamental for a brand’s outward expression. This purpose radiates outwards in the form of a brand idea that informs your design system. A powerful design system does not only mean a more memorable logo.

Every asset will be enlivened by the clarity of why you exist – this means that your customers and peers subconsciously spot your brand way before they notice your logo. It could be a distinctive tone which talks directly about the challenges that keep them awake, or the way the brand moves or sounds evokes the agility and energy they seek in a partner.

ExampleSequoia Capital has a bold brand ethos which clearly defines its characteristics – and those it seeks in its partners. “The creative spirits, the underdogs, the resolute, the outsider. The fighters and true believers.” Stating the “our style isn’t for everyone” radiates belief.

Principle #2 – Identity with the confidence to flex

From billboards to boardrooms, iconic B2B brands cut through across all touch points because their design assets are created with the flexibility to do both.

There are few experiences more jarring than when B2B branding is clumsily shoe-horned onto a screen – or conversely if a delightful and intuitive interface design struggles to scale up beyond the pixels. Iconic B2B brands that cut through and redefine their category are remembered for confidently delivering relevant experiences that challenge conventions.

Confidence isn’t about being hyper-visual and bold. Sometimes it’s about knowing when to get out of the way and let your audience or users get things done – which is a rewarding experience in its own right.

From a visual identity perspective, this requires a ‘reductive and expansive’ brand toolkit that can reduce itself to an almost functional role and then expand to carry thought-provoking ideas when needed – all the while appearing as an effortlessly cohesive brand experience.

ExampleIBM has a clean, nimble and simple visual style which can flex according to user needs. Its brand experiences always have a clear purpose, supporting content and guiding users through complex concepts, products or services. Creating meaningful engagement through intelligent design.

Principle #3 – ‘We’ lives alongside ‘Me’

An iconic brand offers a product, service, or benefit that fulfils a customer’s need – the ‘me’. But also serves a wider purpose through its collective impact – the ‘we’.

Importantly, these brands communicate purpose without being preachy. A visual identity should be designed to reflect both the “me” and “we” a brand offers. This brand language permeates across all levels of the organisation, so that the people working within it are empowered to communicate that purpose with clarity and simplicity to the wider world.

The result is a single-minded internal culture that radiates outwardly and then reflected back from its community.

Example – CISCO is a software and technology company. But it has more than just solutions for the workplace – dedicating aspects of the business and brand to tackling various societal issues, such as powering an inclusive future and building a stronger planet.

Principle #4 – In business, get personal

The most influential and successful B2B brands go above and beyond to create unique cultures focused on celebrating the individual people driving daily success. Businesses can like disparate corporate entities which are focused on quantitative results.

But it is human relationships which sit at the centre of B2B.

Iconic brands design courageous physical and digital experiences that people and partners want to spend time with.

Brands who champion individuals and individuality distinguish themselves from the more transactional, results-only-minded brands in the category. But brands must be careful to present humanity in B2B accurately. Stock photography or abstract graphics attempt to mean something to everyone, but risk meaning nothing to anyone.

Rather than happy handshakes, invest in photography which captures on-the-ground stories of real people who experienced genuine change. Look beyond stock libraries and commission illustration that captures the stories only you can tell in a single charming visual.

ExampleTemasek is a global investment company headquartered in Singapore. It describes itself as a generational investor, seeking to make a difference with tomorrow in mind. And this is reflected in all its brand tone and imagery – using authentic photography that captures genuine emotion.

Principle #5 – Create a lasting buzz

When marketing and social teams are under pressure to produce content that delivers results, it is easy to lose sight of, or even erode, a brand’s equities. But the very best B2B brands are able to deliver results whilst creating lasting brand value.

In periods of wider-market uncertainty, iconic brands stick to their principles. They won’t rush and design something that doesn’t fit with their purpose or their brand identity just because it looks like low-hanging fruit in the short term.

Brands who create lasting buzz can do the ‘big’ stuff and the ‘small’ stuff at the same time – constantly dropping pennies into the brand equity jar.

ExampleDeloitte is a global-facing business with clients across a vast spectrum of industries. So it has created a brand purpose which refracts across every aspect of its operations. From social media, to recruitment advertising, to internal communication – everything is about “making a real impact.”.

First published in Branding In Asia.