Applying a B2C approach to B2B brand research just doesn’t work.
With B2C, it’s of utmost importance to make sure that general awareness of the brand is really high. (Think product placement for Coca-Cola on movies and TV, billboards, etc.)
But with B2B, it’s much more important to make sure the right people are aware of the brand. Often, it doesn’t matter whether the general population is aware of a B2B product or service. Only a handful of very specific professionals would ever use the solution anyway.
For example, many B2B tech companies are barely known outside of the B2B world but bring in billions of dollars. ServiceNow, for instance, made nearly $2 billion in revenue last year, but your average non-tech-industry Joe has probably never even heard of the company. But non-tech Joe doesn’t need to have heard of it since he would never be a potential buyer. It only really matters whether Director of Customer Support Joe and Director of Internal Support Jane know about ServiceNow solutions and have a good perception of them.
For that reason, B2B brand studies shouldn’t overemphasize the awareness stage, unless we’re talking about awareness within the target audience.
B2B Brand Research Should Explain Why Awareness Doesn’t Lead to Usage
In any case, it is very important for B2B brand research to explore why awareness isn’t leading to consideration and usage.
Are target buyers aware of your product but not considering it? Why? Perhaps customers think your solution has far more features than they actually need- and a much higher price tag than they wanted.
Are potential buyers considering your product, but predominantly going with a competing solution? Perhaps competitors have better messaging around ease-of-use and quick Time to Value.
B2B brand studies need to determine the “why” behind dips in the Awareness, Consideration, Usage, and Advocacy graph.
In order to do that, researchers have to ask the right questions of the right people.
Right People: Talk to the Most Influential B2B Buyer Personas
Awareness and consideration are often driven by personas most research firms would never dream of recruiting (to the detriment of their studies).
Many of our clients get really excited at the prospect of surveying the C-suite. But C-levels probably aren’t Googling and evaluating vendors.
B2B brand researchers should broaden their focus beyond the people approving the expense and signing the purchase order. They need to talk to everyone who has a role in finding and narrowing the list of potential vendors and solutions.
B2B buying (especially at the mid-market and enterprise level) is a group decision, never an individual impulse. Remember, an average of 6.8 people are involved in a B2B purchase.
Before launching a B2B brand study, make sure you have clarity around the buyer personas involved in finding and narrowing the vendor list. Know who holds the most sway over the buying decision and who has veto power.
It’s also important to understand that stakeholders will be evaluating the solution from different angles. Some B2B buyers will be most concerned with user adoption, others will care more about increased productivity. Others’ top priority may be integration with other systems or security, impact on revenue, etc.
Right Questions: Qual Before Quant
Many market research firms make the mistake of diving right into an expansive (and often expensive!) quantitative B2B brand study.
Unless you really know your buyers, it’s important to do some qualitative discovery to ensure that your quantitative research covers all the important bases.
Upfront qualitative B2B research will tease out some of the rumors, concerns, or perceptions that buyers have about your product that you may not have been aware of. It can also tell you what criteria buying decisions actually turn on.
For example, in an initial in-depth interview (IDI), say a supply chain manager tells you they went with a competing product because they thought your solution had far more features than they actually needed. They also thought your solution would be difficult to train staff on. Before that conversation, perhaps you would have thought only to survey buyers about pricing concerns or would have assumed that “the most features” must be a positive perception. A survey built on these assumptions could lead you astray.
After that IDI, you would know to include questions not just about what attributes customers associate with which brand, but what attributes they actually look for when making a purchase. Further, you might design your survey to discover segments that care about different things, thereby letting you develop marketing campaigns with the right messaging for the right segments.
So, do your homework. Schedule some in-depth interview with target buyers before designing the larger quantitative B2B survey. Otherwise, you won’t know the right questions to ask in the quantitative B2B research phase or the important context for interpreting the responses.
Ask Follow-Up Questions To Illuminate B2B Buyers’ Perception of the Competitive Landscape
Skilled interviewers know they can’t just ask the basics in preliminary in-depth interviews (IDIs) for B2B brand studies.
Of course, interviewers should ask:
- Do you know of this brand? What products/services do you think of with it?
- Would you consider using them? What do you think they’re best suited for?
- What are you using now? Would you consider switching?
But follow up questions are also necessary to figure out the reasons behind any lack of awareness, consideration, or usage.
At Cascade Insights, here are some typical questions we ask during IDIs with B2B buyers before proceeding on to the larger brand study:
- What companies are you aware of in this space?
- How do you think about Company X? What’s your impression?
- What do you think the industry thinks of Company X?
- If you were the CEO of Company X, what would you be doing to improve it now?
- What words would you use to describe Company A, Company B, Company C, and Company X?
- Which company do you associate with innovation? What about High Quality? Great Customer Support?
- Rank Company A, Company B, Company C, and Company X in order of how you perceive their cost.
- Which company would you feel the safest doing business with? Which company do you view as the riskiest?
- What positive and negative experiences have you had with any of these companies?
- Who has market momentum among major industry players? Among upstarts?
- What’s the best thing about Company X that they don’t seem to know yet? What should they be capitalizing on but aren’t?
- What’s your sense for the industry direction of X technology/business problem/etc.?
The answers we get to these questions illuminate subjects that should be probed during the quantitative phase of B2B brand research.
B2B Brand Research Hinges on IDIs
B2B brand studies should do much more than just tell you what percentage of your buyers know about your solution, have thought about buying it, and are using it currently.
At the end of the study, you should be confident that you included all the options that are relevant to buyers and have clear directives for adjusting your marketing, product, or sales strategy to bump more of your target buyers into usage and advocacy.
For that to be possible, your market research team needs enough context to ask the right questions of the right people.
So, don’t skip qual.
Cascade Insights conducts B2B Brand Research for the B2B technology sector. We work with everyone from enterprise tech stalwarts to up-and-comers in fields such as FinTech, MarTech, Health Tech, and more.
Special thanks to President & CTO Scott Swigart, CEO Sean Campbell, and Director of Systems Design Philippe Boutros for advising on this piece.