These days it’s easy to describe branding—just cite the work of consumer companies like Apple or BMW. But what about companies that don’t sell sexy consumer products—what does good branding look like to them?

Skeptics abound when it comes to the usefulness of brand in B2B and service industries. To help make the case I’ve put together a tool to explain the critical differences between different types of companies when it comes to branding—from the most visible (B2Cs selling products) to the most elusive (B2Bs selling services).


The tool is a chart divided into four quadrants, one for each company type. Regardless of where your company lands, you’ll need to grapple with the answer to these questions: What do your customers trust, and should your principal branding efforts be visible or invisible?

Let’s start with trust.

I laid out the importance of trust in my first book, The Brand Gap. I showed that the degree to which a customer trusts a product (or company making that product) determines whether he or she buys that product or a competitor’s product. The same principle is true if a company sells services—but in a service company, it’s the people—not the product—who must earn the customer’s trust.

For example, if I want someone to help me invest money, a service firm like Charles Schwab might be a good choice. From what I’ve heard, it seems like an investment brokerage that could help me manage my money. But in order for me to choose them (and not one of their competitors), I have to trust the person who will be advising me, not just the company.

Business-to-business companies have been particularly slow to appreciate the untapped value of brand. Why? Because the branding efforts that are most important for B2Bs are invisible. These include items like the CEO’s vision, employee training, pricing strategy, customer relationships, and sales force communications. Execs don’t always see their importance because, well, they can’t see them. Nevertheless, each item informs the company’s brand.

Now that you know the critical differences companies must consider in branding, download this slide. The next time a manager poo-poos the importance of branding at your B2B firm, explain the difference between their perception of branding, and the reality that you couldn’t survive without your customers’ trust and your CEO’s vision.