Business networks have become a necessity in the B2B world. As projects become more complex and competition more global, many companies decide to pool resources, share knowledge and take on larger projects together.
This is especially true for technology companies, as confirmed by AdNovum CEO, Chris Tanner: “Building a strong partner ecosystem is going to be a major goal in the future, as the digital needs of one customer become more complex and diverse and companies have to concentrate on their core competencies to fulfil these needs.” A brand ecosystem is a network that goes beyond standard project or client-based cooperation, where members choose to build on each other’s brand equity and awareness to raise their individual profiles.
“Building a strong partner ecosystem is going to be a major goal in the future, as the digital needs of one customer become more complex and diverse and companies have to concentrate on their core competencies to fulfill these needs.”
, CEO, AdNovum
First, take care of your own B2B brand
In order to build or join an existing brand ecosystem, companies must possess an attractive brand themselves. Their brand story must be well-defined and – crucially – be compatible with those of other members. Finally, they must be able to bring brand content to the table in order to boost the community’s collective profile.
An interesting example of such a brand ecosystem is the Henokiens, an association of family-run B2B and B2C companies from around the globe. To join, a company must be over two hundred years old, and must still be owned and managed by the founding family. Henokiens members include Banque Pictet SA, Italian textile manufacturer Vitale Barberis Canonico and 1300-year-old Japanese inn Hoshi. Building on their complementary brand stories, member companies engage in joint activities, ranging from academic research to the awarding of the Leonardo Da Vinci prize for innovative family businesses. While not all brand ecosystems are as formal as the Henokiens, all of them can use similar mechanisms to achieve further growth and awareness.
There are countless ways to activate a brand ecosystem, depending on the industry, size of member companies and partnership goals. Here we look at three ways any B2B company can leverage their brand ecosystem, with a focus on activations that promote multilateral exchanges.
A first flirt: Branded projects
Branded projects allow for two or more companies to join forces around a specific project to pool resources and boost awareness. Particularly useful for small companies partnering up with larger organisations, branded projects can also allow firms to test out a new activity or a brand extension in a controlled environment.
This was the approach chosen by AdNovum when co-developing the Car Dossier, an initiative for storing a car’s entire lifecycle on a blockchain-based digital dossier. Partnering with companies like AXA and Mobility, as well as Zurich University and the government of the Canton of Aargau, AdNovum was able to leverage their knowledge (brand content) and visibility (brand identity) around a project in tune with their strategic priorities (brand story).
“Branded projects can allow firms to test out a new activity or a brand extension in a controlled environment.”
Regularly dating: Co-branding
Co-branding activities demonstrate a higher level of commitment when compared to branded projects. Usually established between two or more companies of similar standing and with complementary offerings, co-brandings involve either co-creating or co-designing a product or service, then labeling it with the brand identifiers (logo, proprietary colours or typefaces) of all parties. A noteworthy example of co-branding is Intel’s decades-old relationship with computer manufacturers, who add the Intel Inside™ logo on their machines. Co-branding partnerships are especially potent when one of the collaborators is highly specialised, which is true for grinding machine manufacturer Strausak. The company uses a specialised robotic arm manufactured by mechatronics expert Stäubli for one of its flagship machines. The arm’s distinct yellow colour and the Stäubli logo are clearly visible, creating an overall display that succeeds in strengthening both brands.
Nurturing a long-lasting relationship: Branded events
Ultimately, branded events are an essential tool in maintaining and activating an ecosystem. They create a high-visibility opportunity for the organising party (or parties) to emphasize a brand communication theme that is important to them, share information, showcase their company expertise and make new connections. The importance of branded events was highlighted by many of the executives we interviewed, including Jérôme Vial, Country Manager at CCH Tagetik, a business software developer: “We need to see and be seen, but even more importantly to be understood by market influencers so that they can speak about us and our value proposition in a professional (and if necessary technical) way.” Other companies, such as office equipment designer Witzig, organise regular events based around workplace transformations as a means to showcase their expertise and engage their ecosystem without indulging in self-promotion.
“We need to see and be seen, but even more importantly to be understood by market influencers so that they can speak about us and our value proposition in a professional (and if necessary technical) way.”
, Country Manager, CCH Tagetik
All together now
What’s interesting about brand ecosystems is that they can serve as a multiplier for your brand strategy. They connect different companies through different touchpoints, building bonds that are not transactional but aspirational. Our B2B Branding Report is in fact the result of us activating our own brand ecosystem, sharing our experiences and resources for the benefit of a shared belief: B2B companies can become winning brands.