How do B2B brands get broken? (Chapter 1: Inattention)

A three-part series about B2B brand management – highlighting the symptoms, causes and cures for a broken brand.


Like the proverbial frog in boiling water, companies generally don’t jump into a brand that is confusing, misaligned, antiquated or irrelevant. But left unchecked, the steady trickle of strategic shifts, shiny new technologies, sub-brands, extensions, acquisitions, special cases and other everyday adaptations can conspire to turn the corporate brand into as much a hurdle as an asset. 

So what does it mean when a brand is broken?

In bottom line terms: declining sales; ceding market position to competitors (even some with clearly inferior offerings); doubt in the minds of partners and customers; fewer inbound inquiries AND a lower hit rate when the phone does ring; it can lead to challenges in recruiting; it can foster silos and a disruptive culture; and a range of other symptoms. Safe to say, a broken brand is not conducive to a company’s health and long-term growth. 

For all the symptoms of a broken brand, the factors that create these issues can be grouped into three categories: Inattention, Evolution and Age. This article will focus on Inattention. The next two categories will each be discussed in future posts.

Chapter 1: Inattention: The easiest way to lose control of your brand and how to get the control back. 

Like anything else, brands suffer with inattention. And, as a brand withers, it sparks a cycle of activity that can hasten further deterioration.

If the corporate brand becomes less relevant, internal teams look to invest in new names or sub-brands at the expense of the corporate brand; or they may leverage partner or ingredient brands in lieu of their own. Or there may simply be a variety of day-to-day communication needs across sales and marketing that an under-resourced brand just doesn’t have the tools to address - so a little cutting, a little pasting, a little resourcefulness and a little modification all team to fill the void, and before long you’ve got something of a brand diaspora. 

Symptoms of Inattention

•   Sub-brand proliferation. For B2B companies – especially those with limited marketing budgets – fewer brands (or even one master brand) drive efficiency in communication and in relationship building or cross-selling. It is simply less practical and efficient for every new product or technology or application to its own name or brand. 

•   Brand dissonance, visually and/or verbally. This can manifest in: multiple formats and styles on PowerPoint slides; sales collateral from different parts of the company looking and sounding very different; internal solution teams looking and sounding like two (or more) separate companies.

•   Misalignment across sales and marketing messages. At the extreme, marketing is touting the bleeding edge while sales is highlighting applications built on Windows 95.

Causes of Inattention

•   The vicious cycle of a weak corporate brand fosters need to excessively “brand” or promote various products, services, solutions, features etc. - further diffusing and weakening the promise of the corporate brand, thus reinforcing the need for all these other branded elements.

•   The message and story is controlled by partner brand or ingredient brand.

•   Short-term objectives incentivize competitive “arms race” around pricing or incremental feature-enhancements at the expense of bigger, more sustainable points of differentiation

•   Inefficient brand management resources drive internal teams to customize brand assets to their own needs


•   Tools and templates. The blocking and tackling of brand management, standardized communication tools that leverage common visual and verbal language while allowing for necessary flexibility across teams.

•   Prune the brand portfolio. Use brand equity research to help simplify the portfolio to better address the needs of your customers. (Brand architecture)

•   Decision tools. Model different scenarios to guide decision making around naming, sub-branding and co-branding.

•   Establish protocols. Create guidance and processes to govern naming, sub-branding.

•   Measure perceptions of the brand – both internally and externally.

•   Actively manage the brand. In other words, grow internal understanding for the importance of a strong brand – and give someone the responsibility, authority and support to accomplish the “Cures” on this list.

Next up, Chapter 2: Evolution, how a shifting business strategy can break your brand – and how to fix it.


photo credit: Ben Bateson, Unsplash

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Jonathan Paisner