Here’s a question I have been grappling with lately: How can I make real hard core B2B focused SMEs understand the power of design?

Not the design of a factory floor, machine or latest Toyota bakkie, but the design of their company’s corporate identity. The logo, website, business card and letterhead.

I find that most SMEs – especially in the B2B space, neglect how they look and focus solely on how they act. In my view, this is a huge mistake.

The argument goes that in the B2B space, especially when you are a small, cash strapped business, you do not need to worry about how you look. Just focus on your product and make sure you answer all the customers’ phone calls and emails – and you’ll be fine. But this is total nonsense.

The marketing guru, Phillip Kotler, state the following in a 2007 paper aptly titled: Being known or being one of many: the need for brand management for business-to-business (B2B) companies:

“Does anybody really believe that people can turn themselves into unemotional and utterly rational machines when at work? We don’t think so.”

There is no one that buys anything without considering the heart. The emotional. No matter what you sell: Manufacturing Services. Information Services. Nuts. Bolts. Toilet Paper.

There is no single industrial or commercial buyer that leaves their heart at home. 

By focusing on the emotional and functional aspects of your business, you can charge a premium. In fact, I’ll argue your real profit sits in the emotional. The functional, is table stakes, and priced accordingly.

There is no human being on this planet that can completely switch off the emotional and act purely rational. Our emotional brains are older than our rational brains. The first thing a baby does is scream – not argue.

If you are a business, no matter how industrial, how B2B focused, how small or how averse to marketing “smoke in mirrors”, do yourself a favour, stop, and ask yourself:

Have I considered how my business looks to the outside world?

But design goes deeper than the emotional. A good design shows deep understanding. In the case of a business, that understanding is underpinned by a deep knowledge of the following:

  • What is my business about: how will the world be a poorer place if my business disappears tomorrow?
  • Who is my customer: what is it that I give them that they won’t find anywhere else?
If you can take the answers to these questions, and succinctly capture it in the design of your corporate identity, then you understand your business deeply. It can be a sobering experience!

A well designed corporate identity says you understand your own business deeply.

I’ll say this again: You can never just have a functional presence in the market. You must have an emotional presence as well. Even if you are the most industrial company, in the most industrial part of town, and your clientele are all ex Blue Bulls rugby players.

So, if your company logo was not designed by a professional that spent real time understanding your business; if your business card is a simple cut and paste job on MS Word or if your website is a quick and dirty job done five years ago – you may – in fact you are -under selling yourself in the market. You are not scooping the profit.

Take a moment and look at that lovely Boeing 787 Dreamliner at the top of this post. It is a pure B2B offering by a pure B2B company. And yet, they have gone through the effort to paint it in various shades of curly blue lines. Why is this? Why not just have the plane in pure white with the letters 787 painted in black?

The answer, in my view, is that Boeing knows something that many other business can learn from: No one, not even the most hard core, cash strapped airline, buys a plane just because it can fly!