For the last three years, Prophet has conducted the Prophet Brand Relevance Index™ (BRI), a survey of 13,500 U.S. consumers about 275 brands to find out which are the most relevant in consumers’ lives. The BRI is the only study of this scale to uncover what truly drives brand relevance (and therefore sales). In fact, the companies that score the highest in the Index outperformed the S&P 500 average by 35% over the last decade. In short, these brands matter to consumers. They help make people’s lives easier; they aren’t afraid to break the rules, to innovate and try new things. And they understand their customers and deliver experiences personalized to them.

4 Principles to Drive Brand Relevance in B2B

Although business-to-business (B2B) brands are not included in the BRI, our experience working with many leading B2B companies has revealed similarities with the top brands on this year’s BRI study that should not be ignored. There are four primary principles for what makes the strongest brands the most relevant, so let’s take a look at them through a B2B lens.

1. Relevant Brands are Customer Obsessed

The first principle of the most relevant brands is they are customer obsessed. While many B2B brands continue to be asset-driven and focused on “selling what they make,” we do see a shift happening with the leaders. B2B companies that are sustaining higher growth rates are doing it with a deeper understanding of their customer – where they are going, what they need and where they get stuck.

Maersk, the global shipping company, is a great example of making the shift to customer obsession. It started with in-depth observations from customers’ perspectives, seeing their pain points first-hand and identifying dozens of areas where it could create better experiences and introduce new services. Maersk’s leadership outlined a vision for how it wanted customers to feel across all its regions and lines of business, all tied back to the Maersk brand and values. Next, they created a playbook of customer solutions that the various businesses could adopt and apply, all in the spirit of delivering a more consistent and customer-focused experience that is uniquely Maersk.

2. B2B Brands are Ruthlessly Pragmatic

The second principle, ruthlessly pragmatic, has been a hallmark of the strongest B2B brands for years. These are the brands that are constantly looking to make their products and experiences work better. They are ahead on omnichannel strategies in particular, making it easy for customers to access, evaluate, buy and use their products and services on their terms. Schneider Electric is doing just that for both its end customers and the contractors that sell and install its products. From mobile apps that help contractors find, select, and troubleshoot products to dedicated engineering teams that oversee all aspects of energy management and automation projects, Schneider has aligned its resources directly with how customers consider, buy, and use its products and services.

3.  Relevant Brands are Distinctively Inspired

The third principle, distinctively inspired, is too often overlooked in overly “rational” B2B categories, but it is especially important in this sector. In B2B markets, people buy from people, and people want to know a company’s broader purpose before they spend their money. Salesforce is clear about its purpose – to help companies of all sizes grow. It does this with a relentless focus on ensuring its value proposition is easy to understand, its solutions are easy to install and its customer service is easy to access. Throughout the organization, Salesforce designs experiences to be a direct reflection of the brand.

4. B2B Companies are Pervasively Innovative

The fourth principle, pervasively innovative, has become even more critical to B2B companies as they adapt to rapidly changing customer needs, opportunities and threats. The leaders in this area see innovation more holistically, going beyond the product itself to consider how the product fits into the broader experience.

Take Caterpillar, for example. It is revolutionizing the way its equipment fits inside its customers’ businesses. At the forefront of the Internet of Things (IoT), Caterpillar’s equipment has never worked more seamlessly, faster, and with more real-time insight than it does today. With the company’s “smart iron” strategy, it is rapidly changing what is possible for its customers’ productivity.

Final Thoughts

From Amazon to PayPal, the brands at the top of the BRI list are focused on these four principles. As we study these brands and today’s B2B growth leaders, there are clear common threads they share. B2B companies would be wise to keep these principles in mind as they shape their product, customer, and experience strategies.

Interested in increasing relevance to consumers? Prophet assists companies with developing strategies that drive brand relevance.