Likeability is the popularity contest B2B brands can’t afford to lose

By Transmission |
4 minute read

Likeability is the popularity contest B2B brands can’t afford to lose

Brand likeability isn’t something we talk about often in B2B. But it should be. 

B2B brands are much less likeable than their B2C counterparts. And in other news, water is wet. Though we can poke fun at our industry’s general lack of appealing brands, it isn’t something we should neglect for much longer. In fact, the results from our B2B Brand Health: The APEX Index study show that it couldn’t be a more necessary conversation and a huge opportunity for those willing to listen.  

So, why does brand likeability matter in the first place? 

In its simplest terms, brand likeability is the degree of perceived appeal a customer or prospect has for a brand. Let’s take off our B2B caps for a minute (if even necessary) and think about the brands we buy from every day. You can probably think of a handful you like and a few you don’t. You know which ones you’d happily return to and those you wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot barge pole. 

Be it for their service, product quality, or the humorously put-together packaging that brings a smile to your face every time you see it on shelves, the brands you like do enough to keep you coming back – and likely, happy enough to keep you paying more for their products. Plenty of research backs this up: satisfaction and loyalty are all direct outcomes of a likeable brand. 

Sure, in B2B, selling to businesses and buying committees packed with as many as six to 10 decision makers can make appealing to the people behind the job title more complex. But at the end of the day, they’re all just as human as the rest of us; it’s their priorities that have changed, not the way they fundamentally make decisions. 

Our focus on tangible attributes like what we offer and how we differ from the competition is a big reason why product delusion continues to run rampant across B2B industries. It’s also why the intangibles – the things we feel in our gut rather than our brain, such as likeability – have been side-lined for so long. 

The term ‘likeability’ can make it seem like a fluffy concept at odds with the numbers-based nature of business. However, it’s not about being fun or whimsy if your vertical doesn’t call for it. It’s simply about appealing to your target audiences in ways that warm them to who you are and what you offer so that you’re the first they think of when they need a solution. 

Why hasn’t B2B paid more attention to it? 

Brand likeability is a popularity contest. The more popular you are, the greater the share of the market you control. Before the world was turned upside down in 2020, traditional face-to-face approaches made up 61% of sales activity. Salespeople were one of seven and a half touchpoints prospects and customers used to interact with businesses and, for the most part, were the vanguard of positive and friendly brand experiences. 

Obviously, a lot has changed in the three years since. Selling is now mostly done through online channels, and Salespeople have much less influence on the buyer journey as a whole – half as much, according to McKinsey. Not only does this drive the need for consistently valuable omnichannel experiences across a growing number of digital touchpoints but more pertinently, it highlights the need for a brand that captures the hearts and minds of its target audience. 

And it’s not just B2B purchasing habits that are changing – it’s the people making the decisions too. The rise of the Millennial decision maker brought about a wave of industry pieces on the need for authenticity and purpose. Some brands took it in their stead to good success. Others have admitted they’ve gone too far 

The point remains, though: younger, more socially and environmentally conscious members of the decision-making unit are looking to work with businesses whose values, mission, and vision align with their own. be: Brands and all their constituent parts have moved on from the misplaced view that they’re just a name and choice of colours to become an integral part of the connection B2B buyers have with the businesses they consider (if that wasn’t always the case already). 

A common thread that ties everything together

Before we dive into the views of 1,200 B2B buyers in our APEX Index findings, it’s important to understand the context around them. Likeability is one of seven Perception-based brand virtues alongside compassionate, distinctive, masterful, relevant, transformative, and trusted. But as far as single measures go, Binet and Field’s ‘Marketing in the Era of Accountability’ revealed that likeability is the best predictor of business results, hence why our results are so valuable. 

With that out of the way, here’s what you need to know: The top 10 healthiest brands across the four verticals included in our Index were all among those that scored highest for likeability. Expanding our scope further shows the trend continue, with likeability being a top brand virtue for 73% of the top 40 healthiest brands in our overall Index. 

What’s more, all but one of those same top 10 brands are also top-quartile performers for relevance and trust – underlining the need for B2B businesses to not only be highly appealing to their audience, but also show a clear understanding of their challenges and an even clearer commitment to solving them. 

Moving onto how these results affect our top 10’s ‘Experience’ results, we see them pull ahead again in the consideration and understanding of value metrics. This suggests that mastering the balance of brand likeability, relevance, and trust helps put businesses on consideration lists (at least, in the early stages of the buying process) and reduces B2B buyers’ sensitivity to price, allowing them to charge more for their services. 

Hit ‘em in the feels

If anything, our findings reinforce the view that a little bit of emotion in your brand marketing can go a long way. Whether you’re a fan of Robert Heath’s theory of low-involvement processing or not, the reality is audiences process and store huge amounts of data in their day-to-day lives. Focusing on brand likeability allows us to appeal to the subconscious part of the brain that decides whether you’re liked and consequently, remembered.  

Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, people will never forget how you made them feel.” Trying to persuade audiences with no emotional connection to your brand to do anything is an uphill struggle – one that’s only getting worse as more players enter already crowded B2B fields. That’s not to say rational features and benefits don’t have their place; B2B brands just need to get better at emotionally priming their audiences. 

Ensuring your brand comms have a human touch that’s distinct to your business and ensuring it runs through everything you do is the first step to becoming a likeable brand. Supporting that with positive customer experiences no matter the touchpoint and a clear understanding of your customer persona, how you can help them, and the approaches you should use to engage them is how we can take advantage of the likeability opportunity in B2B. 

Want to explore more results from B2B Brand Health: The APEX Index?

Download a copy of the study for yourself here!  

p.s. If you represent a brand featured in The APEX Index, request a personalised brand health report here that breaks down how you performed and get in touch if you’d like to run through your results in more detail.