Exclusive Interview: Jacky Tai (Principal Consultant, StrategiCom) on B2B Branding

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Jacky TaiJacky Tai is principal consultant of StrategiCom, a B2B brand consultancy company, operating in 10+ countries, all over the world. He is the acclaimed writer of many successful books on B2B Branding including “Transforming Your Business Into a Brand: The 10 Rules of Branding“, “Killer Differentiators: 13 Strategies to Grow Your Brandetc. This is an email interview, but, he promised a video interview with B2Bento in near future. So, stay tuned!

Q1. Please introduce yourself and StrategiCom.

Jacky: My name is Jacky Tai and I am a Principal Consultant of StrategiCom.  StrategiCom is a B2B branding strategy consultancy with 110 consultants and researchers in 12 cities.  We help B2B companies to differentiate their brands to gain an unfair competitive advantage.

Q2. Buyers mind-frame and purchase pattern – how it’s different in B2B and B2C? How that impacts B2B branding?

Jacky: The biggest difference between buying a B2B product or service versus a B2C one is risk.  Buying anything involves risk but the risk in a B2B purchase is bigger not just because a B2B purchase is typically more expensive but because if that B2B product or service fails to perform, then the buyer could lose money, clients and damage its reputation beyond repair.

These are the 5 types of risks involved in a B2B purchase as written in our first branding book, Transforming Your Business Into A Brand.

Technical Risk – will the product perform as claimed?
Financial Risk – does the purchase make financial sense?
Delivery Risk – can the seller deliver on time?
Service Risk – will the seller be around long enough to provide after-sales support?
Professional Risk – will this product or service affect how clients view my company?

Q3. Are there any fundamental, strategic and tactical differences in B2B branding in Asia?

Jacky: No. Branding is like Mathematics.  1 + 1 = 2.  The same principles that work in the West works in the East.  The important thing to remember is that the battlefield of branding is actually in the minds of customers – not in the market place as many people think.  A brand is just an idea that exists in the mind.  And to win the battle of branding, you need to get into the mind with a highly-differentiated idea so that you can stay in the mind.  People tend to forget that in the heat of internationalization, M&A, market expansion, etc.  But if you want to win in the market place, you got to win in the mind first.

Q4.  Back to basic – correlation of branding and marketing in B2B space.

Jacky: Branding and marketing are related but not the same.  Branding is what you do to differentiate your brand.  Branding was originally used 4,000 years ago to differentiate cows.  Cattle owners could not (and probably still can’t) tell one cow from another cow.  So, they use a red-hot branding iron with their initials on one end to burn a unique mark into the rump of the cows.  Branding is still used to differentiate cows today but the cows now come in the form of companies, products and services.

Marketing is what you do to communicate your differentiating idea through what is known as static and dynamic channels.  The static channel refers to things like your website, brochures, e-mail, advertisements, corporate video, tag-line, etc.  The dynamic channel refer to the people – senior management, middle management, staff, customers, suppliers, distributors, media, etc.

So, branding is differentiation and marketing is communicating that differentiation.

Q5. Changing face of media / Media consumption pattern – impact on B2B branding and marketing?

Jacky: The media has never been so fragmented.  During the dot.com boom, there was a lot of talk (and hype) on the convergence of media.  These prophets couldn’t have been more wrong.  Things don’t converge.  They diverge.  The companies that made multi-million bets on the TV-PC (or should it be the PC-TV?) got a bad case of burnt-fingers.  And the media will continue on this divergent path and get even more fragmented.  MediaFragmentation2.0 will be playing at a theater near you soon.

So, what is the impact on marketing B2B brands?  This might come as a big shock to you – but the answer is “absolutely nothing”.  With or without the media fragmentation that is happening in the market today, you will still need to think long and hard about how and where you spend your communications dollars.  Sure, there are now more channels you can use to communicate.  What’s so bad about that?  With more channels, I can target my customers more accurately.  Only a lazy marketer won’t love this high degree of fragmentation.  Of course, in the past, the work of marketing communications is easier because you can only use newspapers, radio and TV.  So, you don’t have to think much.  Now you need to think and lazy marketers just don’t like to think too hard.

Q6. 3 fundamental advises to B2B marketers to position their brand.

Jacky: One, figure out what idea your brand currently owns in the minds of your customers.  That can be done through a thorough Perception Audit.  Be prepared for the biggest disappointment in your life because there is a 90% chance that your brand doesn’t stand for anything in the mind.

Two, figure out how to effectively differentiate your brand in ways that are relevant, desirable and defensible.  There are 13 differentiation strategies as discussed in detail in the book Killer Differentiators.

Three, communicate your differentiating idea relentlessly at all customer touch points.  This sounds easy on paper but anyone who has attempted this will tell you how hard it is for a carefully planned communications strategy to get derailed during implementation.

Q7. Traps to avoid while marketing a B2B brand in Asia.

There are some landmines that even big corporations – who should know better – step on once in a while.  These are the landmines to be avoided at all costs.

  1. Not understanding the difference between branding and marketing.
  2. Putting the brand in the middle of the road.  To own an idea in the minds of customers, the brand must be focused.  It needs to stand either on the left or the right of the road because the middle of the road is where accidents happen and you get run over by a 20-wheeler truck called The Competition.
  3. Forgetting what made the brand successful in the first place.  When a brand gets big, the ego gets bigger.  These brands forget what made them famous in the first place and that is when the brand gets diluted and weak.
  4. Chasing multiple market opportunities instead of chasing one vision relentlessly.
  5. Brilliant execution.  But wrong strategy.
  6. Thinking that branding is the job of the marketing department.  It is not.  It is the job of the Chief Branding Officer, otherwise known to the rest of us layman as the CEO.
  7. No army of brand ambassadors.  The CEO can’t do everything on his own.  He (or she) needs to build an army of brand ambassadors to carry the brand.
  8. Advertising too early.  Companies should try to use PR to build the brand and then switch to advertising after the brand is well-established.
  9. Thinking that branding is the reward for success not the reason why big brands become big.
  10. Thinking that branding is more important for B2C companies.  That is nonsense.  Buying a B2B product or service involves a lot more risk than buying a B2C product or service.  The higher the risk, the more people will gravitate towards the strongest brands among all the brands that fall within their budget.  You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure that out.  And since a B2B purchase is usually more expensive, that means the risk is higher.  As such, isn’t branding more important for B2B companies?


Jacky Tai graduated in 1994 with a marketing degree from one of the top 10 American universities, the University of Wisconsin in Madison. His most valuable marketing lessons, however, have come from the school of hard knocks. Since graduation, he has headed the marketing department of several start-ups in the United States and Singapore. The hyper-competition of today’s business environment taught him that what separates successful companies from also-rans is often the right strategy.

He joined International Enterprise Singapore (the former Singapore Trade Development Board) in 2004 as its branding manager, developing brand education programmes to train Singapore companies. His workshops have been attended by companies ranging from start-ups to established players like SingTel, DBS, OCBC, Great Eastern, Singapore Technologies, Fraser & Neave, Beyonics, Flextronics, Singapore Exchange and Wilmar.

Jacky also writes a regular Branding Tips column in E-Marketer magazine for the Marketing Institute of Singapore and contributes articles to marketing magazines, websites and newsletters.


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