B2C or B2B? What about Human to Human at ISPO?

Having recently returned from ISPO, the largest sports trade show in Europe, I’ve spent the last few days thinking about what brands really inspired me. Who engaged with me and ultimately who would I buy from?

Having recently returned from ISPO, the largest sports trade show in Europe, I’ve spent the last few days thinking about what brands really inspired me. Who engaged with me and ultimately who would I buy from?

For those that haven’t been to ISPO, there are over 2500 exhibitors all trying to convince buyers that they have the right product for their customers. 85,000 visitors from 120 different countries flood the halls in Munich, similarly thinking ‘who do I want to do business with, what do I want to buy, what are the latest trends?’

But this is the point - there are a number of reasons why people attend the show. Yes, this is a business trade show, but it was alarming to see so many brands still focusing on the ‘what we sell’ and not the ‘who we are.’

What’s more, as new companies enter the market and the size of ranges increases, the industry is becoming more and more fragmented. The level of differentiation is now more important than ever before.

Yes, buyers need to stock products that will sell, hit targets and increase margins, so negotiating deals are aplenty here. But if the ultimate goal is to ensure a successful sell-out then surely the sell-in is just as important.

People buy from brands they have an affinity to. We know this. Cultural fits and strategic alignment between brands are now a fundamental part of business relationships. Working on a tender recently, an agency lost the contract due to a low score on cultural fit. So even procurement departments are recognising the importance of not just spreadsheets and numbers, but question ‘can we work with this company and do they share the same values?’

Whilst some brands are trying to tell their brand story, after 4 years of attending ISPO, it seems that many are re-inventing themselves every few years. Yes, it is important to stay up to date, nimble and evolve your branding. This may mean a change of colour scheme or tweaks to logos, to be in tune with a change in cultural design language – but your core brand DNA must not change. Mammut for example have taken a departure from their very bold black and red, which they have owned for so many years, to a fresher more modern white and silver. But the very thing that differentiates them from any other mountaineering brand, now seems to have been lost too.

We only need to look across to Patagonia to see how it should be done. The balance between what they sell and who they are was showcased, as usual, by the experts in branding. From casual leather sofas for their sales team meetings, a coffee stand that felt like it was lifted straight from Camden market and the strong and bold ethical messages all across the stand – proudly shouting their beliefs about environmental impact. This was all about who they are, and what they sell is a part of that, not all of that.

patjoint.jpg

There is a human element of business and we must never forget this. Next year when I attend ISPO I hope brands remember that those 85,000 people aren’t just a number to sell to but a person their brand needs to engage with, a human that is motivated by both sales and emotions.

A brand is not just a logo or its product. And a person attending your stand is not just a sales figure, but a relationship you need to nurture and retain.

 

Appendix. 1.

Recent CEB research demonstrates that customers with strong connections to B2B brands have higher rates of consideration, purchase, and willingness to pay a premium (Fig. 1).

b2b fig.jpg
Joanne Scott