Ask a B2B corporate marketer what he’s been promoting over the past year and he’ll likely say “sustainable practices.” But if you ask his customer what’s important to her, she’ll say “open dialogue and responsible business practices.” In fact, most purchasing managers could care less about sustainable practices. According to a new McKinsey & Co. study, B2B marketers are essentially on a long bridge to nowhere when it comes to building brand loyalty with their customers.

The study, “How B2B Companies Talk Past Their Customers,” asked 700 global executives how they evaluate the brand strengths of their suppliers. Researchers then compared those priorities with messages from the world’s 90 largest B2B companies. In a nutshell the findings are: they have 99 priorities but a dialogue ain’t one.

Let’s be clear – social responsibility is certainly important and should be an integral part of any business. But, it should not play a leading role in brand imaging. Why? Because it has a minimal influence on a buyer’s perception of brand strength – and it rarely has an impact on purchasing decisions.

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Gone are the days of “hey, look at all the great things that we’re doing.” The fact is, as soon as you promote it, you devalue it. And while this may not be entirely true for B2C companies, it still remains evident that marketing “good works” can sometimes be distasteful in the mouths of the public. But what’s really hard to swallow is that B2B marketers insist on continuing down this path.

There’s also a surprising similarity among the brand themes that leading B2B companies emphasized, suggesting a tendency to follow, rather than lead with strongly differentiated brand messages. One brand theme that companies spend a great deal of time on is how they can “shape the direction of the market.” Apparently – on some planet – there is a belief that if you market yourself as a powerful force capable of shifting the earth’s gravitational pull, you can win clients. Yeah – maybe investors, but not customers.

To get headed in the right direction, B2B companies should ask themselves: are we telling the same story as our competitors? If, for example, two rival companies claim that they give a percentage of every dollar to support hunger, this won’t do a thing to move the brand needle.

They should also ask themselves this: does my sales force say it’s facing headwinds? If they’re receiving ongoing pushback related to value and can’t provide a compelling pitch, they’ve got a serious problem. And while it could be a product or service issue, it may be a paralyzing disconnect between the perceived value and the messages they communicate – like a brand travelling on a road that leads to nowhere.

Article by Bryan Evans, Vice President of Outreach at Scribewise