Our Thinking

Industry 4.0 and Brand: What can B2B brands learn from B2C?

May 2018

By David Linsley, Principal

Industry 4.0 is here, and it’s changing everything. The advent of cloud computing and unprecedented availability of information is shaping a business climate that rewards innovation and agility. But it’s not just about information — companies who go beyond simple data exchange and use this information to gain insights will not only survive, but thrive. Through data-driven insights, companies can radically change what they’re doing and how they do it, based on customer wants and needs, often in real time. This shift has the potential for enormous impact on businesses and, consequently, on their brands.

How B2C companies are using data insights to change business and brand

Many B2C companies are already analyzing data for the insights to provide products and services that are more personalized and, therefore, more valuable to the customer. This affords them the opportunity to build intimate relationships with customers through their offerings and their brands. In the previous world, brand was sewn onto a jeans pocket; now, brand can be threaded into our daily lives.

B2B companies may not have arrived early to this party, but if they refuse the invitation entirely, the valuable opportunities engendered by this new reality will not be realized. B2C companies have already begun to use data flow as a conversation with their customers, not just a transaction. If companies listen and adapt, they will be able to gain insights to stay agile and identify the fundamental changes for their business and their brand.

What does this mean for B2B companies? 

Increased availability of customer data allows companies to provide more tailored customer experiences. Indeed, the idea that personal data is an acceptable exchange for a personalized experience is becoming the norm. Traditionally, B2B companies have focused on concrete aspects of their business to define their brands; now, they must start thinking about how customers experience their brand. Relationships can no longer be relegated to the sales team, where the term CRM is typically shorthand for ‘making the sale’ rather than managing the relationship you have with a customer.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has created a flow of data that fosters reciprocity in customer interactions. Companies can add another layer to the customer experience by taking information and insights they have collected and sharing them with the customer. Now, the company not only provides products and services, but also the information that helps the customer and further reinforces the benefit of sharing their information with the company.

To make this shift, B2B companies can learn from their B2C counterparts, who are using data activation and personalization to build customer interactions that are deeper, richer, and more successful. These customer interactions will begin to raise the standard for branding in the B2B world. The customer who has become accustomed to an interactive brand relationship through consumer products and services at home will absolutely expect it in business.

Relationships built on reciprocity

Industry 4.0 has given us a world where customer experience and branding are intertwined via information, as well as the insights that information provides. These insights have the potential for huge impact — B2B companies can benefit from these reciprocal relationships, because they can adjust their business offer and structure, deliver a richer customer experience, and build a stronger brand.

B2B companies may also see opportunities to venture beyond the boundaries of their typical outreach and build more of a presence in the wider market. Developing deeper customer relationships requires trust, and trust requires transparency. Today’s consumers have the ability to know more about the companies they’re doing business with — even if they’re the end user in a long line of platforms, products, and services. B2B companies should become, if not consumer-focused, at least consumer-aware.

What does this mean for branding B2B? 

Just as businesses must evolve to keep pace with Industry 4.0, so too must the strategic role of brands. Companies must change their thinking on their brands to survive in an increasingly responsive communication and relationship ecosystem. Brand consultants have an opportunity to help companies understand and capitalize on this ecosystem, to integrate the lessons of the B2C sphere and help build brands that have more clarity and agility for the changing world.

Industry 4.0 is accelerating and with it comes a new way of looking at business and branding. Ever-present information means that companies have the ability to significantly transform the relationships they have with their customers. We see many B2C companies taking up this opportunity, and B2B companies can learn from their example, creating reciprocal customer relationships that will strengthen their business and brand.


Learn how one of our industrial clients rebranded as a digital powerhouse for Industry 4.0 

One of our clients, ABB, rebranded in order to present their company as the ideal partner to guide their customers and suppliers through the digital era. Their rebrand included shifts in their business brought about by Industry 4.0: putting existing capabilities in digital at the forefront of their offering, and emphasizing their long history of innovation. Read more here.


Straightline is an international brand strategy and design consultancy. We work with leaders of global and emerging businesses to develop brand strategies and creative solutions that help organizations improve their business and bottom line. To have a conversation about your brand, contact us.

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