140 or less: B2B Marketing In the Age of Social Media | SalesAndMarketing.com
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140 or less: B2B Marketing In the Age of Social Media

'There will be relevance somewhere.'

Corporations are people, my friend,” presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney famously replied during an Iowa State Fair appearance last summer. The former Massachusetts governor was responding off the cuff to people in the crowd who had shouted about the need for higher taxes on corporations.

We won’t debate the merits of Romney’s reasoning here, but his remark did come to mind as we spoke with marketing experts about why some new and effective consumer marketing tactics have not been adopted by the business-to-business (B2B) world.

“For some reason, when B2B marketing happens, a lot of people figure the tactics don’t have to be at the same level as B2C,” says Michele Culp, Vice President of Consumer Markets at BI, a Minneapolis-based business performance improvement company. “It’s not like it’s less important, but there are less expectations. But the reality is that everyone involved in a B2B campaign is a consumer, so the baseline should be the same as a consumer campaign.”

In other words, corporations are consumers, too, my friend.

Borrowing from B2C

BI works with both consumer and business-to-business companies, spearheading everything from product introductions to channel marketing, from interactive promotions to brand building and increasing customer loyalty. BI’s marketing and workplace engagement experts work with highly recognized worldwide manufacturers in both the consumer and B2B worlds.

“Everything we do in the consumer realm could be translated to B2B,” Culp says. The challenges are the same — how are you going to engage the audience and drive traffic? Should you offer an incentive?

Culp recalls pitching a campaign to Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Inc. that was built around an incentive program for its distributors — in essence, a B2B campaign by a consumer marketing giant. (Dr. Pepper Snapple Group producers six of the top 10 non-cola soft drinks in the world.)

“The client feedback was that it looked a lot like a consumer promotion. That’s why they bought it from us. They were putting forth something that [their own] marketing would respect,” Culp says, adding that “it’s the little things — the subtlety of the creative” — that many B2B marketers should be demanding but aren’t because historically it hasn’t been used in their world.

“A couple of things that are thought of as B2C actually work better in a B2B environment,” adds Matt  Goffrey, a self-confessed “serial entrepreneur” who consults and blogs about improving results through better marketing (mattgoffrey.blogspot.com). “Direct response mail is chief among them. But most B2B printed marketing is corporate and boring. By taking B2C concepts of long-form sales letters that are engaging, B2B marketers can succeed over their competition.

Of course, professionals from every corner of the business world have changed the way they conduct business as a result of the technological revolution of the past two decades. B2B marketing is no different.

“What’s your social media strategy?” has been making the rounds in marketing circles for a few years now, but most of the attention and discussion has been focused on how consumer goods manufacturers and service providers are deploying it to interact with customers and build brand. According to a report by Social Media Examiner, a website that tracks trends in businesses’ use of social media, B2B companies have used social media longer than their B2C counterparts. Far less has been written about it, however, presumably because the products aren’t as sexy and the audience is much smaller.

Still, the B2B world is participating. Four out of 10 marketers responding to a Social Media Examiner survey said they have been active in social media between one and three years while only 16 percent said they have been active for more than three years.

“It’s become very clear that social media is a predominate piece of any good B2B strategy now,” says Richard April, Vice President of Marketing for AG Salesworks (agsalesworks.com), a B2B marketing services firm. “You have to decide what works for where your customers are talking, but you do need to reach out and be part of the discussion. You need to listen quite a bit on all of the social media platforms and adjust for which ones are relevant — because there will be relevance somewhere.”

AG Salesworks helps its B2B clients develop effective social media marketing strategies as well as adapting a second and even newer high-tech tool that also has been embraced by consumer marketers but viewed with some hesitation by B2B marketers: mobilizing their marketing message. By “mobilizing the message,” April means not only creating a version of your website for mobile platforms, but also creating a mobile app (or maybe multiple apps) for your customers.

During the past five years, the number of cell phones in use around the world has doubled, according to data from the European Information Technology Observatory. Projections are for continued exponential growth. In the U.S., the percentages are even higher, with more than 297 million people owning cell phones — 94 percent of the total population!

Just as BI’s Michele Culp pointed out that B2B executives exist in the B2C world and are influenced by B2C techniques, April emphasizes that the people who make buying decisions every day in B2B industries have converted to tablets and smart phones along with the rest of us. Executives are reading e-mails on the go. They’re getting information to do their jobs on tablets and smartphones. Why wouldn’t you want to reach them with your marketing messages where they spend a good chunk of their day?

Creating apps can extend your product. Tablet and smartphone users have a different experience because of the swipe and tap functions. “There’s so much you can do to take advantage of that,” April says. “When a company goes to the trouble of making an application that takes advantage of the unique tablet or smartphone experience, it becomes a more pleasurable one and there are so many interesting ways you can format your data to captivate your audience.”

Serious discussions

An argument can be made that many in the B2B world are making better use of social media than consumer goods companies, which are filling up social sites with “fluffy” conversations, April adds. “We’re seeing our clients trying to share content and have discussions about technology rather than using it as a medium for the personal complaining or chatting with people.”

Experts agree one important benefit to blogging, tweeting and pushing your thoughts out to clients and prospects through other electronic means is to establish your company as a thought leader in your industry. It’s about focusing on “deep-level social media, not just ‘buy my stuff,’” says marketing consultant and author Shel Horowitz (shelhorwitz.com).

Just as with their consumer marketing counterparts, B2B companies are engaging in social media at the same time they’re asking, “What’s the payoff?” Deployment of social tools has been a huge case of doing so because one’s competitors are, yet not being certain whether there is any return on investment.

ROI and targeting are top areas marketers want to master, according to the 2012 Social Media Marketing Industry Report sponsored by Social Media Examiner. That study surveyed 3,800 marketers to get a better understanding of how they use social media to promote their business. (A link to the free, 42-page PDF can be found in our Additional Web Resources box at SalesandMarketing.com.) A whopping 40 percent of all social media marketers want to know how to measure the ROI of social media and find customers and prospects.

“Businesses won’t know if they are seeing results if they don’t know how to measure their efforts,” says Phil Mershon, Director of Summits for Social Media Examiner. The top two benefits highlighted by those who do track their ROI are increased awareness and the ability to engage in dialogue directly with their customers. Over 56 percent of B2B marketers acquired new business partnerships through social media (compared to 45 percent of B2C marketers), and nearly 60% of B2B marketers saw improved search rankings from their social efforts (compared to 50% of B2C marketers).

The one area where B2B marketers lag behind their B2C counterparts is in developing a loyal fan base. An impressive 63 percent of B2C marketers found social media helpful in developing loyal fans, compared to 53 percent of B2B marketers.

Old school rules

It’s important, when incorporating today’s new high-tech tools into your marketing mix, to retain key marketing strategies from the so-called old days, says April Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, a marketing consulting firm. Arnof-Fenn spent the first part of her career in both the B2C and B2B worlds. She held positions in brand management at Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola, and then ran three successful B2B companies before starting her own firm 10 years ago.

She advises B2B marketers to make sure all of their online personas synch up.”You cannot be one way on LinkedIn and another way on Facebook.”

Although there are more tools in the marketing toolkit than ever before, the old rules from my CPG days still apply, she says. Her top three:

  • Customer market research — You have to understand your market and what motivates them, how they currently solve their problem without your product or service, and where the gaps/needs are in the market.

  • Focused and consistent messaging — Figure out what matters most and reinforce it in everything you do. Whether you are B2C or B2B, the decision makers can only remember a small number of reasons why they should buy your product or service (certainly no more than three).

  • Be authentic, trustworthy and transparent — Businesses, like consumers, appreciate it when you keep your promises, do what you say, and avoid the jargon. Also like consumers, businesses buy brands they like and trust.

Authenticity and trustworthiness as a marketing approach… Hmmm, seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.