By Jeff Lowe, Vice-President, Marketing Communications, TELUS Business Solutions
As marketers, our quest is to fully understand customers’ thoughts and feelings about our products and services. Take for example Nick Marshall in the hit movie, What Women Want. To understand his female audience, Nick goes to the extreme; from painted toenails, to modeling hosiery, Nick believes that to understand the female, he must become one. In Nick’s case, a fluke accident gives him the ability to read women’s minds - making him the luckiest marketer on earth. We as marketers would probably do the same thing (with the exception of the hosiery) to understand our audience. But what many of us don’t realize is that this is now possible through the click of a button.
Gone are the days when organizations developed marketing plans based on third-party research and in-house assumptions. We have entered a new era of B2B marketing, and to succeed it is crucial that we evolve and embrace new communication models, but most importantly, listen to what our customers have to say. For B2B marketers, it is no longer a question of whether to integrate social media into marketing plans; it is a question of how.
Blending Social Media in the Marketing Mix
To conduct engaging marketing that resonates in today’s B2B market, it is necessary as business marketers to adapt our plans and, in particular, our digital marketing strategy. From the point of planning, it is crucial that we seamlessly and fully integrate Web 2.0 marketing practices into the traditional marketing mix. These can include online video, micro-sites and blogger relations to name a few. The audience insight that social media activities provide can affect where and when we decide to offer products and/or services and will help to determine the most appropriate way to approach promotions.
The true value of social media really lies in the ability to directly connect with customers. It is a marketer’s dream to have an easily measurable one-to-one connection with customers. At the same time, it provides us with the opportunity to deliver a significant return on investment including generating low-cost leads.
B2B marketers applying this integrated approach have the ability to move beyond basic awareness activities, such as print advertising and one-way email communications, to an interactive discussion with our customers. A number of tactics can open this conversation – sharing videos, social media conversations – which create desire and ultimately, action.
The Value of Segmenting Markets & Audience Fragmentation
At the crux of successful social media communications is ensuring that content we share is valuable to our audience(s). As with traditional marketing vehicles, our ultimate goal is to deliver a message that aligns with the needs of our audience to drive desire and engagement.
As B2B marketers, we acknowledge the need to pursue segmented audiences to deliver value to customers. This is especially relevant in B2B marketing as products and services are extremely specialized, providing a unique opportunity for social media communications. Because B2B marketers understand that different audiences require unique communications, the integration of social media will seem like a natural fit.
Segmented markets are easily accessed via social media and provide marketers with the opportunity to understand customers on an entirely new level. Social media allows us to be the fly on the wall in our customer’s space where they discuss our organization, industry solutions and what they desire. Furthermore, we have the ability to engage in these conversations, opening a new wave of communications between us and our audience. Through providing personalized communications and gaining anecdotal feedback, this two-way dialogue brings us closer to our customers. It naturally strengthens our direct relationships which can be invaluable in competitive markets.
Social media is just emerging from its infancy in the B2B marketing arena, and it is an extremely exciting time. However, it is critical for us as B2B marketers to note that this approach is not one that we can take overnight and one that requires patience. Identifying our audience(s), their online presence and learning how to listen to them is an activity worth the investment in time. Although it will not result in immediate payoff, it offers the potential to retain that audience and generate strong, long-term loyalty. It’s also vital to note that social media itself is not the silver bullet and a magnet for the whole marketing budget; rather, marketers need to integrate this new and powerful weapon in combination with traditional mediums.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Social media is changing the way our customers discuss products and services and their process for determining where and when they will ultimately purchase. They value organizations that take the time to listen to and learn about their customer and are more likely to consult peers on advice than contacting the company directly.
It is vital now, more than ever, for B2B marketers to not only listen to customers but also to engage with them. Social media and Web 2.0 tools provide the opportunity for marketers to successfully build these activities into traditional marketing plans. In the end, those who choose to leverage social media in their marketing will deliver increased value, build loyalty and remain relevant.
About the author
Jeff Lowe is Vice President, Marketing Communications at TELUS Business Solutions, where he has national responsibility for brand strategy and marketing communications. Jeff has almost 20 years experience in strategic marketing, sales and branding with a focus on Business-to-Business. Prior to joining Telus, Jeff held positions at Venture Communications, IBM and BMC Software out of Houston.