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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

B2B Marketers: If Your Markets' Needs and Behaviors Have Changed... Why Hasn't Your Marketing?

Bigstockphoto_mixed_business_people_1270445 Reports, statistics and factoids are marketers' best friends. After all, data gives us information from which we glean intelligence to build our business models, marketing strategies, plans to increase market share and programs to cut through clutter. And rock-solid data is the fuel we need to drive change within our departments and across our organizations.

Devoid of statistically sound findings, however, we're left relying on gut feelings and our personal views of how we perceive things to be... which can turn out to be perfectly correct or miserably myopic. So research gives us insight, reduces uncertainty and lends credibility to our business arguments.

And that brings me to the facts and findings from the just-released Consumer New Media 3-Part Study (by Cone Inc.), which are too good not to share--but I'm going to do so with a bit of a twist. As the report is a consumer-oriented study, I'm going to extrapolate some of the study's findings to cite implications for business audiences. Because the fact is, B2C gets the lion's share of social media marketing attention and while B2B social media studies are popping up more, marketers still have to dig deeper for social media data that speaks to the needs, challenges and profit potential inherent to professional audiences. So let's get started...

*Online Brand Engagement*

  • Fact: "Almost 80% (78%) of new media users interact with companies or brands via new media sites and tools, an increase of 32% from 2008 (59%)."
B2B implications: As consumers go, so too with professional audiences (the Internet and email, anyone?).  And while consumers use their computers and Web-enabled mobile devices for entertainment and other tasks throughout the day, professionals are all-out tethered to their computers at least 40 hours weekly. Thus, adoption rates for B2B audiences are undoubtedly keeping pace with consumers, but professionals are using social media for work-related activities, like researching products, evaluating brand alternatives and informing purchasing decisions... which are mighty important activities for marketers to capitalize upon.
  • Fact: “Users are conversing with brands more often: Some 37% say they do so at least once a week -- up from one in four when Cone did the study last year.”

B2B implications: Consumers communicating directly with brands is new, some might say it's revolutionary. But professionals dialogue with brands all the time—they always have. Why? Because when professionals make a purchase, they interact with the company that produces the product, service or solution as a matter of course since B2B purchases involve long purchasing cycles, lots of questions and developing relationships with company representatives. B2B branding, in other words, is very high touch.

Moreover, business purchases many times involve aftermarket maintenance contracts which means professionals continue to interact with brand representatives after the sale (How well do you know your copier maintenance guy?). Thus, social media gives professional markets an online channel to do the very same activities they've been accustomed to doing offline for decades and is a natural extension to the other communications channels they use.

*Influence/Power*

  • Fact: "Perhaps the most intriguing part of Cone's data, however, is that consumers strongly believe that new media is a two-way street, with 62% saying they can influence business decisions by voicing their opinions through new media."
B2B implications: While consumer goods span a wide spectrum insofar as price and risk (a $3 bar of soap vs. a $15,000 car), business purchases are, by their very nature, higher in price and risk (a $3 million dollar software integration, a $15 million-dollar piece of construction equipment). And while a consumer purchase affects the individual, or their family; a business purchase affects an entire Picture1 enterprise.
The point here is that positive and negative opinions posted online by professionals also go a long way and wield HUGE influence in how other professionals perceive (and, yes, purchase!) brands because professionals are always looking to lower risk since business purchases affect their jobs, other employees and the organization. Thus, this "two-way street" of influence that consumers cite wholly applies to professional audiences. And due to the B2B market being far smaller than the B2C market, and business offerings being of higher price points, I'd argue that their influence impacts companies much more greatly.

*Purchasing Behavior/Decisions*

  • Fact: "Consumers are most interested in information that will inform their purchasing decisions. Respondents said they want companies to tell them what is in products and how they are made (85%) and provide additional details about information, labels and claims shared offline (e.g., in the store, on the package, in an advertisement) (83%)."
B2B Implications: Professionals want the very same information about their purchases--but more importantly, they NEED it. Business purchases are never impulse decisions, they always require analysis and so it goes: the more informed a prospect, the better the chance that prospect becomes a customer. Given that rationale, B2Bs would be doing themselves a disservice (and helping their competitors!) by not using these technologies to provide information and answer questions that facilitate purchases.

  • Fact: "30% have made a purchase based on POSITIVE information learned about a product, company or brand; and, 23% have switched brands or boycotted a company based on NEGATIVE information learned about a product, company or brand."

B2B Implications: If 30% of consumers have made purchases due to positive information learned about a product online and 23% have switched or abandoned brands due to negative feedback, then I argue the same, if not much higher, applies to professionals. Why? Because professionals have always placed a great deal of clout on third-party feedback with every purchase they make... be the third-party feedback from analysts, journalists, industry thought leaders, colleagues or through other professionals posting opinions online.

As explained earlier, professionals are risk-averse and seek high levels of assurance (positive WOM) before making purchases, with negative reviews also of great interest to them as they weigh product alternatives. Now, more than ever, B2B marketers must ensure that (1) their offerings are high in quality, (2) their customer service processes are operating at optimal levels and (3) all of their marketing messages live up to their claims. Said another way: You can effect positive online WOM or negative online WOM, the outcome (and resulting revenues) are still very much within companies' control.

*Fulfilling Needs*
  • Fact: "Consumers still feel companies’ or brands’ top priorities within new media should be to problem solve and provide information (61%, up from 43% in 2008)."

B2B Implications: Problem solving and information gathering are absolutely core to B2B jobs and purchasing—after all, professionals are busy and they need information that will help them make decisions quickly and solve challenges even faster.

Many of the B2B social media strategies I recommend to clients and colleagues are based around programs that facilitate a high transfer of knowledge and solve problems, as these attributes are valuable to professionals and are areas that they consistently engage around (just look at agendas for any major conference and you'll see that speeches and workshops are primarily based around communicating new opportunities, new methodologies or new ways to solve problems).

*Competitive Advantage*

  • “'Consumers haven’t yet been exhausted by brand oversaturation in the new media space,” says Mike Hollywood, Cone’s director of new media. “There is still an opportunity for forward-thinking companies to establish a presence and earn a competitive advantage. Based on the growth of user interactions with companies, countless purchase decisions are being influenced by new media. It’s imperative to get on board now that the train has left the station."
B2B Implications: If consumer audience segments have not yet been over-saturated by social media campaigns--with B2Cs implementing social media programs at exponentially higher rates than B2Bs--then that signals tremendous opportunity in social media for B2Bs. Yet many B2Bs wait (and wait!) for others to go first which is ironic since being first in one's sector is a key factor in gaining a competitive advantage.The implication here is to get moving while the window of opportunity is still wide open.

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And if that data didn’t convince you that your markets have changed--and it's time to change your B2B marketing accordingly--then I have plenty of B2B social media-centric information archived for you right here.


Social Media Tips Social Media *Extras* Social Media Training Contact CK

Comments

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These implications are valid only if B2B audiences are engaging at the same level. Which they aren't. Yet.

B2B has been slow on the uptake for several reasons, including lack of awareness, lack of budget (trying to survive right now), and lack of useful policies. I imagine all of these will improve over the next year or so.

Thanks for the great insights, CK.

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