B2B, Buzz & Brand ROI: Creating Customers That Create (MORE!) Customers.
I recently ran across a positively terrific article on WOM penned by McKinsey's Jacques Bughin, Jonathan Doogan and Ole Jørgen Vetvik. Well worth the
read, the authors delineate 3 different types of WOM, propose a new way for
measuring it, and explain how the IMPACT of WOM is critical, not just the volume thereof. (I, too, am a BIG advocate of impact/quality over volume/quantity.)
While the article centers on consumer WOM, what struck a chord with this marketer is how the article's findings illuminate several implications for B2Bs (not just B2Cs). Best of all, the piece confirms many of the "buzz essentials" I regularly review with my own clients and colleagues—and it's always nice to have more ammo for my arguments!
So I'm going to work at giving YOU more ammo by highlighting some of the article's findings and tying them to their B2B implications. And then I'll close on a set of suggested action points.
But three things before we get started. First, for those new to WOM, the term stands for "word-of-mouth" and is also commonly referred to as “buzz”, as you'll notice that I use both terms interchangeably. Second, even though offline WOM is as old as the hills, online WOM is quite new due to the advent of social-media technologies. Why? Because now, anyone with a computer and Internet access can share their ideas, opinions, preferences, recommendations and experiences and have their buzz amplified far and wide, and stored forever for future views by the search engines. I personally call this exchange of information, and its profound effects upon the B2B purchasing process, "The Share Economy".
And third, I want to reiterate the most important—and consequently, the most confused!—principle about buzz: Marketers, your goal is not buzz. Your goal is Brand ROI. Buzz certainly helps you to achieve your goal. But it’s not THE goal. Why? Because a goal is an end point, whereas buzz is a connecting point.
As long-term readers might recall (see post here), I posit that it’s best to view buzz as a 'bridge'. It’s not your ultimate destination, but it enables you to get from point A (goal) to point B (Brand ROI). Thus, every time I talk about WOM and buzz—whether through this piece, in speeches or through strategies—I'm viewing it with a sharp eye on increasing Brand ROI. Because what B2Bs MOST want from WOM is to create customers that—through their "buzz"—create MORE customers.
On that directive, let’s get started as B2B Buzz is a big topic to cover...
From the article: "Consumers have always valued opinions expressed directly to them. Marketers may spend millions of dollars on elaborately conceived advertising campaigns, yet often what really makes up a consumer’s mind is not only simple but also free: a word-of-mouth recommendation from a trusted source. As consumers overwhelmed by product choices tune out the ever-growing barrage of traditional marketing, word of mouth cuts through the noise quickly and effectively."
*B2B Implication* As has always been the case, the most credible recommendations about a company or a brand are those expressed by third parties, not from employees of the company or stewards of the brand. But what has changed in this age of modern marketing is the "who" and the "how". While third-party recommendations used to be limited to trade press, analysts and “offline” colleagues, B2B professionals now seek the advice of colleagues, professionals and industry influentials (the "who") that they meet, share ideas and network with through online tools and channels (the "how"). Thus, while offline WOM between colleagues is still valued at a premium, online WOM is highly effective in cutting through the clutter and bolstering interest, purchases and loyalty of B2B brands.
#2: Buzz Is Most influential With High-Ticket, High-Risk Items.
From the article: "Indeed, word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions. Its influence is greatest when consumers are buying a product for the first time or when products are relatively expensive, factors that tend to make people conduct more research, seek more opinions, and deliberate longer than they otherwise would."
*B2B Implication* For consumers, the purchase of a house, a car and electronics (e.g. computers, smartphones) are "big-ticket" items. But for B2Bs? Every single purchase that business professionals make are high-ticket AND high-risk—and affect not only them, but others in their organizations. Plus, business professionals are relentless and exhaustive in their research process because they have to be, they're held accountable for each and every line-item on the budget! Thus, B2B buyers are looking to increase assurance, lower risk and supplement their product-research process... and they're looking to peer-generated buzz in order to do so.
#3: Buzz Is Influential At EVERY Stage Of The Buying Process.
From the article: "Once consumers make a decision to buy a product, they start with an initial consideration set of brands formed through product experience, recommendations, or awareness-building marketing. Those brands, and others, are actively evaluated as consumers gather product information from a variety of sources and decide which brand to purchase. Their postsales experience then informs their next purchasing decision. While word of mouth has different degrees of influence on consumers at each stage of this journey, it’s the only factor that ranks among the three biggest consumer influencers at every step."
*B2B Implication* WOM is important for B2B Buyers in EVERY stage of the purchasing process. Think about it, pre-buyers are asking other professionals WHICH brands they should be considering and post-buyers are voicing their brand EXPERIENCES to other professionals. Thus, each time that a product recommendation is made to a pre-buyer and every time a post-buyer expresses their product experience to potential buyers, those interactions (buzz) are forever cataloged on the World Wide Web for the next wave of buyers seeking information... and the next ones after that. Thus buzz, be it good or bad, doesn't really have an expiration date.
From the article: "Experiential word of mouth is the most common and powerful form, typically accounting for 50 to 80 percent of word-of-mouth activity in any given product category. It results from a consumer’s direct experience with a product or service, largely when that experience deviates from what’s expected. (Consumers rarely complain about or praise a company when they receive what they expect.)"
*B2B Implication* People buy on results, whether those result are tangible ("You'll get better gas mileage with this compact car!") or intangible ("You'll feel sexier due to buying this skin cream!"). And professionals are seeking results that directly impact their business performance. If you deliver on the results you promised, you've won a long-term customer. But if you over-deliver on your buyer's expectations? You've just won an advocate because you've delighted and surprised your customer. Thus, every advocate you develop increases your chances of having favorable buzz circulated, and forever archived, about your brand. That's quite a motivator for raising the bar, eh?
#5: Trust Begets Buys.
*B2B Implication* Due to the subject matter around which they engage, B2B professionals build tight, trusted networks pretty much from the get-go. Let's face it, professionals aren't discussing the latest fashion fad, they're discussing industry challenges, breaking developments, profit opportunities and best practices. And while consumers change communities as they change their interests, professionals are fare more loyal to their career choices and professional communities. Ergo, there's a higher level of trust which equates to a higher level of influence among business community members—so B2B buzz carries a great deal of weight.
And that brings me to action points for increasing your chance of B2B Buzz (which leads to Brand ROI):
- First and foremost, be "WOM-Worthy". Before even thinking about how to generate external buzz, ensure your internal house is in order. Your (#1) product must be high-quality (and hopefully, highly differentiated), your (#2) customer support must be truly responsive and your (#3) marketing messages must not over-inflate results or deceive prospects. While these business practices seem quite obvious, you'd be amazed at how often companies try to generate good buzz on a bad product... and that never ends well. (This post explains more)
- Over-Deliver Throughout The ENTIRE Relationship. Develop strategies, programs and processes that will reward and recognize your customers throughout the entire relationship, not only during the courtship. As cited above, when people are delighted and surprised, they talk about it. A lot! So let the element of surprise work in your favor. Here's an exercise: think about what you want your target market buzzing about your brand and then reverse-engineer to build the programs and processes that are deserving of that level of praise.
- Provide UNIQUE Value... Without A Sale Even Being At Stake. In this era, it’s not only how your products create value for target audiences but also how your social-media presence and programs create value for them. In fact, your audience should receive value from your social media programs even if they do not purchase your brand. Why? Because that value will encourage them to recommend your brand to others, both online and offline. (More at this post)
- Facilitate Programs That Facilitate Exchanges BETWEEN Members Of Your Audience (Not Just Between You and Audience Members). Work to participate and be helpful to existing communities that are relevant to your target market and industry. But the bigger goal here is to identify how you can create thought leadership, idea exchanges, and communities that get professionals talking to EACH OTHER, not just you. While it may seem the "opposite" of what you've practiced up until now in talking directly to your prospects, it's right on track. Why? Because through social media channels, you really want to give professionals a reason to buzz about YOUR brand to others (as that's how you create customers that create MORE customers).