Digital marketing for the B2B sector has been moving from the experimental stage to a mainstream consideration in recent years. Once considered a less significant aspect of the marketing mix , digital marketing is now becoming a core component of the marketing mix but despite some creative campaigns with substantial budgets, many digital channels are still relative unknown for B2B marketers. Social Media is one such example.
Many readers might find it difficult to believe, but B2B e-commerce spending actually represents more than 85% of total ecommerce spending worldwide (IDC Company, 2012). With online marketing yielding the most business leads for B2B companies (Sagefrog Marketing Group, 2012) lead generation has always been a major drive for their digital marketing spends.
Digital is involved at every stage of the buying process, from research and lead generation to lead nurturing. Businesses therefore see online mediums as very efficient methods of solving business problems quickly. To move the medium into the space that retail and other major B2C companies operate in, B2B digital communication needs to become more than a message, it also needs to spark conversations.
To look at the opportunities in digital for B2B businesses, I first want to take a step back and look at some fundamental changes in marketing over the last 70+ years.
In the 50s, we saw the era of information, where brands were competing with each other for the biggest share of voice, demonstrating why their product or service is better than another. Once technology developed and TV sets were in every household, brands were able to develop an emotional connection to the audience. This has now been taken a step further and what your audience says and does for your brand is changing the way people make decisions on products. Marketing 3.0, the ‘era of participation’, has been with us since around 2007, but the B2B sector has struggled to take hold of this. In fact, it’s still the benefits and service of the products themselves which account for most of the core messaging.
A recent Neilson report found that, using a % as a measure of trust, "Earned media has a 92% trust with paid media a 54% trust". With this in mind, it is important that we understand how to communicate with our audience; remembering to encourage engagement and not simply push promotional messages at them. Communication with another business online is not the same as speaking to a consumer. There are different considerations, not least of which the complex nature of the product or service, so not a different approach must be taken.
Digital has been developing over the last couple of years into a powerful lead generation tool, but as a communication channel, B2B marketers are still some way behind. A B2B salesperson may not always be the most trusted communicator, and the internet offers a channel through which long-term relationships can be established with two-way communication.
The B2B market has a real need for creative communication, as the complexity of the products and services they offer can dilute the brand’s core messaging. Essentially, word of mouth and referrals can be the two most important aspects in marketing a B2B business.
There is much discussion within digital marketing circles regarding Social Media for B2B and how it can be used to encourage these two aspects. B2B marketers are still struggling to find the best way to develop and execute strategies. For these companies, customer service and support, including lead nurturing, are high on the agenda for Social Media. Acquisition is yet to surface as a valuable characteristic, as understanding the metrics for measurement of Social Media in the B2B space is a complicated undertaking.
A number of top tier agencies, including 4Ps Marketing, have been working to develop quantitative techniques to understand the value of social acquisition strategies. Surprisingly, this is still in its infancy for B2B companies, yet unless this continues to be developed, it’s unlikely that investment in social communication for lead acquisition will flourish.
Content and Context
Every 60 seconds there are 2million views of content online. For B2B marketers the challenge is “How can I build a content strategy that drives interest in the products and services I sell?” Targeting the right audience through push tactics may well raise awareness of your brand, but the context of this message is of utmost importance. A B2B purchase tends to be much more complex and high-risk in nature and finding the right audience is simply not enough.
The big decision makers conduct 40% of their research outside of work hours. Being available to this audience is something all B2B marketers need to consider. Digital channels, such as Google paid search, have traditionally excluded this traffic these are often the core hours, so should not be ignored. When the audience is in the right frame of mind and has the time to digest the content that your company has produced, you need to make sure it is available to them.
Often, the audience of decision makers online is relatively niche for B2B companies. The digital world has blown the door open for users to engage with relevant industry content. Building an online strategy online communicates with these audiences at the right time, in the right place and with the right message may seem obvious, but it still bears repeating that unless this content targeting is utilised, the communication will be lost.
You don’t always need to ask the question “where are the decision makers?”, but instead “How do I reach them?” You may need a business owner to make a decision on product choice, but they are less likely to be influenced by push marketing activity, with word of mouth more important. Therefore reaching their influencers becomes the real strategy.
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