Chicago—In the International BMA Conference's “Four B2B Thought-Provokers in 60 Minutes” session held here Thursday, four successive presentations offered unusual, challenging takes on b-to-b marketing. What each of the four had in common was that none of the speakers could make it through their allotted 15 minutes without mentioning social media.
Ralph A. Oliva, executive director of the Institute for the Study of Business Markets, kicked off the session by arguing that social media was nothing new. “B-to-b was, is and always will be about social,” he said.
He didn't deny, however, that social media, as it has evolved from Friendster to MySpace to Facebook, is having an impact on marketing, as customers are easily able to communicate to friends and colleagues their experiences with brands. The result of this trend? “We're going to spend a lot more time about the customer experience after the sale,” he said.
Oliva also noted that social media provides a challenge for marketers in keeping employees on message. “We have enough trouble getting sales and marketing to work together,” he said, adding: “Where everyone is talking to everyone else, how do you teach everyone what your brand means?”
Nonetheless, Oliva said, it's up to the marketing department to define a unifying purpose for the company and the brand.
Jonathan Salem Baskin, co-author of “Tell the Truth” (BenBella Books, 2012), questioned the value of social media and the effort so many b-to-b marketers are putting into it. “How about you switch it off and see if anyone complains?” he said.
The premise that marketers need to engage with their customers via social media is flawed, Baskin said. “We don't wake up in the morning saying, "You know what I need? Another conversation,” he said.
Baskin said his research has shown that the most effective social media is when the customer service department monitors Twitter to address customer complaints directly. That use fits with Baskin's overall theme: “My premise is that you have to become a truth teller,” he said.
The most effective marketers, Baskin said, have one thing in common: Their message is truthful. He said BP's slogan of “Beyond petroleum,” which gave the impression that their alternative energy efforts were much bigger than they were, only made the fallout of its Gulf of Mexico oil spill worse. “The reality is reality matters,” he said.
Following Baskin, Lisa A. Burns, director-corporate marketing and branding at Corning Inc., and John Mannion, exec VP-director of client relations at Doremus, shared how a b-to-b marketer can sometimes hit the viral video lottery. They had a sunnier view of social media—perhaps because Corning's “A Day Made of Glass,” a five-and-a-half minute video depicting glass' ubiquity in everything from a cup of orange juice to a smartphone screen, has had more than 19 million YouTube hits, Mannion said.
The video, which was intended for use by salespeople when calling on customers, actually has produced a steady stream of customers who called Corning after seeing it online, Burns said.
Bob Pearson, chief technology and media officer of consultancy WCG, finished the session with a presentation on “social commerce,” which is using social media to actually generate sales of products and services.
“Social media is cute,” he said. “Social commerce is cool.”
Pearson suggested marketers become publishers and use social media to reach influencers, who in turn reach the 90% of people, who, although they don't create or share content online, most certainly read it. He advised that marketers employ their top customers to advocate for them. He also suggested using employees to get the company message out. “Employees are incredibly underutilized,” he said.