Whenever I begin a speech, I pose five questions to the audience and ask them to raise their hands if the answer to a question is “yes.” How would you answer? ¶ In your personal or professional life in the past two months, when looking for answers to a problem or to research or buy a product or service, have you: ¶ 1) Responded to a direct mail advertisement? ¶ 2) Gone to a trade show or conference as an attendee (not as an exhibitor)? ¶ 3) Consulted magazines, newspapers, TV or radio? ¶ 4) Used Google or another search engine? ¶ 5) Electronically contacted a friend, colleague or family member who responded with a Web URL that you then visited?
Over the course of a year, in front of more than 10,000 people from many dozens of groups—including college students, marketing pros, IT buyers and executives at Fortune 500 companies—the answers were surprisingly consistent. Between 5% and 20% of people answer each of the first three questions with a “yes.” These answers mean that the ways most b-to-b companies have historically reached people—advertising, direct mail, trade show participation and pleas to the mainstream media and analysts for coverage—are only effective in reaching a small portion of potential customers. However, between 80% and 100% of people raise their hands to indicate that they have used a search engine to find a solution to a problem, or to research a product or that they have checked out a Web site suggested by a friend, colleague or family member.
Clearly, effective Web content in all of its forms (blogs, content-rich Web sites, e-books, YouTube videos, podcasts, profiles on social networking such sites as Facebook) are critical for any business. Rather than trying to coerce people into paying attention to products and services by dreaming up messages and ad campaigns, smart b-to-b marketers understand that effectively developed Web content delivers interested buyers right to a company's virtual doorstep. This is a marketer's dream come true.
However, most marketers don't know how to harness this exciting form of marketing because they are living in yesterday's world. For decades, the only way to spread our ideas was to buy expensive advertising or beg the media to write or broadcast about our products and services. But now we have a tremendous opportunity to directly publish great content online—content that people want to consume and which they are eager to share with their friends, family and colleagues.
Being a successful b-to-b marketer on the Web requires radically different thinking than what you've been successful with in the past:
* Don't talk about your product or service. Instead, explain how your company makes your customers' lives better.
* Don't obsess about being on message. Instead, pay attention to solving your buyers' problems.
* Don't interrupt people and try to coerce them to do something. Instead, provide thoughtful content that people want to consume.
* Don't measure marketing by the number of leads. Instead, measure how your ideas spread online.
* Don't beg mainstream media to write about you. Instead, tell your story directly to an interested market.
* Don't build programs based on your sales cycle. Instead, deliver great Web content at the precise moment that your buyers need it.
The most effective way to market b-to-b products and services online is to develop thought leadership-based content that existing and potential customers want to read. Companies develop content-rich Web sites, YouTube videos, blogs, podcasts, white papers, e-books, webinars and other Web content to reach buyers directly. Organizations that exercise thought leadership rather than simple advertising and product promotion are today's success stories.
Here's one of the coolest things about great Web content. It has the potential to take off and spread as one person shares it with another, as people post links on their blogs, and as they tell their friends and colleagues. Viral marketing (or “word-of-mouse”) is the single most empowering tool available to b-to-b marketers today.
In January, I wrote and published on my blog a totally free (no registration required) e-book called “The New Rules of Viral Marketing: How Word-of-mouse Spreads Your Ideas for Free.” Amazingly, in the first month, more than 50,000 people downloaded the e-book, and over 100 bloggers wrote about it. Imagine what I would have had to invest in traditional marketing to get 58,000 people to pay attention to my idea if I couldn't offer free and valuable stuff? Millions of dollars, no doubt.
“Hold on, David,” some b-to-b marketers say when I talk about Web marketing at conferences. “We're a _______ company. We can't put video on YouTube. We can't blog. This stuff is for kids or consumer products companies, not us.” (Fill in the blank with “big,” or “famous,” or “conservative,” or “enterprise software” or whatever excuse you've got.) The fact is that some of the best Web marketing efforts come from b-to-b companies.
One of my favorite YouTube videos is a series of “mockumentaries” produced by IBM Corp. The multiepisode “The Art of the Sale” is a terrific spoof on corporate training videos. Until the end of the video, you don't even know who produced it. Hundreds of thousands of people have watched the series, humanizing a large company in the process. But IBM is just one example. Companies like Cisco Systems, Dow Jones, Sun Microsystems and Microsoft Corp. have enjoyed success too. Any b-to-b company with thoughtful ideas to share—and clever ways to create interest in them—can, after some careful preparation, become famous and find success on the Web.
David Meerman Scott is the bestselling author of “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” (Wiley, 2007). Check out his blog at www.WebInkNow.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.