Social media such as blogs and podcasts are giving customers a platform from which to speak with companies as peers. Learning how to harness that development for marketing was the hottest topic at the Direct Marketing Association's B-to-B Marketing Conference in Orlando, Fla., last week.
Who would have suspected IBM Corp. would have 10 different official groups on Facebook? Or that DuPont would feature Web personality Amanda Congdon in online videos promoting industrial products to 18-to-24-year-olds interested in science and distribute them on YouTube as well as on influential blogs?
These two marketers say social media has become a part of their strategy. “All of these things are part of a shift in the marketing mix,” said Pam Evans, senior Web marketing manager for The IBM Software Group.”You may not be using these today, but they are something to consider along with your tried and true. Social media harnesses the value of "conversation as media.' “
“Purchasing decisions in b-to-b are going to be more and more based on social media,” she added.
In addition to its Facebook presence, Evans said IBM is exploring live chat, another social medium. “One of the things we did this year [as a] pilot was online chat,” she said. “It helped us qualify leads and pass them on to our sales reps.” That effort is still in the testing phase.
Robert Powers, senior VP-marketing at ad agency Digitas, said he sees companies beginning to invest in social media.
“B-to-b marketers are beginning to put money into these emerging channels because they see the persuasive aspects,” he said.
Gary Spangler, platform e-business leader-electronic and communication technologies of DuPont, said although some companies are struggling with how to leverage blogs and Facebook in the b-to-b world, DuPont's video program was extremely successful. “We had 50,000 views [of the Congdon video] in four weeks,” he said.
Gene McCubbin, president of PopLabs, an interactive agency, compared social media to PR.
“Done correctly, you can harness people to convey a message for you,” he said.
While big companies may have the resources to experiment with social media, small and midsize businesses (SMBs) often don't, said John Coe, president of Sales & Marketing Institute, a consultancy.
“I was talking about social media with the president of a company who is a client,” Coe said. “He said, "How can that help me? We don't have a brand name.' The two disconnects are the resources issue and the fact that [clients] have so many more important projects to work on.”
He said as social media evolve, “there's probably some application” that will be developed to help smaller companies.
“I think if you have a strong brand name or you are in a hot space, you can begin to play with social media. But you still need to ask where this experimentation fits into the realm of SMBs [that] have a long list of priorities, such as getting more sales leads.”
Steven Gelb, marketing manager for manufacturer Maxon Furniture, said his company first implemented lead generation five years ago, and did so online.
“We only use online,” Gelb said. “When we considered getting into [postal direct] mail, we looked at the numbers and it didn't seem to "pencil out' “ in terms of the marketing budget.
Gelb said he uses e-mail, pay-per-click and SEO, adding that “a pull model has been much more successful” for Maxon than a push model of marketing in regard to generating new business leads.
He is not implementing social media, but said a major goal for him in attending the conference was to get a clearer picture of all marketing possibilities.
With the technology and the marketing vehicles changing so quickly, part of his goal at the show was getting the overview to understand what the opportunities are, Gelb said.
The Internet is fast becoming b-to-b marketers' most important channel and now trails only the sales force, said Yuchun Lee, chairman-CEO of Unica Corp., an enterprise marketing management company.
He added that the Internet gives marketers the opportunity to understand customers better by analyzing online behavior.
“Use the Internet as a place to listen to b-to-b buying behavior,” he said. That includes creating communities and involving the customer in product innovation, Lee said.
“B-to-b marketers are very gun-shy about involving the customer in a joint process” to create and refine products, he said, but they would be wise to welcome their input.
“Marketing has to be so relevant that it feels like a service to customers,” Lee said. “That's a high bar, but it's necessary.” M