Rockwell Automation makes social marketing a strategic channel

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Rockwell Automation is a global manufacturer of industrial automation and information solutions, including programmable controllers, manufacturing software and safety products.

Like many b-to-b companies that have long relied on direct-marketing techniques, Rockwell has tried to come to grips with how social marketing can be used to aid its other marketing channels.

“The way we have used social media has been more for listening, thinking in terms of what a PR firm might do,” said Neil Rongstad, global database marketing manager at Rockwell. “That's an interesting data point, but it's not something that drives business.”

In addition, Rongstad said, outgoing social efforts primarily have been by certain enthusiastic individuals within the company, rather than as part of an overall, strategic marketing initiative.

“Even the folks doing this on an individual basis have been able to show some interesting things, such as putting a tweet out and getting increased traffic on our portal in one area,” Rongstad said. “Increased traffic is interesting, but so what? Who are these people? They could be college students, not necessarily the people you expect.

“A spike in traffic is not necessarily a thing to claim as a win,” he said. Rongstad also said he had not been satisfied with the abilities of his paid search programs to adequately identify and profile prospects clicking through to Rockwell's site. He needed something richer to complement his paid search efforts.

As a result, Rockwell has developed new social strategies with specific goals. First, the company is moving to integrate social with the company's campaigns, and not as a standalone, random activity. The company is working with b-to-b direct agency Mason Zimbler to help give it that kind of structure.

“What's we're seeing is that social has now become another reason for a customer to engage with you directly and, ultimately, to end up buying,” said Kevin Kerner, managing director-U.S. at Mason Zimbler, Austin, Texas, a division of direct-marketing company Harte-Hanks.

“Direct marketing has always had this ‘toward' approach, moving the customer toward the offer, or product or webinar to drive them to a salesperson,” he said. “Social gives us this amazing other tool to communicate in a pretty safe environment. People trust it and seek it out.”

Rockwell has targeted LinkedIn, Twitter and specific subject forums “to get people to follow [us] and then allow them to engage with us on their terms,” Rongstad said. The company addresses groups within these channels that may be interested in its products and services.

Rockwell's highly technical capabilities make for strong social interactions, Rongstad said. He said the company's engineers are particularly focused on internally sharing information socially, solving (for example) a machine-build problem in China through collaboration.

One result is that Rockwell's social outreach may come across as more assertive, or even promotional, than is normally thought of as optimal in the social space. But Rongstad said it's been welcomed since all this activity ultimately is driven by the social community's interest, and not something that is forced by Rockwell.

“Our plan is to engage with people in an increasingly digital way, to help them solve their business problems,” Rongstad said. “Sometimes people think of this as going to extremes, but our approach has that as a requirement.”

The company has developed portals specifically for its social followers, where they can link into content pertaining to specific solutions. Click-throughs, and visitors filling out subsequent landing page forms, add to the measurability of social marketing success, increasing the company's ability to create content based on customer needs, he said.

“Part of the plan is to offer valuable content, sending people from a tweet to a landing page where we can track them and to drive them deeper into the experience,” Kerner said.

“What's really cool is that, once your prospects are connected socially with your brand, you can coordinate that social connection with trusted, thought leadership communication and coordinate it with direct activities the further they get into the funnel,” he said.

Rockwell also has made social a part of certain key initiatives that augment the company's prospect list. For example, Rongstad said, certain regulatory changes in Europe over manufacturing safety prompted a series of Rockwell webinars on the subject to inform U.S. customers and prospects on the new, overseas requirements.

The webinars are marketed and supported through social channels. In turn, the measurement of webinar registration and attendance adds attribution metrics to the social outreach.

“Social is a channel that's fitting in well with our traditional database and direct-marketing methodology,” Rongstad said. “I don't want to imply that we have figured this out yet, but I can say that the scalability and speed of actually engaging and getting a response from prospects is significantly quicker and less intrusive with social than from traditional approaches, such as telemarketing.”

HOW ROCKWELL AUTOMATION MADE SOCIAL ‘OFFICIAL' Objective: To change social outreach from ad hoc efforts to an integrated, strategic marketing channel
Strategy: Actively engage in social forums of interest to prospective customers; use social in support of webinars; prompt click-throughs to specific landing pages
Results: Scalability and speed of gaining customer responses has increased significantly

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