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BtoB Marketing’s Response to Social Media: Have we Lost all Control and Impact?

For decades marketing has been desperately trying to connect with their customers in a controlled, one-way fashion. We had control of the brand, all marketing content as well as the traditional channels that were used to communicate with the market. And even on occasion, we cautiously exposed our executives and engineers to our customers while all the time holding our breath that they didn’t say the “wrong thing” that would hurt our image, costing us millions of dollars in marketing investment and countless hours including nights and weekends executing our marketing strategy.

It reminds me of a time when I was a product marketer in the semiconductor industry. I would visit customers quite frequently with our lead engineer. In one meeting this engineer exposed our greatest product flaw to one of our key customers. As I cringed in my seat, I expected the ROI from millions of dollars of investment into the brand value of this product to be instantly destroyed not to mention the lifetime value of this customer as they quickly switched to our competitors’ products. To my surprise, the candor expressed by this sincere engineer did not doom our company’s success at all. In fact, it was a key factor in gaining credibility with our customer, including serving as the basis for a joint discussion and future research to solve these problems in a collaborative fashion. This new problem-solving process served as a key differentiator for our products in a very commoditized market.

What’s the connection? Imagine 100s or even 1,000s of your engineers, developers and/or product managers interacting directly with your customers through their own blogs, contribution to other blogs, interaction through Twitter or countless other social media applications. Sound familiar to anyone?. . . How do we stop this PR nightmare?. . . How do we control them?. . . How do we ensure that they stay on-message with our brand?. . . How can we review every bit of content that they put on the Internet? The simple answer is that we “don’t” try to control them.

Not to say that we should hang up our marketing hat and make wine in Napa Valley. In this new social media model we need to devise new ways of helping our organization to best represent the company while keeping the needs of the customer at the forefront of our communications; and even better leveraging this new found connection to the customer. Some ideas include:

  • Increase your resources dedicated to internal communication. We’ve always said that everyone needs to be a salesperson. With the new social media model, we all have to be marketers as well, more than ever before. [CMO Advisory Service clients should refer to a recent publication entitled Intel Launches a Comprehensive Digital Marketing Training Program for its Global Marketing and Sales Staff, IDC doc. #218416]
  • Ensure that specific marketing staff are accountable for your company’s social media strategy.
  • Don’t “control” the social media strategy, “guide” it (e.g., evangelize, train, share best practices)
  • Provide the infrastructure for your social media “ambassadors” to communicate and interact with your markets (e.g., social media applications/platforms, basic guidelines for communications)
  • Integrate social media across the organization’s existing efforts
    – Develop private communities for customers to provide a self-serving environment for peer-to-peer interaction, as well as providing a great source of voice of the customer for product improvement and new product development
    – Establish public communities on your web site to share insight into new solutions for customers’ challenges; and contribute to other communities (no one will go to your party if you don’t go to theirs)
    – Integrate on-line and in-person social networking strategies (e.g., facilitate collaboration for an in-person event amongst prospects and clients before (on-line), during (in-person) and after (on-line) the event
    – Include social media as part of the overall marketing mix [CMO Advisory Service clients should refer to a recent marketing mix study entitled 2009 CMO Tech Marketing Barometer, IDC Doc. #217640]
  • Ensure that your social media strategy aligns with your customers’ needs. For example, relevant content from independent sources continues to be the greatest magnet for attracting our customers’ attention. Ensure that your communities remain on target to your customers’ needs.
  • Don’t forget performance measurement. Sample metrics for measuring the impact of social media include: customer satisfaction and retention, marketing reach and engagement (e.g., click-thrus, time spent on-site, more qualitative insight such as types of conversations)

Taking a more strategic perspective to leverage the power of new social media channels without stifling their potential will enable marketing to significantly increase its impact on the organization.

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