It's no longer a surprise to hear that innovative social-media tools have helped marketers reach consumers -- at least in the area of brand recognition -- but business-to-business marketers haven't been as quick to make the leap into the Web 2.0 world. A recent Forrester Research report, however, counters some of the concerns B2B marketers have had with less-than-traditional marketing efforts.
In "Making Social Media Work in B2B Marketing," Forrester analyst Laura Ramos points out that while Web conferencing, webinars, and email newsletters have gained ground in B2B marketing, adoption in areas such as blogging, social networking, and online communities remains relatively low. Ramos highlights three core aspects of B2B marketers' embrace of social media:
- The Web 2.0 buzz outpaces reality: In fact, more than 60 percent of B2B marketers still use conventional lead-generation tactics to reach audiences -- such as email newsletters, webinars, microsites, and online display ads. Less than 31 percent have embraced tactics such as blogs, podcasts, and social networks to reach out to prospects and existing clients.
- B2B marketers don't want to spend resources on less-than-traditional methods: Especially because of the tough state of the economy, marketers are sticking to tried-and-true methods. Less than 10 percent of B2B marketers are including widgets, mashups, advergames, mobile ads, or virtual worlds in their marketing plans for the near future.
- Web 2.0 return on investment (ROI) remains an obstacle. Although 25 percent of respondents say that they think social networks and online communities help to build brand awareness, they can't connect these tactics to the sales pipeline, which remains a barrier to adoption.
However, research shows that B2B marketers are at least beginning to experiment with certain -- perhaps less-adventuresome -- types of social media. In a chart demonstrating current online and Web 2.0 marketing tactics, blogs, podcasts, online communities or forums, and social networks generated the largest percentages in terms of piloting efforts. As far as plans to pilot social-media projects in the next 12 months, contextual and behavioral ad targeting received the highest response, with widgets/mashups in second place.
A Catch-22 scenario remains at the forefront of B2B marketing's use of social media, however: While marketers reported that demonstrating ROI remains one of their primary challenges with Web 2.0 tools, they also claim to accept that measurable value will not come immediately. Ramos writes that the most valuable application of social media to the B2B marketing sector may be "community marketing," which she says introduces a conversational approach into the buying process -- a factor that has shown value with B2B and B2C customers alike.
"Community marketing represents untapped potential because most buyers -- 36 percent in our networking and telecom [studies], 34 percent in our security [studies], and 22 percent in out IT services studies -- find that advice from peers and colleagues best helps them decide what to buy," Ramos writes.
Aside from the community/conversational arena, however, social-media efforts have revealed a distinguishable boundary between B2B and B2C, the study finds. "Early-stage successes in B2C marketing don't translate well on the B2B front where multiple decision-makers -- not to mention sales- and channel-partner involvement -- obscure the relationship between social participation and deal flow," Ramos writes. When asked for the three sources most responsible for their current customer communication, 75 percent of respondents said email or newsletters. Next up, 62 percent listed sales-driven programs. Thirty-two percent of the marketers who responded said direct mail. Web 2.0 projects lagged in the teens and lower percentiles.
Forrester reminds marketers to keep the acronym POST -- People, Objectives, Strategy, and Technology -- top-of-mind when delving into social computing. Ramos recommends a four-step methodology:
- Understand your buyer's social behavior: How much or how often do your buyers participate in social media? Create processes that build on customer profiles.
- Set objectives based on audience: Engage with the five customer-centric strategies -- listen, talk, energize, support, and embrace social media -- not only to sell to the customer, but to foster an ongoing relationship.
- Align strategy to audience and objectives: Identify the customer's preferred method of communication and the impact of communication on that relationship.
- Pick technology last: Understand the target audience and what its rate of adoption of new technology looks like. Compared to more-traditional clients, tech-savvy ones may appreciate more-extensive Web 2.0 efforts.
Although Ramos maintains that social-media projects may have no immediate or obvious ties to the sales pipeline, she adds that Web 2.0 holds value for even the B2B segment. "The need to foster deeper social interaction and intimacy requires B2B marketers to look far beyond the front of the sales pipeline and use Web 2.0 tactics to engage customers in mutually beneficial business activity," she writes. "Instead of heaping social activity onto an overflowing plate, socially savvy marketers use technology to streamline lead management; close the loop with sales; and free up time to listen to, talk with, and embrace community members for the long haul."
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