Make a place for social media in B2B marketing

By: Steve Groller, Special for Lehigh Valley Business

As any marketer will tell you, advances in digital technology are rapidly changing (and enhancing) the way marketing tactics are delivered, the insights at our disposal and the way consumers are exposed to a brand. But in today’s digitally evolving world, our marketing focus must shift from the traditional model, revert to a “back to basics” approach, and become more people-centric.

A decade ago, a marketer’s mantra was to deliver the right content at the right time to the right audience. The fundamentals of this still ring true, but how we execute needs to change. In the past, there was a very clear distinction between business-to-business (B2B) marketing and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing. B2B marketing had the reputation of being stagnant, boring and stale, while B2C marketers got to have fun, take risks and be creative. But the old distinctions between B2C and B2B are dissolving, and a major factor that is contributing to this shift is social media.

What started as a way to organically engage with consumers and allow for a two-way conversation online, social media is taking a more prominent role in proactive marketing, no matter the business type or industry. B2B marketing was once tactical, transactional and informational; now it’s become more experiential and relationship-driven thanks, in part, to changing attitudes in a socially-driven digital world.

While developing content for your target audience will always be important in the B2B world, the way to approach content development could use an overhaul. Content should be rooted in thought leadership, educating prospective buyers rather than solely touting product features and benefits. B2B brands should engage users, speak to their emotions and interject some brand personality into the mix. This has value regardless of platform, but one way to do this has been the incorporation of video. Before the age of social media, video was all about product features, maximum production value and taking as long as necessary to get your message across. Today’s buyer — with a dwindling attention span and an expectation for the immediacy social media affords — simply has no time for this traditional approach.

According to Cisco’s annual Visual Network Index (VNI) forecast, video may comprise over 80 percent of all internet traffic by 2021, and research from Google indicates that 70 percent of B2B buyers are seeking videos as part of the buying journey. Product videos, demos and explainers are the most common types of videos created for B2B, but these formats can be turned on their heads by taking a more social approach. Live streams, for example, can be a way to answer questions in real time, demo a new product and give your audience a chance to meet the team of real people behind the brand.

With more millennials becoming part of the B2B purchase process, those companies looking to stand out should also explore platforms not normally associated with B2B. For instance, Instagram is becoming a channel rooted in authenticity and storytelling. Whether sharing customer stories or going “behind the scenes,” Instagram can serve many purposes in the context of a larger B2B strategy. It can also be a go-to for cultivating and sharing user-generated content (the social media version of “word of mouth” marketing).

The emergence of social media in the B2B space has also fostered the diversification of content formats (interactive, mobile-friendly, podcasts, vlogs, etc.). The internet has long been the primary destination to conduct research prior to making a buying decision, and social media has become a natural extension of this journey. It is important to prioritize the audience’s informational needs over sales/promotional message and incorporate interactive features into content. This is the 360-degree marketing with a fresh coat of paint.

With this newfound investment in content, you may be wondering how to go about evaluating its success. Luckily, emerging social media tactics and tracking capabilities are strengthening the connection between the content of a post or tweet and a sales lead. B2B organizations should explore ways to take advantage of tools like dynamic remarketing, custom audiences, and native lead forms to both personalize marketing efforts and precisely attribute social media to lead generation.

How your brand responds to the changing landscape of B2B versus B2C marketing will be critical to your success going forward. Companies must recognize and adapt to shifting trends in order to keep up and stay relevant. If planned properly and executed efficiently, social media has the power to strengthen thought leadership, deepen the customer relationship and maximize brand awareness.

Steve Groller is a social media manager at Klunk & Millan, a marketing communications firm in Allentown.