B2B companies have been utilizing social media in a variety of ways for several years now. I’m no longer hearing B2B marketing and communications people say “should we be using social?”. Today what I’m hearing is “how can we apply a strategy to what we’ve put in place? How can we show that our social media efforts are helping sales and the bottom line?” It is with that bottom line orientation that we started work on an evolved approach to leveraging social media for B2B companies at Ogilvy and within our technology PR practice specially.
Today we launched a new offering called Digital Influence for B2B. Check out our launch announcement. We aren’t new to using social media in B2B environments. What we are saying is that there is ample data and experience now to evolve our thinking and tighten our approach. Specifically:
The B2B buyer journey is starting earlier with prospects utilizing organic search, content and comments of others to influence their consideration lists. (often without the knowledge or help of sales teams). IDG has great customer engagement research that shows just how many pieces of content a prospect wants to consume before they’re ready to talk to sales.
Digital influence for B2B companies ought to be aimed at driving awareness, sales consideration and conversion and therefore requires an integrated team of specialists in B2B communications, social media and sales enablement.
B2B organizations should be encouraging their employees and ecosystems to engage in social media. B2B decision makers say colleagues are a top source for information influencing purchase decision-making (Forrester) yet many B2B organizations are slow to develop advocacy programs in social media to share the opinions of employees, customers and partners
There’s tremendous opportunity for B2B marketers and communicators (including Tech PR professionals) to consider the ways they can help optimize social media in the B2B environment. Our POV is simply to keep things anchored in the buyer journey and think cross discipline. The collaboration across marketing, sales, and PR has never been more important or valuable.
At the Pivot Conference #pivotcon these past two days in New York, there has been a great spirit of sharing and learning among social media stakeholders at major brands like Unilever, Gap, American Express, IBM, Bloomberg to name a few, their agencies and the ecosystem of technologies that serve as the backbone and analytics of this discipline. Knowing Pivot is very focused on consumer-facing brands, I was delighted to hear a few good examples from b to b technology companies and technology PR professionals too.
A few themes at the conference have stood out, such as:
Conference speaker Charlene Li of Altimeter Group acknowledged what most in the audience were thinking, that these themes are words that are increasingly thrown about, but she was focused on drilling into what do they really mean in the realm of social media.
Her message: That being online representing your brand, say on Twitter, and responding to consumer concerns is simply not enough anymore. Charlene contends that individuals want brands to know and understand them. That It’s not about technology, its about relationships.
So here is how Charlene suggests brands can prepare to do more than simply respond in social media:
There has been a great spirit of learning and humility here, acknowledging that nobody has all the answers and that to be successful in social, you need to be prepared to develop sound social strategy, but also amass the drive to champion its adoption and best practices throughout your organization. And I guess that is the point. Your company culture needs to embrace the inherent openness of social in order to be successful in social. How else can a brand be authentic? (Yes, that word again).
My family travels quite a bit for work and pleasure. This past year has been a particularly busy travel year. While living in and flying often to United hub cities over the past 20 years or so, I became a loyal United flyer pretty early on and our kids have followed suit. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise in 2010 when both of our kids, under the age of 12, made United Premier status. This got me thinking about Kid customer loyalty. Our family can’t be that unique, two traveling parents who take their kids with them a lot. So what does United do uniquely to engender loyalty in a family/household that is 100% loyal? Turns out not much. Sure, the kids collect miles and get free upgrades, just like their parents. But isn’t establishing brand loyalty with kids, preteens in this case, like hitting the jackpot for consumer marketers? The fact that air travel is one of those hard-to-switch categories once you’ve achieved status, makes me wonder why United wouldn’t try to lock in my kids now for life? Would it be so hard to add more kid-friendly CE gadgets to the United miles for gifts options? Or offer them Netflix-like movie usage while in the Red Carpet room?
So what does this have to do with tech PR? The PR profession has always listed ‘customers’ as an obligatory target audience in PR plans, but the truth is we haven’t always had consistent access nor purview with this important audience. With the arrival of technologies like social CRM that invite customers to engage with brands from customer care, innovation and enthusiast perspectives, I’d argue that the PR profession has never been in a better position to help engender brand loyalty. This is a step beyond leveraging social media with customers.
When I think of my family of four traveling over the holidays this year, all of us with Premier and higher status on United, I can’t help but think what a huge lost PR and customer loyalty opportunity that was for United. Not that we were somehow so unique, but more-so that United would want to focus on this Frequent Flyer Family, and do whatever it could to engender and promote it. They knew who was traveling ahead of time, the kids’ ages, and their United status. Why not ask more families like us to blog about it? Check-in as a family at different United Family online locations? Submit a video chronicling what travel is like from a kids’ perspective? Provide service enhancement suggestions? (side note: my kids are way better travelers than a lot of adults I see. They can beat most people’s bin-to-gate time, hands-down.)
So PR peeps, let’s deliver in 2011 on that component of the PR plan that pledges to treat customers like a priority audience. Think beyond the social contest and fan page. Which brands do a good job of engendering loyalty across everyone who lives under the same roof? And United, if you are listening, I am all ears and would love to engage with you as the representative of a very loyal, enthusiastic traveling family.
Is she nuts? Social Responsibility costs money, and that was cut long ago. I know that’s what many of you are thinking. Hear me out. I think the planets are aligning to give companies more courage and motivation to align themselves with social causes. Here’s why:
1. Give the People What They Want. The data is everywhere: regardless of age or country of origin, people want to help people and they prefer brands that help people. Pretty simple stuff. But the numbers that support this thinking are encouraging and I think a little surprising. In the Pew Research Center’s Millennials study released last month, there is an interesting statistic that 21% of Millennials say that helping people who are in need is one of the most important things in their life - more important to them in fact than owning a home or being successful in a high paying career. Will their views change as they age and become less idealistic? I wonder. A December 2009 Yankelovich study showed 69% of consumers say that when a company donates to or does something for school or community, they think its right to buy things from that company as often as possible - a 10% jump in that answer from 2005. During this recession, consumers may not be giving as much money, but they certainly are giving their time. And they seem to be responding favorably to brands that give both.
2. Social is as Social Does. Social media has absolutely changed the relationship between brand and consumer, giving them more direct lines of communication. But as the medium starts to mature, or we as marketers get more experience in working in it, it seems that some corporate-driven initiatives that have an investment tie to social causes receive a stronger, more lasting embrace by their online communities. Think Coke’s investment in the Heart Truth to raise awareness for women and heart disease. The take-away? Most every brand steward not living under a rock is looking for a way to engage stakeholders and influencers via social media. B2C or B2B. The challenge is finding an idea or campaign that isn’t fleeting and has enough interest and appeal to be embraced by those online communities. So partnerships with social causes seem like a very authentic way to reach people around issues they are already passionate about with something they’ll really appreciate from a brand; putting money and effort where its brand mouth is.
3. As the Big Brands Go, Others Will Follow. Smart marketers have already identified this cultural desire for individuals and companies to be more involved in their community and pay it forward. President Obama has called for increased volunteerism. Pepsi has harnessed this desire to help others though their Pepsi Refresh campaign. At (client) Intel’s January launch of its Core processors, the company decided to partner with soccer powerhouse Mia Hamm. As part of Intel’s launch with Mia, the company made a donation to the Mia Hamm Foundation, which Mia created to raise funds and awareness for families needing marrow or cord blood transplants, and to foster opportunities for young women in sports.
I bet we’re only seeing the first set of waves on these kinds of campaigns. And I think that’s a good thing.
What do you think?
Can corporate initiatives (funding & resources) and programs for the social good co-exist without the “eeeew” factor?
When it comes to analysis on how well these programs help the bottom line, if all buying criteria are equal, could the consumer sentiment model hold true for B2B purchases and tip the scales towards socially-conscious corporations?
Is there a happy intersection of doing good and for-profit endeavors?
Boy I hope so. Earth Day’s just over a month away. Any campaign ideas on the whiteboard that could do some earthly good?
The media and communications worlds may be in great turmoil and evolution respectively, but a few things remain the same. Media and PR pros both love lists. Lists bring order to things, allow analysts to analyze, and give a platform for brands to say, “see why you should love me”.
This year’s World’s Best Companies list from BusinessWeek ventures to teach our technology PR discipline a little bit more.
Here are a few lessons, some old some new, that jumped out at me.
A.T. Kearney says looking forward they see two important factors that are most likely to drive global economic performance - “leveraging technology and innovation to enhance productivity, and demographic shifts such as graying populations. “
The former bodes well for technology PR pros. Until then, long live the list!
We (Ogilvy PR’s tech practice) often hear from business to business technology marketers and tech PR professionals looking for a better understanding of Government – selling to it, benefiting from stimulus spending, and how the regulatory environment may evolve. I want to share a great piece that our Ogilvy Government Relations team has developed. Having access to thinking like this is one of the things I love about working at a full-service firm that knows tech PR but thinks far beyond.
For any of you with an interest in marketing products and services to the federal government, please take a look at these tips on how to build a stable and thriving federal sales market.
Selling to the Federal Market: Complications and Opportunities
With declining commercial sales and an uncertain economic climate, many tech and IT companies are looking to the one certain growth market in today’s economy – the federal government. Given the growth in federal spending projected over the next four years in every area from healthcare to border security, there is no doubt that federal agencies will continue to procure record amounts of IT services and equipment.
However, selling in this market can often be a frustrating dead end for companies not attune to doing business with the government. Most adventures in government sales for the uninitiated bear little fruit for many years. The most frequent refrain from disappointed vendors is that the government could not “see the wisdom or merits of their technology or services.”
There are ways to build a stable and thriving federal sales market, but it takes commitment, time, money and savvy to realize that goal. Below are a few tips for those looking to break into the federal market or to significantly expand their presence.
1) Know Your Market and Capabilities – Whether it is health IT, communications, data storage and retrieval, or complex systems integration, you must have active intelligence of federal opportunities before word hits the street. This task requires active knowledge of agency plans for future budget cycles, agency requirements and Executive Branch and Congressional Initiatives. Furthermore, you must know whether your technology aligns with that particular need and is either competitive or can represent best value to the government.
2) Be in Your Market – Simply coming to Washington from the home office, armed with minimal intelligence to meet with a government official is totally ineffective. At best you will get a meeting. At worst, you will be regarded as an outsider with an unproven track record. Government purchasers are loathe to trust the untested and unknown. Without a consistent physical presence in Washington, you will never gain the trust of careerists whose futures depend on making the right decisions.
3) Staff Up – To be successful at both step one and two, a company must have a dedicated federal sales force and a lobbying team to open doors and provide intelligence on an almost daily basis. In addition, the company must have employees who have experience in the complex world of government contracting and requirements, and relationships with agencies that they have worked for or with in the past. This is a particular type of expertise that is no different from that of a software engineer or other technician and it can prove invaluable in winning contracts.
4) Team Up – Often the easiest way to win government business is to team with larger corporations or trusted government service providers who already have large, flexible contracts in place with agencies. Going after large contracts with major players as a sub can get the company in the door and begin building relationships for future opportunities.
5) Brand, Brand, Brand – As noted above, lack of familiarity in Washington breeds contempt. A company in the federal market must be able to tout not only its name and technology, but its past and present performance as a government contractor. Again, without the commitment to advertise and use public relations in the federal sales arena, few government purchasers will feel comfortable enough to take a chance on an unknown vendor.
You have to give the Texans credit. They do some things incredibly well. Take economic development. Texas has the most Fortune 500 company headquarters in the United States (at 58 HQs). These guys and gals understand how to build financial structures that attract industry.
And now we see that those savvy Texans are making a land grab (photon grab) for solar manufacturing business in Texas. The state is expected to soon approve a $500M bill aimed at subsidizing small scale solar users.
Texas has executed so much better than some states (like mine, Colorado) at attracting headquarters and fostering development of market segment ecosystems that fuel the local business economy. If they crack the solar grail, I’ll have to say they’re brilliant. And I’m a New Englanda.
The business of solar is fascinating to me. How Germany has leveraged a feed-in tariff system to lead the world. And how, unlike the semi industry, solar manufacturing jobs are likely to be based where the projects are to be built and customer installed due to the sensitivities of glass and the cost of shipping it. So what does that mean? States need to get moving in their legislatures and get attracting those jobs, which means building the financing systems that will incubate the projects and ecosystems.
I’m told that citizens in Germany don’t scoff at the annual fee on their electric bill that underwrites their system as they see it as a direct investment towards clean energy and local clean tech jobs.
Could Texas be at the top of a future list of States With The Largest Share of the U.S. Renewable Energy Industry? They surely know how to attract businesses.
Crazy like foxes, they are.
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If you’re a Sheryl Crow fan like me, you’ll recognize the lyrics from Maybe Angels. But in this economy, B2B marketers and Tech PR pros are dying to believe that IT decision-makers are out there ‘angels of the technology economy’ that they are - ready to be engaged.
And Forrester Research says they are out there. Forrester’s just released study The Social Technographics Of B2B Buyers by Laura Ramos and Oliver Young looks to be a fantastic study on what buyers of technology products are doing with social media. We knew they were out there, I swear. But its been difficult to determine who they are (still is), and what exactly they’ve been doing with social media as it relates to their jobs (now we’ve got the first look). The good news is they are on the whole (77%) engaging with social media, though predominantly as what Forrester calls ’spectators’. Which is fine. That’s what we do in PR; reach out to target audiences (active or spectator) to foster positive engagements.
Take a look. Laura Ramos gives a nice overview of the study on her blog. Our B2B technology PR clients have done some effective initial forays into social media. Now with greater data to prove the right targets will be there, there’s no time to lose to jump in with both feet.
I have found that corporate communications briefs for technology companies tend to have one thing in common. “Make people see the amazing innovation we have here” they say. Sometimes that innovation is easy to find, sometimes not. The motivation for wanting that innovation brand association however can be murky but often has an undercurrent of ‘we want our brand to be more respected, valued, get us out of commodity positioning’.
So when real commitment to market- and economy-moving innovation comes along, you have to applaud it.
In this economy, you need to scream your sincere appreciation for it, because it shows a commitment to be stronger tomorrow than you are today.
Example: Intel announcing this week a $7B investment over the next two years as they upgrade their facilities for 32nm technology used for the production of new faster, smaller, energy efficient chips. (Note: Intel is a client).
Intel CEO Paul Otellini said it so well this week on NPR. http://tiny.cc/4FLW7 “New technology is what pulls companies in technology out of recession,” he said.
And when asked what feedback he gave President Obama on the stimulus package, he did not hesitate to support plans to spend on much needed infrastructure investments, with the National Science Foundation, quality of classroom infrastructure, and tackling long-overdue problems that technology can solve, like electronic medical records. “My God,” Otellini said. “How long have we talked about that (Health IT)”?
How long indeed.
And just how long have we applauded brands for ‘innovation’ when there was little substance beyond an island in second life?
Intel has set a bar. And the best thing about that bar is if you really listen to what they are saying, they want more companies to meet and beat that bar. A rising tide raises all ships.
Lets not get amnesia about that bar on innovation when things get better, OK? Who else do you see raising the bar? I’d love to applaud them.
David Carlson: Social Media and Traditional PR