by Warren Moss (@) When brands and agencies talk about social media, they’re generally talking about it solely from a consumer angle, as an effective way of marketing to individuals. But, from a B2B perspective, social media has an equally important role to play in communication. This is because the buyers of brands and products in a B2B scenario are individuals who also have a presence on social media platforms, so it may be a highly effective place to deliver relevant content to them, too.
Let’s say, for example, you’re the FD of a company considering a large purchase for your organisation. Throughout all the stages of the purchasing journey, you’re also engaging on Facebook, posting photos on Instagram, or reading the news on Twitter. Here’s the question: may those platforms be used by brands to expose you to content that will help you in your buying decision?
Yes, very much so, for several reasons.
First, the purchaser is most likely to be on social media platforms in their personal capacity, anyway. Secondly, these platforms are highly effective at delivering relevant content because of their ability to target messaging using specific audience customisation. In this way, they may be even more effective than conventional marketing channels such as billboards, brochures, or even email.
The other reason is that people are spending more and more time on social networks, and this trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down. As long as the content is relevant and informs part of the purchase journey, then it has value to add. While it is true that there are differences on a strategic level in terms of how you communicate in a B2B or B2C context, the overall concept of using social media as a marketing platform is no different.
Whether you’re buying as a consumer or as a business, the main differentiator lies in the relevance of the content vs relevance of the platform. Let’s say you’re an ICT company which makes laptops, printers or screens (think HP, Samsung or Dell). Now let’s imagine you’re the technology buyer of a big business who needs to buy 10 000 screens for your branches. It’s not like this is an impulse purchase — there’s a very specific journey you go down, and the entire purchase decision could take 12-to-18 months, including evaluation, justification, research and cost comparisons.
While it’s a very-structured purchase journey, it’s not linear and you can jump between phases. But no matter what phase you’re in, the person or team of people going through the process needs to decide whether they’re buying Samsung or HP, and they are influenced by different platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. With this in mind, it makes sense for a company such as HP to have content on Facebook about why HP laptops are the best choice. In the same scenario, the head of procurement is on Twitter looking at news or sport. It might be a sponsored post based on who they are, what their interests are, and where they’ve been on the web lately. It could be an article on “10 Reasons Why Your Next Laptop Purchase Should Be An HP”. All of a sudden, this becomes a very relevant piece of content, because that person has been identified as someone in a purchase journey based on their web behaviour over the last couple of months.
Through marketing automation, social media also lets you get highly targeted messaging across, based on where your sales prospect works, what they do and what their interests are — not just on Facebook but around the web. Using this data, you may expose your potential buyer to content that is relevant to them, whether you’re using things such as Custom Audiences through Facebook, or sponsored posts on Twitter. The main thing is that this targeting starts from a real data point, as opposed to making an educated guess.
The real question
The question shouldn’t be about whether B2B brands should be using social media to represent themselves, because they should. The real question should be: does social media work as a communications channel for B2B buyers? Our answer to that is a definite yes.
Warren Moss (@) is the CEO and founder of Demographica, a multi-award winning full service agency that specialises in the B2B category. He is the chair of both the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa (DMASA) and the Assegai Integrated Marketing Awards (Assegais), as well as the only African to judge the B2 Awards, which recognise the top performing B2B marketers in the world. Warren contributes the monthly “Thinking B2B” column, which looks at the latest trends in B2B communications and explains why it is fundamentally different from B2C comms.