‘Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat’ – SunTzu
Think about it – something that was written in the 6th Century BC is as relevant today as it was back then, maybe more so. This couldn’t be truer in the digital world today, when anyone who has an online / Facebook / Twitter presence believes that they’ve nailed their digital marketing strategy. Do they seriously believe so..?
Strategy apart, I have lost count of the number of times I have heard that digital marketing is relevant only for consumers and that business customers (B2B) don’t have the time for it. While the business case for consumers (B2C) may be more apparent, I genuinely believe that the case for business customers is as compelling. There are enough examples of organizations in the B2B space that are gaining mindshare by embracing new digital and social methods of connecting with their customers and I’ll talk about some of them.
But before we go there, think again: are you apprehensive about using digital and social media in your business marketing? If yes, read on. If not, then you must read on as well because we’ll learn from each other’s insights.
Digital channels and tools are fast becoming the most important way to attract new business customers and sustain old ones. Search Engines are considered as some of the most efficient tools to create and optimize leads. Social search is now an increasingly important means of creating and analyzing patterns. Customers are hungry for more, as well as different kinds of digital content. They are expecting new ways to network and engage online and it’s up to business marketing organizations to provide a platform that meets all the needs. The ones who figure this out will have their strategy right, in terms of meeting the stated and unstated needs of their target audience. This can only happen if they are willing to listen, analyze and understand the unsaid.
Business customers are increasingly creating great content and experiences to market to their own customers. So they also know what they want from suppliers when they themselves are the potential buyers. When they are buying, business customers expect to see the same effective tools that they use such as how-to videos on YouTube, personalization tools, employees as customer service representatives, intuitive design that rewards past activity and predictive data analytics.
At the heart of successful digital marketing to business customers are three core qualities (TRC):
There’s no hiding in today’s digital world. Your customers already know, or can quickly find out, everything about you and what you sell. They expect you to be honest about how your products and services stack up – by sharing detailed descriptions of features and applications, multiple opinions, and even negative reviews.
Google calls this the Zero Moment of Truth. We’ve seen Google sales leader Jim Lecinski challenge a room of business marketers to search YouTube for even the most obscure product. It never fails – some video always surfaces.
Dell has invested in ratings and reviews and received an unexpected positive customer response. IBM has empowered more than 100,000 employees to become experts on social media platforms answering questions and becoming thought leaders.
Digital marketing tools bring us within reach of the ultimate dream of marketing: reaching the right audience with the right offering at exactly the right time. These tools reveal who is using your digital content, what they are doing with it, and what they want. This is called Relevancy. If you are still wondering, think Amazon, Netflix and you’ll get the drift!
Digital and social tools have enabled focusing on smaller, more meaningful segments of what was a broad, undefined “audience.” So, success is no longer measured in millions of pageviews. A more useful metric would be actively engaging, for example, with a thousand university administrators looking to buy new power generation services.
Omni Hotels & Resorts used a blogger outreach program to promote its meetings and events business to a micro-audience of influencers, ignored by its competitors, leading to hundreds of conversations and direct sales leads. Accenture Management Consulting used LinkedIn to set up a careers group. When the group ballooned to more than 5,000 members, Accenture subdivided it into separate, micro-relevant groups aimed at specific potential customers.
The more precisely targeted the audience, the more effective the recommendations on social platforms can be. After all, business people tend to value the opinions of colleagues and industry professionals, especially specialists in the relevant area. This is customer segmentation at its best – informed and totally focused.
Collaboration is where the digital strategy transcends into what was impossible even a short time ago – conjuring a world where businesses and customers work together to create something of value that might not have existed otherwise. Businesses are now beginning to see constructive conversations with their most knowledgeable and committed customers, whether through a customer advisory board, a user group that regularly gives product feedback, or an online customer innovation center. That feedback makes later iterations of products better and faster. It can also open up entirely new pathways of innovation.
One of the oldest methods of encouraging technological innovation – competition – is enjoying a well-deserved comeback thanks to new digital and social tools. Cisco’s I-Prize is an open innovation competition designed to find an idea that could be the basis for a whole new business unit. Microsoft annually awards its $25,000 Imagine Cup to a student team that best uses technology to solve a real world problem.
GE has enjoyed the unprecedented success of the ecomagination challenge, where they invited business plans for new inventions to power the smart grid, in return for investment funding. The response was overwhelming – 5,000 business plans from innovators in 150 countries, and active participation from nearly 100,000 enthusiasts. The results speak for themselves: new partnerships with start-ups, venture capitalists and retailers, and the ability to bring new offerings to existing customers.
Digital marketing takes investment, experimentation – even a degree of faith – before specific goals can be met. But results are stacking up. Your customers are digital. Shouldn’t you be too? And while you are at it, please remember what Sun Tzu said and lay out a cohesive strategy before embarking on the journey. Rest assured you’ll reach the destination.