In the last few years there has been much ado about Web 2.0, social media, social networks and the like buzzing around marketing circles. For the industrial marketers I've worked with there seem to be mixed feelings about incorporating this new medium into their firms' marketing plans.
Some are anxious and believe they need to get up to speed with Web 2.0 or perish. Others think it is a consumer market phenomenon, and a waste of time for business-to-business marketers. Despite the polarity, neither extreme is true. Industrial marketers should be using these new marketing tools, but it needs to be done in a way that works in concert with all the other aspects of a company's marketing communications mix.
So, how do you put social media and its technologically interactive cousins to work for you? First, realize where social media fits in the marketing food chain. I like to break the industrial marketing communications mix into three areas: direct selling, advertising, and public relations. (You'll find that others include sales promotion and/or direct marketing as distinct elements of the “marcomm” mix, but it is my view that they are absorbed by the three elements I've listed. Comment on the PN Web site if you'd like to discuss this.)
No doubt you are familiar with direct selling and understand that it is the person-to-person contact that persuades prospective customers to buy, and fosters existing relationships. Likewise, you know that advertising is the paid, impersonal, one-way communications that you conduct through a mass medium. In addition, I'd like you to notice that direct selling and advertising efforts are always in the control of someone in the seller's firm. Sales people are trained to sell to and support customers by the firm, and ads appear precisely as the firm delivers them to the medium in which it is advertising. The third element, PR, is different. In PR, marketers are pursuing marketing goals by garnering media mentions and spreading word-of-mouth. The former is done by pitching stories or making our firm's experts available to journalists in hopes that they will cover the firm, its people, or products. The latter is accomplished by getting customers, prospects, and recognized industry professionals to talk about the firm, its people or products. Therefore, I think of selling and advertising as “in control” marketing, and PR “out of control” marketing.
Out-of-control marketing is risky, in that you hand over control of your marketing message to somebody else, and you can never be certain how they will distort your message as they broadcast it to their audience.
However, out-of-control marketing is extremely powerful because the act of letting go of control implies a credibility that can never be achieved with any other form of marketing. In addition, out-of-control marketing is the least-expensive form of promotion. It is in the PR or “out of control” category of marketing where new media marketing resides.
Web 2.0 marketing excels at creating word-of-mouth (virtual and live), and even plays a role in getting media mentions. Successful marketers understand that to make this strategy work, participation in blogs, social networks, and other new media need to create a community around content.
While there are many ways to use Web 2.0 in marketing strategy, I'd like to offer a basic template.
First, start blogging. Forget what you've come to think about blogs and bloggers. The goal for your blog is to supply information that customers and prospects can use, therefore positioning your firm and its people as expert resources that they will turn to time and time again. The ideal frequency is once or twice a week. If this seems like it's too often, consider that blog entries don't have to be long (I find sub-500 word entries work best), and that it is perfectly acceptable, perhaps preferable, to be a “filter.”
Filtering, in blog terms, is the process of finding the latest information of interest to your audience and passing it along to them along with your firm's expert analysis and commentary. I know this seems overly simple, but it is a valuable time saver for people interested in any topic, and possibly more so for busy, industrial professionals who prefer not to spend lots of time surfing the Web.
Next, get your audience members interacting with each other. Encouraging comments on your blog is a good start, but you'll also want to consider using a social network. You can very easily set up a Facebook fan page that acts as a repository for your filtering activities while giving your audience (customers and prospects) a simple way to share information and network among themselves.
For the more adventurous spirits, setting up a separate social network for a company or product is a very viable option. It can even be done for free at www.ning.com. (Please note that LinkedIn is a great social network in which you should have a company profile, but it does not allow for community building around a firm.)
Once the first two steps are complete, integrate your Web 2.0 work into the rest of your marcomm mix. For example, your blog should be publishing information that supports the efforts of your sales force. Your blog can highlight new uses for your product, problem-solution case studies, or information that pre-empts typical customer objections.
Likewise, salespeople should encourage people to subscribe to the firm's blog and participate in its social network. (It's OK to give them an incentive.) All advertisements should point prospects to the blog. Also, the blog and social network need to guide people to the Web site of any medium that is running a story about the company or its products.
All of this activity makes it look like your firm is showing up everywhere, and increases the touch points between your company, its customers and its prospects — and this is accomplished very inexpensively.
Clearly, this just scratches the surface. But if I leave you with only one thing, I hope you now want to start using out-of-control marketing to help you reach your sales and marketing goals.
Giannini is a consultant, author and an assistant professor and chair of the business, management, and economics department at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pa.