Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Logo is Not a Brand: B2B Marketing and Social Media

I’ve been part of the Online Marketing Summit (OMS) tour this summer, and it has given me a great chance to interact with a lot of marketers about the challenges they are facing. One recurring topic, as you would expect, is social media and the role it plays in marketing and sales. A common focus has been on the potential for using social media for demand generation and direct connection with sales. I would argue instead, that social media is best thought of in the context of an organization’s brand.

Wikipedia defines “brand” as “A brand is a collection of experiences and associations connected with a service, a person or any other entity.” Other definitions exist, but the concept of a brand being the associations that we have with our overall experience of a service or entity is common to most of them.

B2B Marketing has always had an interesting relationship with the concept of “brand”. Perhaps dominated by impressions of what it means to be a strong brand that came from the consumer space, we’ve been hesitant to think that brand plays a strong role in B2B purchases. However, I would argue that the opposite may be true. Each aspect of a buying decision in a B2B purchase cycle is heavily influenced by reputation, and hence brand.

The following questions, which your prospects may be asking themselves, represent various perceptions (or misperceptions) of your brand:

- What companies have solutions to this problem?
- Which solution provider has better service?
- Which product is best in my industry or for my company size?
- Which product is the “cheap and cheerful” of the industry? Which is “robust and full-featured”?
- Which product is the most or least expensive?
- What are the key factors in deciding on a solution to this problem?
- Which company is going to be innovating more as we move forward?
- Which solution is more reliable? More stable? More scalable?

Although each of these decision aspects can be researched independently, more often than not, we all rely on general industry reputations to provide us with at least a good sense of the answer. I have spoken with many marketers who are frustrated by situations in which the general reputation they have in the industry on certain questions, such as the above, does not match with reality. This, in many ways, is a brand question.

Social media has one of the best opportunities to influence this brand reputation of any marketing approach I have seen in recent years. Each discussion in social media that concerns these questions is an opportunity to adjust the brand perception of your solutions. If you have a reputation for being the expensive provider in the industry, but in fact have a very competitively priced entry product, you have an opportunity to correct that misperception. If you have a reputation for poor service, addressing each individual with a complaint, as Frank Eliason did with ComcastCares on Twitter, allows you to reverse that reputation. If decisions are being made that overlook key factors that lead to success, you have an opportunity to educate the market one conversation at a time.

A good framework for thinking about these challenges is provided by looking at the challenges that buyers face in a buying process. Each challenge, whether it is a Flying Car, Wallflower, or Red-headed Stepchild challenge can be addressed by looking at the reasons potential buyers choose not to include your organization at each stage. Social media provides an excellent means to address each of these challenges.

The rise of social media has given us B2B marketers a unique opportunity to address and improve their organization’s brand in the marketplace. However, to do so, we need to think of brand beyond the logo. The entire experience, from market education through purchase to service quality and the customer experience affect our brand.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
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Unknown said...

The challenge with "brand" is that it is associated with the push marketing campaigns that have their own reputation of being costly and inefficient.

Reputation is what drives a brand in the 21st century buyer-broadcast view, not the size of the marketing budget. Buyers through their reviews and opinions became co-branding agents based on the company's performance reputation. In other words, it shifted from brand promise from the company to performance reputation from the crowd.

Organizations need to embrace these conversations with both ears and help buyers decide on real solutions through authenticity.