I was recently fortunate enough to have some of my thoughts featured in this excellent article on business-to-business marketing by Karen Webber of Axonn Media. I agree with her wholeheartedly that business-to-business is a really exciting space to be in at the moment; for me it has never been the “poor cousin” of business-to-consumer PR.
Our correspondence about this article covered the relationship between public relations, social and digital media, and set me thinking that these should not be seen as alternatives but, rather, should be used to amplify each other.
It also made me reflect that reports of the death of traditional media outlets (ie journalism) at the hand of social media have been somewhat premature.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that everyone is suddenly investing more weight in what the FT says and less in social media because of Donald Trump. However, over the past six-to-twelve months the general direction of discourse around media is no longer 100 per cent that, “The big monoliths are dying and in ten years’ time the only news outlets will be social.”
It has always been the case that business-to-business buyers have wanted the reassurance of “social proof.” Just think of the old adage, “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.”
This social proof may come from a word-of-mouth recommendation (best of all), but a good archive of features/quotes in authoritative media outlets will also help. Ironically, the weakest form of business-to-business social proof, particularly when dealing with a generation of decision makers in their 40s and 50s, is probably social media.
That assumes no prior acquaintance between vendor and purchaser, of course. Social media is really, really powerful in establishing “like” and “trust” among people who might meet once or twice in person and then follow each other on Twitter, LinkedIn etc. Social media is, at its heart, about sharing and nurturing relationships on a peer-to-peer basis, and I believe this is how brands can make best use of it.
It is also worth remembering that newspapers, magazines and their related websites now also use social media, and that articles in which you might feature will often by shared by them to their thousands upon thousands of followers. “Traditional” PR can, therefore, actually become a really powerful part of a brand’s social media presence.
Raising the decibel level
Not only is the “traditional” media once again becoming the most trusted source of news, it is also the most efficient way of getting your brand heard of by the largest number of people (especially among those who are over a certain age, who will still make up the majority of high-value business-to-business customers).
Professor Byron Sharp talks about how customers decide which brands to buy in chapter 12 of How Brands Grow (Oxford, 2010): “Most brands are effectively ignored, and sometimes no evaluation between brands takes place…. Being noticed and considered is often the biggest factor in why a brand is bought or not. Given how small buyers’ consideration sets are, a brand has more than a ‘sporting chance’ of being bought if it is noticed and considered. So, a brand’s sales are primarily determined by how many consideration sets it failed to enter.” (pp. 186-7).
Social media is like a pair of headphones – and headphones can be very useful in certain situations. But when it comes to brand awareness often what you really want is a wall of Marshalls!
Pic: David Ballesteros