Secrets of a B2B Marketer: The Convergent Media Landscape
By Cara Garretson
Marketing isn’t easy. Your target is out there, hiding among the trees and foliage in this overgrown forest in which we live. It’s about finding them. Catching them at the right moment and breaking into their consciousness. All the rules that apply in consumer marketing also apply in business-to-business marketing. But your job is harder. Your target markets tend to be more niche and more elusive.
B2B marketers today live in a significantly more fragmented world than existed even just ten years ago. There was a time when attending your industry tradeshow and placing a few ads in the leading trade publication was the cornerstone to your marketing plan. Both are still important today but the role they play has evolved. The below illustration depicts what we call the Convergent Media Landscape.
The three major categories of the marketing landscape, paid, owned and earned, used to exist independently of each other. They rarely touched, and the managers in charge of each area probably weren’t collaborating but rather simply coexisting under the same umbrella of the marketing department. The paid media plan was fairly straight-forward, likely consisting of print ads in trade publications. Your owned media was pretty much your brochure, or starting in the early 2000s, your company website. Your earned media was headed up by your PR Manager and was laser-focused on coverage in the same trade publications you paid to run your ads. At the time, this was strategically sound. Things are different now.
Tectonic shifts in marketing, technology and culture have caused these three categories of marketing to collide. From their collision new categories have emerged, all of which complement the three parent categories.
Let’s review this change in the landscape step by step and examine how it applies to the B2B world. The point at which earned and owned categories collided created something that has changed the way in which we communicate with each other in a big way—social media. Brands own their social presence, and control the information and content they share in that space. They earn the engagement and the communities that are built through the channel.
It’s easy for us to see how this convergence benefits consumer brands but many B2B marketers have yet to see its potential. Here’s the thing: we are all consumers, regardless of whether we’re deciding what car to buy or which firm to choose for my our project at hand. Additionally, we are all emotional beings who want to feel good about our final decisions. This is where relationship marketing comes in and where social media facilitates its success.
If you consider the customer acquisition continuum, the relationship your company has with its prospects and current customers is key to each stage.
No longer can your company be completely reliant on the sales team to foster this relationship. The brand itself should be building and complementing these relationships in the social space. I’m not suggesting that you go out and start a Facebook page. Maybe you should, if there are indicators that your current and prospective customers are on Facebook. Do some research and put some strategic thought behind the channels. Many B2B brands find LinkedIn to be central to their social strategy, some use Twitter. Regardless of the channel, make sure your presence offers engaging, educational and informational content that inspires conversation and engagement, and ultimately builds and strengthens relationships.
If this space overwhelms you, you aren’t alone. Whatever you do, don’t assign any part of your brand’s social media presence to your intern. The social space must be managed by someone who understands communications. After all, they are posting and engaging on behalf of the brand. Great responsibility lies therein. We find that many marketing professionals don’t have the bandwidth to properly maintain a social presence for their brand. It requires daily care to be effective. While your intern should not be given the keys, outsourcing is always an option. There are many firms, ours included, that have entire departments jam-packed with experts in the social media sphere that can assist here.
The paid and owned categories have collided and created a new channel that, lately, has turned into quite the buzzword: native advertising. With native advertising, your company creates and essentially owns the content but pays for its placement.
As described by the Internet Advertising Bureau, native advertising is a form of purchased media where the ads are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer simply feels that they belong.
The truth is, native isn’t new but it has evolved. Have you ever received an advertorial placement as added value to your print buy in that trade pub? Then you’re on the right track.
Paid and earned media converge over what we consider to be experiential marketing. Nothing builds trust and confidence in a brand more than a direct experience with the company. This category encompasses everything from tradeshows to events. The brand pays for the booth or event space but all attendance and interaction is earned.
Tradeshows are obviously nothing new to the B2B world. They’ve always been an important touch point and are often times central to lead generation. They still are, but the way in which your company should approach them has changed.
By providing an experience through your tradeshow booth you are not only standing out amongst a sea of people standing behind tables with cheap tablecloths. You are taking the first step to building a relationship with prospects. So how does a B2B brand do this?
Our agency was employed by International Paper to dream up such an experience for their brand at the HOW Design Conference, the biggest gathering of its kind in the world. The project generated a robot, one-of-a-kind artwork, a colossal social media swell and a bunch of designers who left the International Paper trade booth feeling inspired. This is the power of experiential media.
While this example focuses on a tradeshow, it could seamlessly apply to an event or any other place your prospects have the opportunity to physically experience your brand.
None of these convergent points eliminate the need for their parent categories but rather offer an expanded opportunity to market your company and services. Paid, owned and earned medias are as important today as they ever have been, but must be seamlessly integrated with the places at which they all overlap. Understanding this landscape will allow you to strategically position your company in the new media world.
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