First of all: the marketing concept did not change
A marketer today still has the same goals as 20 years ago, and that is stimulating demand for a particular product across a particular market using a combination of the four P’s: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. We usually start with developing a solution for a market, which is our product. Then, we determine the value proposition, positioning in the market, the brand equity and a competitor analysis. These core-marketing concepts have not or barely changed because of the internet.
What HAS changed is the way we reach our customers when promoting or selling our products. In the 1980’s a B2B marketer could only promote its company and products through traditional channels like sales people, printing brochures, writing letters, an occasional advertisement and being present on tradeshows. Today we also promote our company and products through more digital channels on the internet like website, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, industry forums, etc.
So more communication channels mean additional promotion possibilities?
The Bowling game approach vs. Pinball game approach
It is not that simple. Digital channels on the internet have changed the interaction between our company and the customer. In the past, marketers used the bowling game approach when reaching and influencing customers, literally bombarding customers with messages without expecting a response. It was a one-way communication and we were not that bothered about individual thoughts that our (potential) customers might have.
Nowadays on the internet, it becomes easier for customers to interact with each other, write reviews and compare products. You can compare it with a chaotic and interactive game of pinball. Customers online can bump, bounce and kick your message around and change the speed or direction. Instead of a linear and one-directional bowling game approach, we have to deal with a multi-directional and even chaotic pinball approach.
Challenges: Shift of power balance
With increased interconnectivity and active participation of our customers and other stakeholders, it is harder for companies to “control” the messages they convey to the market. The meaning of their original messages can also be twisted or intensified by the audience and at a much faster pace than in reality. Furthermore, these messages are visible and accessible to a bigger scale of (potential) customers. That is why digital channels are harder to manage than traditional channels.
Our customers’ behavior have changed as well. By having quicker access to more available information and more transparency, customers tend to be influenced by not only our company’s messages, but also chose to seek information with other parties and customers. Our power to influence them has weakened and we should increase our efforts to gain customer trust and loyalty.
These consequences are unanticipated by marketers in B2B. With audiences asking for more participatory, sincere (time-consuming) and less direct marketing styles we cannot stick to only “providing information” as we did in the past but instead focus on “participating in creating a collective meaning”
Opportunities: measurement and outlet for creativity
There is no doubt that the increased customer interaction and user generated content online is important to us. We want to know how affiliated our customers are with the company and our products, what exactly matters to them and how we can improve our services and solutions. The big advantage of digital communication is that we can track their behavior online more precisely and on a bigger scale through clicks, views, forwards, call to actions, etc.
A B2B company should not ignore the digital promotion landscape. It is the place where our customers hang out and spend their time. It is up to us to get to know our customer better and to be creative, make sure that we are present online and lead the dialogue where needed. As our customers are more actively researching solutions for their needs, we should give them a nice user experience online. We can do this by making information or even our products and services more accessible and convenient online. In the end, this user experience will play a role in their decision-making whether to work with us or not.
Many B2B companies now use the digital media channels rather as a supporting channel in addition to their traditional media channels, mostly creating brand awareness or enhancing brand image. However, I believe that we could generate lead generations and enhance sales through digital channels. We can do this by working out a sound analytical marketing concept and strategy.
This is the first blog post to the series of “The blog – Asian Tiger”. Stay tuned for more interesting Online Marketing Principles blog posts!