The impact of social media marketing in the B2B environment
Achieving resilient brands
It is no secret that the path to purchase is complex. This complexity is multiplied by many factors, including vertical, circumstance and individual preference. We know this, yet so many brands struggle to understand what their customers want and how they make decisions across the entire buyer’s journey. Think about the last purchase you made. Your initial research was likely happening across multiple channels simultaneously. While shopping in-store, you may have pulled out your phone to search where else you could find this item and scanned reviews, all while scrolling between the brand’s social media feed and those of the latest influencers. That experience is not unique. Customers have unlimited ways to interact with a brand throughout the buyer’s journey and it’s a missed opportunity for brands not to get in front of them at every stage. With 83 per cent of CEOs looking to marketing as a growth engine for the business, marketers need to ensure they have a strategy that will contribute to growth today and into the future. Growth should be addressed through a balanced marketing strategy where top of the funnel brand building efforts and mid- and lower-funnel efforts are used together to unlock the full potential of a brand’s marketing investment.
Full funnel marketing
Most B2B buyers are not ready to buy today. In fact, research from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science at the University of South Australia found that only 5 per cent of B2B buyers are in the market today, while 95 per cent are not. When we think about it, it makes sense; complex B2B purchases, especially at the enterprise B2B level, do not follow the same sales cycle as a simple consumer purchase like toothpaste, for example. The goal of B2B marketing is to create mental availability for the brand and the product through category entry points (CEPs) which capture the thoughts that category buyers have as they transition into making a category purchase. This means that when the customers are ready to buy, certain brands will be top of mind. The brand that gets remembered or recalled is the brand that gets bought. A full funnel marketing approach ensures that demand capture is well balanced with demand creation. Having a strong understanding of our customers’ pains and gains is critical to developing a value proposition as well as positioning that will educate, guide and inspire. Brands that stay top of mind through the use of compelling creativity and telling powerful brand stories, are sure to get chosen when buyers are finally in market. Let’s not forget – the best search engine is the one in our own brains. Brands that skip this step and move to a transactional, tactical and “buy now” approach, will continuously see lower long-term ROI. The trend towards performance marketing, driven by the proliferation of attribution models, has grown, and for a good reason; it is relatively easy to measure the impressions and clicks of paid ads. Nevertheless, true demand creation, mental availability, and ultimate ownership of the CEP that your brand can create will never get measured by attribution models.
Airbnb is a great case study, demonstrating how to successfully shift from performance marketing with a short-term focus, to brand building. Airbnb’s CFO, Dave Stephenson, stated the following: “Before the pandemic, we shifted our marketing strategy to be more brand-driven and even less dependent on search engine marketing.” As a result, in 2021, net profit reached $55M versus a net loss of $3.9B over the same period in 2020. At the same time, overall sales and marketing expenses decreased 44 per cent year-over-year, reflecting continued reductions in performance marketing spend year-over-year. Now that’s marketing spend ROI.
The B2B buyer’s journey is different from its B2C counterpart. The journey is typically much longer due to multiple stakeholders being involved in decisions, plus there is often more money being spent as well as longer sales cycles.
In addition to more complex buyer journeys, B2B brands are typically working with smaller budgets. As a result, B2B brands tend to focus on the lower funnel marketing efforts in order to report on conversions and sales, all driven by a love for attribution and the ability to measure. But these plays only cover demand capture for a very small percentage of target buyers that are in the market at a particular point in time. Maximizing opportunities in demand capture gets very expensive as this is a highly competitive space, so media costs can easily eat up a lot more of the available budget. This means that B2B brands are missing out on the other 95 per cent of prospects that simply are not yet ready to make a decision.
For these reasons, it is increasingly important for B2B companies to take on a full funnel marketing approach.
What this means in the social realm
B2B marketing leaders often invest heavily in driving lower funnel conversion, but what they overlook is the emotive component of their brand – how it makes their customers feel. It’s no longer about B2B or even B2C, but rather business-to-human. It’s about focusing on the unique person on the other end of the ad, creating and nurturing authentic engagement, and earning your customers’ loyalty.
Over the last decade, the digital landscape has shifted dramatically. It's no longer just carousels or mid-roll or even programmatic. The most powerful impact to advertising today is active entertainment. When ads are entertaining, audiences don't just pay attention, they engage. Because of this, there is absolutely a role that social can play in any B2B marketing strategy.
According to IDC’s Social Buying Study, B2B buyers find the greatest benefit of social media is gaining greater confidence in and comfort with their decisions. In a world where everyone has endless options available to them, trust plays an integral role in driving decision-making. One way to earn trust is by providing value on social media and engaging with your target.
This is especially true during times of economic uncertainty. Building confidence and trust with B2B customers will earn a place as budgets are tightened in the short-term, and establish long-term equity with those same consumers to build a resilient brand for the decade beyond short-term economic headwinds.
Loyalty and advocacy are the hardest to earn, but this is where social platforms can supercharge building trust in target markets, driving impact and results across the entire purchase funnel. In fact, social media enables B2B brands to achieve three key benefits:
1. Building genuine relationships with your customers
By using a tone of voice that is authentic to your brand personality, you will build genuine rapport and engagement with your audience. Part of that conversation is being open to feedback, which demonstrates your commitment to honesty and transparency and reinforces your dedication to engage with your customers.
2. Showing your brand’s human side
The most successful B2B brands leverage social media to humanize themselves, by staying true to an authentic voice that is reflective of their mission, vision, and values. From there, it is about tapping into the cultural zeitgeist by engaging in relevant conversations with informative and entertaining creative.
3. Positioning your brand as a subject matter expert
Don’t just advertise, but create engaging content that positions your brand as the expert in your respective industry or field. Your B2B brand will drive the greatest impact by showing up in your customers’ consideration journey, not only at the point of conversion. This can often take the form of expert tips, tricks and tutorials; everything from how-to content to the best life hacks. There is no better place than social media to tell these stories.
Utilizing a comprehensive full funnel marketing strategy will allow B2B companies to effectively capture demand while simultaneously creating more demand. By understanding customer pains and gains, B2B brands can develop a value proposition that educates, guides and inspires potential buyers. Social media platforms play a vital role in this strategy by facilitating genuine customer relationships, humanizing the brand, and establishing it as a subject matter expert. Through generating engaging and informative content, B2B brands can position themselves throughout the customer's consideration journey, generating impact and influencing decisions. Ultimately, embracing a full funnel marketing approach and leveraging social media can drive growth, enhance customer loyalty, and establish a resilient brand in the B2B landscape.
Melissa Jung, Senior Global Leader, Sales Acceleration, Partner Managed Services, Cisco
Erinn Piller, Head of Business Marketing, TikTok
Dhaval Vediya, Director - Product Management, Personal Deposits, CIBC
Miki Velemirovich, Head of Product, Alexa Translations AI