When it comes to reputation and brand equity, many small businesses and start-ups in the B2B space still think of media relations as the one stop solution. What’s more, even public relations agencies more often than not start with showcasing what they have done best since the turn of the century – network of editor friends, exhaustive media lists and most importantly “coverage”.
Sure, PR and reputation management have depended on traditional media relations, often wining and dining with editors to create positive word of mouth. As an independent, third party commentator, media is still a powerful tool to build reputation and equity in the market. But have you noticed how cluttered news has been lately?
What makes us think that amidst the bottomless pit of viral op-eds about billion-dollar funding and religion-based lynching, our news about the launch of a new app, a “cutting edge” server or consulting service is going to catch anyone’s eye? How many news consumers and decision-makers do you know who still consume news strictly on the basis of their business interests? Sensational headlines and clickbaits have been grabbing eyeballs for years now, and it is not about to get streamlined any time soon.
So, what can B2B brands do to build brand equity?
Marketing gurus defined “brand equity” more than two decades ago when marketing was a different, albeit a smaller animal. Internet and digital natives have changed the relationship customers have with brands. This has led to extreme consumerization of B2B marketing too. The best conversations and relationships now unfold on social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter. They get strengthened within circles of influence – decision-makers, analysts, commentators, and domain expert bloggers and micro-bloggers.
A brand’s online and social presence, its style and tone of voice, its engagement and the memorability of its content are the most significant assets that builds brand equity in the new age. More importantly, every experience matters, no matter how significant or small, because it gets permanently etched in the virtual space. If done well, social media can ensure a delightful journey for your customers, right through the process of discovery to loyalty. Let us see how.
Great content drives word of mouth
Brand communication for B2B is more consumerized, personalized, and fun than ever before. Even before web 2.0, word of mouth was central to how customers discovered brands, products, and services. It continues to be one of the most trusted forms of marketing. Today, great content on social media platforms make great brands.
If we were to draw parallels, IBM’s ‘Smart Cities’ campaign comes to mind. For the first time, the brand’s marketing outreach had so much talkability and these conversations went beyond niche technology. IBM opened the doors for consumerization of B2B marketing. They humanized the brand and ensured that customers saw a personality and a story they could relate with. What is amazing in our times is that you can achieve similar results without pumping resources into million-dollar ad space. All you need is great content because most of the word of mouth starts with a virtual version of “did you see that video ‘Brand A’ put out?”.
Not just brands, even TV shows and movies find cult following online. Game Of Thrones wouldn’t be such a significant part of pop culture if it weren’t for the social media commentary that preceded and followed each episode. Good content that results in conversation can increase trust and opinion about a brand even before purchase experience. This increases incidents of proactive discovery and ultimately, conversion. Think e-books and podcasts, blog posts and whitepapers, case studies and live demos to become memorable.
Word of mouth does not scream for attention but it is hard to ignore because it comes from within the customer’s circle of trust. Clearly, a content strategy that focuses on producing high quality, relatable, timely, and relevant content is a sure shot method to capture the attention of your brand’s target audience.
Positive conversations ensure that your customers like and remember you
Thanks to accessibility and consumerization of B2B marketing, even B2B buyers and decision makers relate with brands in almost the same way they relate with other humans. And what drives a relationship better than a good conversation?
What does a successful brand conversation look like? Digital and social marketing has moved on from buzz monitoring, and aptly so. Accessibility has ensured that while customers will discuss almost any part of their experience with the brand, negative experiences get the most mindshare. Enhancing the quality of social conversation with your audience starts with improving every aspect of your offering. So, brands need to focus on every touch point - customer service, product quality, packaging, point of sale experience, recruiting the right staff, good content and a website that your customers understand and want to spend time on.
Customer service and query resolution on social media are key areas to work on. Most customers do not appreciate robotic responses. They want to feel like they have been heard by a human being on the other end, and they especially appreciate it if the brand (or its social media executives) take the time to close the cycle with an accurate, timely solution or response. What follows is a way to monitor these conversations and use them as feedback to improve the experiences your customers have with your brand offline too. Customer service is moving from placating irked customers to adding value to the experience.
In a world, where transparency is central to the relationship customers have with brands, several aspects of business come together to lead marketing from the front. The positive and negative stories that result from your brand’s actions will ensure that customers make informed choices. Never before in the history of business and marketing have conversations been such a powerful tool to make or break reputations. These conversations emerge from more than just a Facebook post. Social intelligence is a great way to ensure that not just your social media team is on its toes but also, your entire business is clued in to what is being said about your brand. Positive conversations on social media must evolve into a goal shared across sales & marketing, business strategy, customer service and other teams.
Empower your circle of influence
Study your choice of influencers deeply, whether it is editors, analysts, or bloggers and social media celebrities. It is easy to become an influencer, all you need to do is be extremely consistent with social media updates. Make an effort to consistently read what and how potential influencers are talking about your domain. You want to choose people who truly understand the space and have authentic authority over the topic. This becomes even more crucial in the B2B space with its niche topics. Those with expertise are the ones whose influence will sustain the test of time. More importantly, help their authenticity shine through. Influencer and analyst relations are a cycle of trust – between the influencer and you and between the influencer and his or her followers. If your deal with your influencers makes them do things that appear off or unauthentic, both of you stand to lose the community’s trust.
One thing is certain. The transparent nature of brand and customer relationships today will ensure that brands are on their toes in more ways than one. Content may be the queen but customer remains the king. Your new-age audience is discreet and makes more informed choices than the generation before it. They hone brand relationships and want their personal values reflected in the brands they associate with. And all of this becomes easy to find out in the age of the open web. The sooner brands understand this and work towards it, the better it will be for their business.
Finally, save the media lists for news that has potential to stand out. You don’t need a third party to deliver every single message anymore. Your social media assets, your blog and your own content do the job much better.