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The Art of Conversation: Social Media for B2B Communications

“Markets are conversations.”  –The Cluetrain Manifesto

Facebook has more than 800 million users.Twitter has 200 million users.  Google+ just hit the 50 million user mark, making it the fastest growing website ever. Moms and Millennials, Boomers and Tweens – everybody’s texting, tweeting, posting and blogging via desktops, laptops and mobile devices. And brands are falling all over themselves in the mad dash to reach consumers via social networks and join the conversation. But what about business-to-business communications? How are companies talking to each other?

In the B2B arena, the conversation is decidedly different. While B2B buyers have very high social participation, their primary goal in the social media space is to establish themselves as subject matter experts and then build relationships for future lead generation. Social media is based on relationships. Relationships help make B2B buying decisions. Word of mouth, whether online or offline, is still the most effective means of advertising. Particularly in the corporate world, personal endorsements and referrals validate business decisions.

As Ford CMO James Farley famously said, “You can’t just say it. You have to get other people to say it to each other.”

A primary concern of relationship marketers is migrating interactions to a lower-cost communications channel. That’s what makes social media so appealing: the prospect of building an audience of pre-qualified brand advocates on an owned media channel with minimal cost. The undisputed social media channel for B2B communication is LinkedIn.

Eighty percent of companies use LinkedIn for recruitment. Talking shop is expected on this platform, which boasts an advanced search option that allows users to sort by region, business category and other specifics. Setting up a company profile, establishing industry groups and encouraging employees to create personal profiles and “connect” with colleagues are all ways to build meaningful B2B relationships. LinkedIn is an online Rotary Club. It’s digital word of mouth.

According to Christine Moorman, senior professor of business administration at The Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, while marketers, in general, expect to increase social media spending over the next five years, B2B product sector companies anticipate lower budgets going forward. Moorman hypothesized that CMOs don’t believe social media activities are appropriately integrated into their companies’ overall marketing strategies. In other words, there’s an urgency to utilize social media tools, even without a comprehensive plan in place.

“Firms are in a period of experimentation and observation about social media. Like television advertising in the 1950s, this period will define winners and losers of this generation’s firms,” Moorman said.

So whether your goal is lead generation, networking, brand management or establishing your company as the thought leader in your field, social media is where it all happens. While the physical handshake and business card exchange haven’t gone away, they are increasingly a precursor to or follow up after a digital dialogue. Get used to it.

“Transparency and conversation are to the Web 2.0 culture what ‘productivity’ and ‘innovation’ are to corporate culture.” – SAP

Slow down and think about it. Incorporate social media into a holistic, integrated marketing plan.  Don’t put tactics before strategies. B2B marketing traditionally lags B2C marketing in terms of innovation, so learn from other people’s mistakes and formulate a well-thought out approach to social media communications.

Things have changed.” – Bob Dylan

Indeed.

*This post is used with permission. The original blog can be viewed at talkstreetsmart.com

Angel Martinez discusses marketing to the Hispanic community at KAMA September 14th luncheon

We have officially kicked off the KAMA 2011-2012 season, and we started off with a bang! The featured speaker at our September 14th luncheon, Angel Martinez, was not only interesting, knowledgeable, and full of great ideas, he was entertaining and engaging as well. Before he could begin his presentation, he said he needed to get his “prop.” The “prop” turned out to be a beautiful black cowboy hat he perched atop his head. Combine that with his authentic bolo tie, and we all knew we were dealing with a true Texan.

Angel is a fifth generation Texan from the small town of Brownsville, TX which is about 98% Hispanic. The importance of this distinction came to light a bit later in the presentation, but he was pointing out that he is one of the 16 million “assimilated” Hispanics of the 50.5 million total comprising the largest minority of the current US population. Insightfully delivered, Angel grouped Hispanics into 3 segments: fully assimilated, bi-assimilated, and unassimilated. When considering marketing to a Hispanic community, age, gender, education, and English language fluency are not important. Their level of “sophistication” or experience with a product is more important. Meaning, if one has seen, used, experienced a particular product previously, when a new line, flavor, version comes to market, Hispanics are more likely to engage with that product over one they haven’t seen. He or she may not be educated or speak English extremely well, but he or she has experience and buying power based on that fact alone.

The “wow factor” of Angel’s presentation hit hard when he started firing off census data regarding the Hispanic population in the US. Currently 50.5 million over last year’s number of 35 million. Hispanics count for more than ½ of the nation’s growth over last year. For a more local view, currently there are 290,000 Hispanics in the state of Tennessee. In Knoxville, the number has tripled in the last year from about 2,700 to over 8,200. It is a trend that we all certainly can’t ignore.

Hispanics, like any group of people or culture, have their own way they liked to be marketed to or “loved on” as Angel put it. They are a very faith-based community that heavily responds to messages of hope and courage in marketing campaigns. Their communities are family centered and matriarchal in nature where women often make the household or buying decisions. In much contrast to the norms of US where mixing business with religion is shied away from, to the Hispanic community it is viewed holistically to the point that religion should be included in business decisions. There must be a symbiotic relationship between the two. Doing business without realizing how it will affect people and communities isn’t good, but you also can’t be all about purpose alone. To paraphrase Angel, “You can’t put ‘purpose’ in an envelope to pay your mortgage.” There has to be a good balance.

Angel closed his presentation with some very inspiring quotes, one of which I will leave with you which was said to have been spoken by Ghandi’s son.

“The US should be a really good salad. Let the tomato be the tomato. The cucumber be the cucumber. The lettuce be the lettuce. Then they all come together to make one really good salad.”

SHIFT Happens

It’s 2011. We’re three years into this economic slowdown and now the Fed is telling us to bunker down until mid-2013. With deficit ceilings being raised, US credit being downgraded, and the Dow Jones Average convulsing on a daily basis, we have to admit our business environment is challenging to say the least. Heck, its downright hard to get a new customer these days. What marketing has any measurable effectiveness anymore? It seems like we keep doing more of it with less resources and fewer returns.

At the Knoxville American Marketing Association, we’re not doing business as usual and neither are you. We’ve been working hard to keep our costs level while cutting other costs and not raising the prices of our luncheons or special events. With that in mind, we will be featuring a wide range of speakers this year and challenging them to answer the following questions and more:

  • How has your business or marketing department changed over the past few years to adapt to new economic times?
  • What kinds of marketing used to work in the past but doesn’t work now?
  • What is working now? How did you figure it out? What mistakes did you make?
  • From your vantage point, what does the future look like in the next 3 to 5 years and beyond?
What topics are you interested in and what questions do you want to ask? Please let us know by leaving your comments below.

QR Code vs Microsoft Tag

Ah! Another format war. I love it!!! That is, when I pick the right format early on. In the late 70′s when I was a kid, I remember my Dad coming home with an amazing contraption known as the Video Tape Recorder. It was a Sony Betamax and I felt so superior to all my friends whose parents purchased a lower quality VHS. Well, that was short lived. Then came the Mac in 1984. Short of Apple’s recent amazing comeback, it would seem I was stuck with the wrong format again. Thank goodness I picked Blu-ray over… er, I can’t even remember what the other HD format was called.

Picking the right format is a big deal in business because you can invest a ton of time and money into something that, if your pick flops, leaves you holding the bag as they say. Clients have been posing a new question to us recently: which of the new bar code technologies should we pick? On one hand you have the QR Code. QR is short for “quick response.” On the other hand you have Microsoft’s Tag technology. Both enable people with smart phones to read these codes, which will then load additional information regarding a piece of real estate, golf swing, product, or whatever else is being advertised.

 

A little history…

While QR Codes and Tags are pretty cool and each do about the same thing as the other, it is not a new concept. Back around the year 2000 (fire up the way-back machine!) Wired magazine sent what was known as a :CueCat bar code scanner to every single subscriber. Subscribers could then attach the device to their computer via USB and scan special bar codes that appeared on advertisements, which would then load specialized web pages with more info. In fact, you can stillbuy a :CueCat at Amazon right now. I won’t go into the entire story but the thing was a miserable flop. It seemed rather cumbersome to me. So, what’s the difference now? Smart phones! So much easier. No wires and no special scanner to deal with. Nice.

QR Codes have been around since 1994 and were invented by DENSO to track auto parts. Some people think QR Codes are “open source” which really isn’t the case. While generating and using QR Codes is free, DENSO owns the patent but chooses not to enforce it. Also, DENSO owns the trademark on the term “QR Code.” For the entire skinny on the subject, visit DENSO’s QR Code website.

Microsoft’s Tag has been around since at least 2007 and is a proprietary technology. In other words, when you choose to use it, you wed your company to Microsoft in addition to the technology itself. Sound familiar? While creating and using Microsoft Tags is currently free, there is no guarantee they will continue to offer the service in the future. Below is a quote from the terms of use agreement.

We will use commercially reasonable efforts to (a) make the Basic Features available until at least January 1, 2015; (b) provide at least two years prior notice before we terminate the Basic Features or the entire Service; and (c) provide the Basic Features as part of the Service for as long as we operate the Service generally. In addition, we will never require a fee to use the Basic Features as part of the Service for as long as we operate the Service generally.

Who is using QR Codes?

  • National Association of Realtors
  • Ralph Lauren
  • Home Depot
  • Best Buy
  • HBO
  • Pepsi
  • Calvin Klein
  • Tissot
  • TomTom
  • Dunlop Sports
  • And many, many more

Who is using Microsoft Tag?

  • Ford Motor Company
  • Porsche
  • Dell Computers
  • Golf Magazine
  • Volvo
  • Acura
  • Callaway
  • Razor Scooters
  • Justin Bieber
  • Hearst Publishing including CosmopolitanRedbookMarie ClaireSeventeenOGood Housekeeping, and Harper’s Bazaar
  • And many, many more

The Verdict

While QR Codes don’t have any licensing restrictions, Microsoft’s Tag service has an easy-to-use tracking interface that is currently free. QR Codes seem to be more popular with real estate agents and retail while Tags are more popular with automotive and publishing. It seems to me that the technologies are neck-and-neck and neither seems to be on the wane. However, I’m not going to wimp out and say it’s a tie. I believe QR Codes will win the format war eventually because the lack of licensing restrictions lends itself to more innovation by developers and advertisers. Additionally, you’ll see QR Code scanners embedded as a default part of the operating systems on iPhones and Androids. Apple and Google certainly won’t support their arch enemy’s Tag format. So, unless everyone dumps the most popular phones on the planet and switches to Microsoft Phone 7, QR Codes are going to win.

Tell Bill Gates I said so.

This article was originally posted on the In10sity Blog and is used with permission.


Get Your Game On: Social Media’s Playful Side

Social media’s playful side

In sharp contrast to the stereotypical social misfit in the basement playing video games, is the new breed of online gamer, socializing with a network of friends while simultaneously interacting with a myriad of playable gaming platforms. While the two areas converge, it’s interesting to think where they’ll meet. Social networks become more game-oriented likeFoursquare and Farmville, while traditional console and PC games become more social with features like the Xbox dashboard and Playstation network.

Social media gaming has come of age, bursting out of its awkward adolescence into a full-grown multi-platform, integrated beast with apps for FacebookTwitter and Microsoft’s Last.fm, an online streaming service that allows users to create customized music stations.  Social media gaming gives players the opportunity to consume content as a shared experience, using social leaderboards and messages to feed the fire and keep players engaged.

Consuming digital content together is not an epiphany – people have been gaming as teams online since the multiplayer platform was popularized by Quake in 1996. In 2010 Microsoft took shared gaming to the next level by streaming live TV on Xbox Live, allowing viewers to throw impromptu virtual parties and talk to each other via voice, instant message, and on-screen avatar gestures while watching the show together. Facebook boasts the largest online social network with 600 million users, but Microsoft owns the largest TV social network with over 20 million subscribers.

Social gaming is big business

Virtual goods are driving the monetization of digital gaming platforms. These virtual products exist only online — think avatar accessories and in-game power boosts that optimize the game experience — but players spend real money to acquire them. This downloadable content (DLC) includes everything from new maps in Call of Duty: Black Ops, to new character costumes in Street Fighter IV, to a Lionheart sword in World of Warcraft. In fact, according to PlaySpan, virtual goods account for over 90% of all revenue generated by the world’s top social game developers.

Sponsorships via in-game advertising are gaining traction with premium brands. The Tombras Group has designed game-placement ads for national clients such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “Click It or Ticket” seatbelt campaign. The name of the game is engagement. Sponsored content via strategically placed in-game ads creates a more realistic gaming experience – no Acme anvils like in the old Roadrunner cartoons. That means when tearing up the streets in Need For Speed: Shift, gamers see real billboards for real companies, which not only gets a message to a target audience, but helps to legitimize the game by offering robust, real-world content.

Another example of branding the gaming experience is the fresh promotion for the upcoming Green Lantern movie that incorporates an augmented reality motion-capture video game to promote the “got milk” campaign. Mashable reports that the game interface uses a standard webcam to ask prospective Green Lanterns to perform three feats to see if they’ve got what it takes to be superhero beacons of justice.  The app went live Tuesday at lanternworthy.com.

It’s not just for kids anymore

Social gaming spans demographics from teenagers playing Call of Duty on gaming consoles to grandparents playing Mafia Wars and Farmville on Facebook feeds. 50% of Facebook gamers are over 25, with women outnumbering men, 56% to 44%, reports Social Game Summit. According to MGM Games, 40% of casual gamers are college grads, 25% are professionals and 55% have a household income of $50,000 or more.

The continued success of social media gaming is linked to the symbiotic partnerships between developers and platforms like Facebook, that provide a pre-qualified, eager audience of players. Because social media is about building community and fostering relationships, social media gaming has evolved from an anti-social behavior to a, well, social behavior. And brands are taking notice. The only question left is where will social gamification meet gaming socialization?

This post is used with permission. The original blog can be viewed at talkstreetsmart.com

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