The Changing Face of Social Media for Business in the B2C and B2B Space


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With the shorter buy-in cycle of consumer customers versus business clients, and the natural usage of social media by “everyday consumers”, the ratio of B2C (business-to-consumer) versus B2B (business-to-business) has traditionally been in B2C’s favour when it came to how companies could benefit from social media as part of their business arsenal. Not any more.

Two recent surveys not only highlight the diminishing notion that social media is better suited to B2C companies, but also how well B2B companies are adapting and competing with their B2C counterparts.

The B2B Integration of Digital and Traditional

The first report is from New York-based abm, or the Association of Business Information and Media Companies. The report – a whopping 425 pages long – was carried out between March and April of this year, with more than 6,600 respondents covering 11 markets, including agriculture, marketing, engineering, healthcare and more.

The goal of the report was simple – to identify what resources B2B companies use to identify/encourage buying signals in their market. The three main questions of the report were:

  1. Marketers, advertisers and sellers: How well do trade media help you reach customers?

  2. Users, readers, media consumers and event attendees: How much do trade media influence your buying decisions?

  3. B2B media professionals: How effective are you at bringing buyers and sellers together?

The results were illuminating. While traditional methods like print magazines, product info from the manufacturer and print newsletters were still leading the way, digital resources were equally important.

B2B resources for media

While websites play a huge role, and are equal in usage to the more traditional print magazine approach, it’s the implementation of digital or social media-led resources that catch the eye.

  • Digital magazines – 69%;
  • Mobile-optimized websites – 56%;
  • Social media – 54%;
  • Mobile apps – 51%.

For consultants an agencies pushing the line “social media doesn’t work in the B2B space”, this should act as a bit of a wake-up call.

Not only that, but when you look beyond just the current business use of social media and dig into how B2B sees resource use in the next 3-4 years, the picture becomes even clearer with regards the changing landscape.

Future of B2B media resources

The difference in where the B2B industry sees the market going from where it currently is now is striking.

  • Only 39% see print magazine usage as important, compared to today’s 96%;
  • Just 61% rate product information from the manufacturer, compared to 93% today;
  • Conferences and trade shows drop to 46%, compared to 80% today.

Meanwhile, social media, mobile-optimized websites and mobile apps remain steady in their importance. It’s a clear signal that the B2B space is moving beyond traditional thinking and into more integrated and agile solutions.

However, if the B2B space is showing an interesting trend upward, the B2C space is starting to show some serious wear and tear.

Senior B2C Marketers Know Less Than They Did Before

Marketing used to be so easy. Create a campaign, allocate a budget, blast a message out, (hopefully) see some traction, call it a success, rinse and repeat.

Deeper strategies and tactics weren’t needed, because the channels to view marketing messages were limited – print, TV, radio, billboards, and maybe some emails and telephone calls.

Of course, today it’s completely different. Not only do you still have all these channels, but now you have social networks, review sites, forums, game sites and more competing for your customer’s attention. Combine that with the reduced attention span of today’s connected consumer and the need for much better targeted marketing “just got real”.

The problem is, it doesn’t appear that marketers are keeping up, according to a new study from Yesmail Interactive and Gleanster. Also carried out between March and April this year, the two companies surveyed 100 senior B2C marketers representing brands with revenue between $10 million and $1 billion.

The results were just a little bit scary, although not too surprising.

B2C effective use of data

The main takeaways from the image show that while marketers believe they’re doing a good job of understanding their customers, the reality is a little further from the truth.

  • Marketers are still using reactive data to define customer knowledge – purchase history (67%), customer feedback (59%), and transactional/campaign response data (56% and 54% respectively);

  • Proactive data, such as likelihood to purchase (41%), online behaviour patterns (41%), social data (38%) and customer value scores (36%) is being severely underutilized, despite the fact it paints a far deeper picture of a brand’s customer base, existing and potentional.

By not using this data, the results are two-fold: the false belief that the business is meeting its customers’ needs, and resources being allocated to projects, products and services that are more likely to fail, due to non-relevance and non-market need.

Dig further into the report, and you can see this disparity become even more transparent.

B2C disparity of audience

As per the previous image, the senior marketers surveyed believe they’re doing a great job at understanding their customers based on historic purchases and interactions with the brand.

The problem is, this is just a small part of the bigger B2C picture, and that picture shows a much smaller understanding of the customer than the marketer believes.

  • Transactional data is still viewed as key, despite offering limited and dated insights;
  • A customer’s preferred channels to interact on are unknown;
  • There is no underlying understanding of when a customer is ready to buy;
  • The customer’s use of social media for decisions and actions is unknown;
  • How profitable offline customers are compared to offline ones.

These are just the basics – important basics, but basics nonetheless. If marketers are getting these wrong, then it’s disconcerting to picture what else they’re missing out on.

The blame for this lack of understanding? Limitations in marketing tools, poor data quality, and fragmented marketing systems. Sorry, but that’s bullshit.

No-One Said Success Was Easy

These excuses are the same ones that marketers used 10, 20, 50 years ago and more.

“We only have radio to market with”, “we only have TV and radio to market with”, “we don’t have audience insights from TV viewers”, “we have audience insights but they just represent a median percentage”.

And on, and on, and on. While there might have been some validation to that argument a few years back, today it’s anything but valid.

Today, technology – or Big Data, if we want to use the current buzz term – allows us to understand the minutest detail about our target audience.

  • We can understand the emotional triggers that make them take a specific action;
  • We can understand the emotions they feel when viewing a certain product;
  • We can target geolocated offers based on propensity to buy when in a certain neighbourhood;
  • We can identify who influences them to move along the purchase life cycle path at any given time;
  • We can identify cross-cultural opportunities and best practices to implement them;
  • And much, much more.

By using this data and more like it, and having the right people in place to both analyze and deconstruct, we can now target very small and specific buyer communities, allowing for more focused marketing and subsequent performance. This enables a richer understanding of success and failure, and future methods and relationship paths.

Simply put, it’s smarter marketing and where businesses need to start being now, as opposed to 12 months down the line. Does it take a lot of work? Yes, with a capital Y.

It takes employing people that understand the data beyond the data – emotions, human psyches, emotive terminology like sarcasm, and more. It means moving beyond the algorithms and blast radius marketing, and beginning with the customer at the heart of all you do, and working back from there.

It’s not easy, but it does deliver, and much more effectively than current transactional mindsets.

The B2B space is realizing this and catching up on the previously dominant B2C space. Who would have thought..?

The full B2B report from can be downloaded here. A shorter, PDF version can be downloaded here.

The B2C report from Yesmail Interactive and Gleanster can be downloaded here.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown is partner at Bonsai Interactive Marketing, a full service agency offering integrated, social media and mobile marketing solutions. He is also founder of the 12for12k Challenge, a social media-led charity initiative connecting globally and helping locally.


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