Based on the thinking from Part I, the next level is to start defining generic strategies for common situations. Every situation is unique, but it’s useful to segment along two principal dimensions—The Buyer axis (B2B v B2C) and the Competitive Positioning axis (Incumbent v Attacker). Each one of these characteristics has reasonably consistent challenges and no-risk moves that can and should be taken.
A reminder of the context.
- 99% of purchases of complex goods and services begin with a Google search
- The number of messages buyers are exposed to has increased astronomically, yet effectiveness has declined.
- Buyers trust recommendations from friends the most, then recommendations from strangers, then websites, and least of all ads
- Brands are now competing with messages from personal friends, non-profits, et al for buyer’s attention
- A noisy market demands more discipline about segment focus, message execution, and distribution
Segments and Issues
- B2B Brands: Increase RelevanceMost B2B brands are built on rational benefits—features, specifications, and ROI. That is a necessary but not sufficient component of building brands on social media. With increased competition in the Newsfeed or Twitter stream from other brands, many of whom are not even B2B, the principal issue is to increase the brand’s relevance.
- Deepen Emotional Benefits. This means getting crisper about functional benefits but leveraging a deeper understanding of the other value you can offer the buyer. Not just functional benefits and business outcomes, but Professional benefits, Social benefits, Emotional Benefits and Self-Image benefits. Particularly if you are asking a buyer to forward (or endorse) your materials. How can you make the buyer look good by passing on your messages?
- Emphasize Risk Reduction. Particularly effective is leveraging the heightened risk that B2B buyers feel. A B2C purchase gone wrong is inconvenient. A B2B purchase gone wrong can be a career-limiting move. You don’t want to be alarmist, but you can reemphasize the safety and security of buying your brand.
- Avoid mediocre ”Thought Leadership.” Thought Leadership is an expression that has lost its meaning. The content that most companies are calling thought leadership contains little thought and little leadership. If you are a smart-people company like McKinsey or Goldman Sachs, it may be a viable strategy, but for most B2B companies, it’s more effective to (a) show a deep understanding of how your business works today, (b) be aware of how it may change in the future, and (c) how that will affect the buyers. You don’t need to offer philosophy, futurism, or TED talks (and the TED brand is showing signs of weakness anyway.)
(Read this study from CEB—it’s got very useful stuff on emotion in B2B.
2. B2C: Deepen the emotional connection
The nature of B2C brands is that they are more about simple human emotion than complex rationality. (There’s a reason Pampers puts a picture of a baby on the box.) No one is going to read a white paper about your frozen dinners. In an increasingly competitive marketplace for brands and emotions, B2C brands need to own one word.
- Emphasize Emotion. As the number of messages increases, and the market gets increasingly noisy, marketers will rely more on emotional messaging. That means that unless your brand uses emotion effectively now, it’s going to get drowned out.
- Make your sharers look good. Further, effective B2C social media content conveys social capital on those who share it. Give people a reason to share it. Look at masters like George Takei, who convinces hundreds of thousands of people to share his (outsourced) content every day. Buzzfeed and Upworthy have also developed new forms of ultra-shareable content. Not every brand needs to become a content factory, but these are the brands you compete with for airtime. The first work is now being done on the science of sharing content, and it’s almost entirely driven by emotions—specifically Curiosity, Amazement, Interest, Astonishment, and Uncertainty. Is that surprising? Of course not. But your brand needs to develop skills at developing messages that evoke those emotions. Welcome to Show Business. Excellent storytelling skills will be table stakes in this new era.
- Experiment with New Forms. B2C brands also need to explore new forms—Lowe’s has done great work with Vine (its Fix in Six has a great point of view), Pinterest in driving more ecommerce than any other site, and new platforms are constantly emerging. No brands have really cracked Snapchat yet, but several are already there.
3. Incumbent Brands: Maintain audience, Deepen emotion
For incumbent brands, the principal challenge is to maintain audience. The new forms allow attacker brands to disrupt existing brand relationships. Pre-existing marketing skills around Television, PPC, or SEO are not irrelevant, but the new forms demand a new set of skills.
- Maintain and Grow audience. This means being a fast follower on social media. It’s not absolutely necessary for the incumbent to be the pioneer in social media, but it can’t fall too far behind. (Home Depot can’t catch up on Vine—Lowe’s Fix in Six has too much of a head start—but it can differentiate on another platform, probably with content focused on contractors. Maybe in Spanish.) This also means linking up your social media profiles so that if you capture a buyer anywhere, it is easy to find your other content on other platforms.
- Reinforce emotion. Whatever emotion the incumbent owns needs to be deepened and sharpened. In B2C it may be oriented around surprise or self-actualization. In B2B it may be around trust. But as the emotional landscape grows more competitive, incumbents need to dig in and protect their position with buyers.
- Maintain segment integrity. P&G’s Moms campaign around the Olympics was emotionally powerful, but will not translate into strong bonds with buyers. I have no relationship with P&G. I have a strong, long-standing relationship with Tide. A master brand strategy may work in social media if that strategy is already in place (e.g., Intel). For a portfolio company like P&G, it’s hard to generate that connection to the parent holding company. (Look at Kering and other how luxury goods holding companies feature the portfolio brands.
4. Attacker Brands: Experiment aggressively, own an emotion
Attacker brands have a great opportunity to become newly relevant with new forms of media. Look how Dollar Shave Club positioned itself via social media vs what Gillette has done. (3 Million views in a week.) Particularly if the incumbent is slow to embrace social media, attackers can win a lot by moving quickly. In attacker brand always has to overcome the burden of not being trusted yet. Social media offers the attacker brand a way to have the buyer’s friends validate the choice.
- Focus on Shareability. We know that people trust what their friends recommend more than advertising. There’s no stronger source of trust than the recommendation of friends. When Dollar Shave Club gets people to share their video, the person sharing is implicitly endorsing the product. That is much more powerful than a banner ad.
- Own an emotion. The focus on shareability implies owning an emotion—that’s what makes content get shared.
- Grow the audience. Particularly for new entrants, it may make sense to pay for promotion on Facebook and Twitter. Social media is very much about thresholds, and until the brand achieves critical mass, it won’t have much impact on the market.
- Try new forms. The cost of experimentation is low, and attackers need to be perceived as more forward-thinking than the incumbent. That doesn’t mean insurance companies need to use Snapchat, but it does mean that the attacker can’t be perceived as less relevant than the incumbent.
These 4 categories obviously combine into 4 sets of recommended actions for brands that fit in each box—Incumbents in B2C need to follow recommendations for both incumbents and B2C.
It goes without saying that every brand is unique, but this new competitive era does offer a few low-risk moves that will help brands at all levels help deepen their relationship with buyers.
Your comments are very welcome.
Photo Credit: Flickr
Adrian Blake has worked with Saturday Night Live, McKinsey & Co., and The Progressive Farmer and is a founder of a Social Media agency.
Adrian Blake. Strategy. Social Media.