I am probably one of the few individuals who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and only heads to Los Angeles during Forrester's annual Marketing Leadership Forum. I recently had the opportunity to visit Los Angeles for the second time and, just like last year, did not venture too far from my hotel. I have yet to experience the true LA "scene" or even get a glimpse of an actor, musician or sports star! But the highlight of my annual trip to LA is having the opportunity to completely immerse myself in various discussions with fellow marketers (yes, I still consider myself a marketer at heart!). Who needs to see Ozzy Osbourne'sJessica Simpson's mansion in Beverly Hills when I get to mingle with the real "stars" who are the clients, attendees, vendors and Forrester employees who participate in the Marketing Leadership Forum with such passion?
Recently we described an idea called the database of affinity: A catalogue of people’s tastes and preferences collected by observing their social behaviors on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Why are we so excited about this idea? Because if Facebook or Twitter or some other company can effectively harness the data from all the likes and shares and votes and reviews they record, they could bring untold rigor, discipline, and success to brand advertising.
But exploiting the database of affinity won’t be easy. Any company hoping to turn affinity data into something marketers can use will need three things:
Lots of affinity data from lots of sources. The raw data required to build a functional database of affinity doesn’t live in just one place. Facebook controls the most "like" data, recording more than 80 billion per month at last check. But Twitter records more "talking" than anyone else (1.5 billion tweets per month); Amazon collects the most reviews (well over 6 million per month); and Google’s YouTube and Google Display Network have data on how a billion people prefer to spend their time.
The ability to bring meaning to that data. It’s easy to draw simple conclusions from affinity data: If you ‘like’ snowboarding you might like to see an ad for energy drinks. But the real value in affinity data won’t be unlocked until we can find hidden combinations of affinity that work for marketing. That’ll require technologies and teams that can do some serious data analysis — as well as a real-time feedback loop to determine whether people really are interested in the ads targeted to them based on such complex assumptions.
. . . Ok, maybe not so "live" because it is now late in the evening on the day of the conference, but I'd like to share a few insights I gathered about the state of business-to-business (B2B) digital marketing today.
BtoB magazine's one-day event features frank conversational discussion from top B2B brands (mostly tech ones like Cisco Systems, Intel, SAP, VMware, Tellabs, and IBM) in moderated panel format. Digital lead generation/pipeline augmentation, social selling, agency trends, building B2B community, developing engaging content, and mobile marketing filled out the agenda.
This was my second year at the event, and the highlight again was the social media awards. Featuring 10 categories ranging from integrated campaign, to Twitter, mobile, and Pinterest, BtoB singles out top performers in social marketing. It also unveils tech and nontech people's-choice awards as voted on by subscribers.
You can find the full list here, and I hope BtoB will publish the scripted descriptions in a future edition because all honorees were interesting and unique and offer B2B marketers a look into how to use social to advance business. Heartfelt congratulations to all award winners — well deserved!
Looking over the list, here are a few observations you can take away about the state of social marketing in B2B:
Your perpetually-connected customers are seeking information from a much broader range of sources than ever before. If you just work with the same traditional influencers you have for years — industry analysts and mainstream media — your message risks getting lost in a sea of noise. Instead, leading marketers are identifying key online influencers for their products and marketing to them specifically. These influencers are highly specific, and are not the same for any two products or solutions, or even two different audiences of a single product.
The value of reaching out to a non-traditional list of influencers was illustrated this week by Microsoft’s marketing campaign for the new Surface Pro.
Mike “Gabe” Krahulik is the author of the long-running Penny Arcade, a popular webcomic about video game culture. He said on Twitter he was “interested in the Surface Pro,” and due to the target audience and popularity of his comic, Microsoft sent him a demo unit. Gabe’s not a technology journalist; he’s not an industry analyst; he’s just someone with a passionate and tech-savvy following — a following which includes perpetually-connected customers who influence technology purchasing.
What happened next? Gabe wrote a full-length, relatively positive, review of the Surface Pro and its applications for media professionals that was not only read by his audience, but became a top link on TechMeme, a tech news aggregator.
Two of the most common questions we receive from marketers are “How do I know if it’s worth having a community?” and “How can I prove to my executives that my community is worth their investment?” To get the initial funding and keep support coming for an owner community — one which you operate and fully brand on your own website — you must be able to clearly measure and communicate the value up to your CMO and CFO. That means capturing the effect it will have on your company’s profitability as a part of your overall marketing investments.
As a part of a new research report I just published today with Shaheen Parks, we built upon Forrester’s Total Economic Impact™ (TEI) methodology to provide you with a reference framework to estimate the ROI of your community.
We suggest that you focus on these three qualitative benefits, which form the core of our framework:
New lead generation: How many new leads or prospects come to your company each year because of your community, multiplied by your average deal size and overall lead close rate.
Increase in lead close or conversion rate: The effect your community has on your overall lead close rate, multiplied by your average deal size.
Deflection of support calls: How many potential support calls get answered by the community, multiplied by your average cost per call.
My Facebook account is now part of the beta group for Facebook Graph Search, and I’ve spent some time taking it for a spin.
It’s clear this will be a powerful feature, but as Nate Elliott has already blogged, it feels like something Facebook should have built some time ago. What I predict to be the most common searches, such as “which of my friends live in London” or “people my friends are friends with who work at Ford Motors,” are powerful, but basic, features that users have been requesting for a long time. The first rollout will also be missing obvious road map features, including the ability to search for links and status updates that you or your graph have posted.
The success of any individual Graph Search reflects what data (and activities) users directly provide Facebook, and today, many of the online activities that Graph Search encompasses take place on other social properties. Facebook often facilitates the social graphs of the other social properties with Facebook Connect, but Graph Search cannot “see” into that data. The average Facebook “like” is also less meaningful than Facebook's development team hopes, as others have also blogged.
Don’t link to your Facebook brand page from your B2B corporate home page just to show your CMO you know what Facebook is.
Forrester has long-viewed our POST — people, objectives, strategy, and tools/technology, in that order — methodology as a primary tool for social marketers to use when developing a social strategy. This requires thinking about your audience and their social behaviors first (people), then your business objectives that you are using social to meet, then what your strategy should be, and finally, what tools, technology, and platforms will help you reach your goals. Yet I’m having more and more conversations with B2B marketers who haven’t articulated their audience’s business social behaviors about social platforms they maintain a corporate presence on and link to on their corporate home pages.
Your customers’ and prospects’ use of social is exceedingly context dependent — and you only care what they are doing in a business context in relation to your solution. Forrester’s data consistently shows that Facebook is not very influential in the B2B purchase process. For this reason, before you decide to put a link to your Facebook group (or page) on your B2B corporate home page because your peers in other organizations have done so, or your CMO requested it, consider the following questions:
Does my audience use Facebook in the context of my solutions (e.g., to talk about networking hardware or financial services), or just in a personal context (e.g., to look at photos of their children’s soccer game or talk about their upcoming vacation)?
Do I have an active community on Facebook so that when a customer goes to my Facebook page, they will have a positive experience with my brand?
As you plan your 2013 social marketing initiatives, one area for you to focus on is influencer identification and engagement. I’ve been speaking to a number of B2B marketers recently who have begun to move beyond reactive responses to complaints to proactively reach out to people who are speaking out socially and creating influential content about their products and services.
Don’t let yourself be deceived; your key influencers are already having conversations, whether or not you’ve begun a marketing initiative to interact with them. However, engagement will fuel the fire behind their conversations, and allow you to generate more positive content about your products and your company. Finally, your engaged influencers, when they are your promoters as well as being influential, can supplement your existing customer advocate (or reference) programs. Traditional reference programs don’t scale because each reference only speaks to one prospect at a time. By engaging those folks and encouraging them to create public content, you can expand their influence on your prospects.
Over 40% of business technology decision-makers indicate that support forums, discussion forums, and professional social networks influence them throughout their online journey. Yet many marketers overlook the impact of the conversations that occur within these networks.
Chances are your company has an online community that requires your attention. Whether you have a support forum on your corporate website, a company page on LinkedIn, or a brand page on Facebook, somewhere there is a community of customers, partners, and influencers that is talking about your brand.
It is up to you to take advantage of this opportunity to interact with your community members, but it requires a new marketing mindset. It requires a shift from traditional media creation to social capital creation. It requires an ability to engage and motivate influencers. It also requires time, energy, and commitment from you and the stakeholders within your organization.
It is difficult to ignore the impact that community interactions have on decision-makers. But why do online communities often fail? We speak to many clients who struggle with establishing their communities and found five common mistakes:
1. Choosing the wrong approach. Communities are not a “one size fits all” strategy for customer engagement. Companies must understand how and where their customers and prospects prefer to engage online and the types of activities that will drive member participation.
The silver lining on Apple's iOS6 Maps App snafu is that it has fueled much humorous poking. My favorite so far is the photo going around Facebook of Tom Hanks in "Cast Away." There is also a blog called "The Amazing iOS 6 Maps" that includes a collection of Maps mishaps sent in by users. It seems that negative product and service experiences often turn into comedy (remember "United Breaks Guitars"?). A funny photo or link shared on Facebook is often how product issues are initially brought to our attention.