As a regular user of social media, mainly Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, I, like many others, have observed the increasing number of sponsored adverts and company pages working their way into my daily newsfeed. Sellers of financial services through to power supply vendors wish to engage me as a customer.
Naively, I had hoped to neatly partition my social media engagement to prevent this sort of intrusion. Attempts to segregate work contacts from my personal life by using LinkedIn for work and FaceBook for friends and family have not worked; everything is blurring. People that I regularly work with have become friends on FaceBook and social contacts have connected with me via LinkedIn. Can I change this? Should I worry? What is going on here?
Blurring of B2B and B2C
Working in B2B electronics PR and content marketing , I understand that marketing communications could always be targeted at the right audience. At the highest level we learn to differentiate marketing campaigns according to the audience we wish to target, namely B2B or B2C. In most cases this definition is more about the type of product or service you are selling. Clearly, most consumers like you and me would not normally buy an HGV truck, but that is not to say B2C is straightforward either.
While the convenient labels of B2B and B2C have worked for many years, the emphasis on an individual’s role in the B2B buying decision has been growing. Many years ago, when I worked in sales, you learnt to look not only at the overall company requirement for your product but at the individual buying it. In most traditional B2B sales for non-commodity products there would be more people involved, so you had to know and consider the needs of each member of the decision making unit (DMU). Indeed some structured sales methodologies put a strong emphasis on how each individual within the buying organisation can influence the purchase decision. For the sales person, finding out each individual’s opinions of your product and company can be extremely difficult.
But it isn’t just B2B that can be difficult to judge; B2C buying cycles can be equally complex. Firstly, there is usually more than one person making the decision to buy, say, a new television. And that means potentially two or more differing viewpoints regarding what’s on the check-list. Personal opinions on brand, quality and features can be based on an individual’s core beliefs and emotions.
The rise of P2P
So, with an increasing emphasis on the individual it is no surprise that the likes of FaceBook and LinkedIn are starting to cash in on their user community. Marketing gurus have been quick to replace B2B and B2C with phrases such as human-to-human (H2H) or person-to-person (P2P) communications. Social strategist Bryan Kramer came up with the concept of H2H and via his blog cites some of the reasons why, such as “businesses don’t have emotions, people do”. Bryan also highlights the fact that for a long time marketers have been trying to establish a 1:1 relationship with their customers and prospects but that social media has actually flipped it into a very broad audience again. Another advocate for dropping emphasis on B2B/B2C is Barbara Apple Sullivan, the founder of brand engagement agency, Sullivan. In an interview that appeared recently in US publication Advertising Age, she encourages marketers to focus more on the emotional attachments buyers have when making purchasing decisions and to think beyond the audience classifications of the past.
In the B2B electronics industry this blurring is a distinct advantage that some publications have been promoting for years. Elektor magazine, long seen as a magazine for hobbyists and makers, claim that over 50% of readers are employed in organisations of over 100 staff and that 87% of their readers make purchase decisions within their workplace and therefore are highly qualified professional electronics engineers. The belief is that electronics engineers like to keep up to date with new products and technology by making projects outside of work. Aspects of promoting electronic components are good examples of this person-to-person marketing concept. Take the humble microcontroller. Bought by the million, no aspect of your daily life would function without them. They are in your phone, your washing machine, your microwave and over a hundred of them might be in your car. In the early days these devices were sold based on their architecture and functional specifications, truly a B2B sale. An engineering manager might form a team to evaluate a new MCU for a future design. However, the rise of the maker culture has unleashed lots of single board computers and MCU-based projects on to the market for anyone to try out. Never before has an individual engineer had access to so much information on vendors’ microcontroller families. There are design projects, tutorials, white papers and reference designs they can try out. And that’s just from the vendor, oh, and not forgetting the vendors’ FaceBook pages and YouTube channels. A good example of a company embracing a P2P approach is Atmel. Their site softens the “hard edge” of B2B marketing, and provides easy access to multiple channels of technical blogs, video tutorials and maker projects. All the usual traditional B2B content such as application notes, product datasheets and technical white papers are there too. Across the broader maker community there are hints and tips, problem solving pages and practical technical advice. You could argue that anything from a vendor stamps a big ‘B’ on the communication, so business-to-person, but the nature of a lot of most vendors materials is increasingly personal, particularly anything of a practical nature, and especially video.
Google rewards real people
Vendors are becoming adept at raising the profile of knowledgeable and trusted individuals within their organisation to deliver their marketing messages across multiple channels. This approach supports Google’s desire to encourage individual authorship of content and will rank sites as providers of high quality content. In a recent article in Forbes magazine, Steve Olenski comments, “As Google develops its algorithm to become hyper-personalized and contextually relevant, we’ll continue to see rankings favour towards real content producers that are subject matter experts in a particular area.” Steve’s article also includes a quote from Othar Hanssen of Google, that clearly shows Google’s intentions, “We know that great content comes from great authors, and we’re looking at ways this markup could help highlight authors and rank search results.”
P2P for the electronics industry
Marketers of products targeted at electronics engineers need to carefully review how they communicate with their current and future customers. Together social media and Google are changing the way that engineers are exposed to new products. Engineers have an increasing amount of information available to them, and naturally their decisions will be influenced by reliable, quality and trusted sources. Communicating at a personal level evokes many emotions but is the only way to build confidence and secure business.