This post is courtesy of our clever and witty friend, John Bottom of Base One, a London-based B2B branding and marketing agency. To see a great example of a memorable and non-boring bio, check John out on the Base One blogs.
Any second now, the phone will ring and a media buyer will ask me what the hell I was thinking with this post. But, it has to be said.
By now, everyone in B2B marketing 'gets' social media. But it still seems hard for marketers to embrace because, despite its appeal, there are very few cast-iron case studies around that show dollars spent versus dollars gained in terms of sales.
But haven't we been here before with advertising? Every marketer reading this blog will have had conversations with non-marketing people where we defend the idea of making long-term investments in a brand. That is to say, paying for marketing that aims to build a brand instead of making short-term sales. "So you spend £200k a year on advertising, but you can't measure what you get from it? Crazy."
A question of ROI
We all know that brand-level marketing, if wisely planned, with clear objectives and regular monitoring, can provide a fantastic return on investment. It can boost sales, protect margins, dominate markets. It can improve channel effectiveness, enhance recruitment, even increase share price.
But when it comes to assessing its effectiveness, the only way to be sure is to spend big on research and get an accurate, quantitative answer. Most of the time, we can't afford this, so we make do with sketchy research, the odd focus group, and a hopeful finger in the air when planning budgets for the next year. And of course, if everything else seems to be going well, if sales are up and customers seem happy, we stick with a winning plan.
Exactly the same could be said of investment into social media. Choosing to use it is as much about belief as it is about hard facts and measurements. Like brand advertising, social media is a slow-burn technique. It is about building personal relationships, it is about creating value by embracing the information-sharing principle of the open web. It is so different from the one-way - and frequently one-eyed - communications used in brand advertising, but the two require similar amounts of patience and belief. Neither is a quick fix.
But consider this. They are both potentially extremely effective ways of improving the perception of your brand amongst customers. The difference is that one carries a massive media budget, the other doesn't. What could you do with that budget, or even some of it?
A question of effectiveness
But if we accept that both approaches help a brand to achieve the same aim, we should then ask which is most effective. Isn't there a trade-off for all that money we could be saving? Surely social media is less effective?
Again, we are collectively a little low on hard research here. But all indicators suggest that the opposite is true. The main difference between the two is that brand advertising simply tells customers what to think about the brand. Social media, on the other hand, positions the brand as an expert in its field, as a provider of information, a helpful social media citizen that seeks to join in the conversations and help out by offering advice and guidance even in areas where there is no direct sale to be made. And that information - along with the good reputation it creates - starts to spread, fuelled by the goodwill of brand advocates. So not only does the brand provide real informational value instead of just brand messages, there is a multiplier effect that is missing in the advertising model.
So social media not only saves you a fortune, but it is potentially more effective than conventional advertising.
Let's not be naive about this. I'm not saying it should replace brand-level advertising at all. It is simply another way to do it, another tool. Ideally, the two will work in harmony. After all, advertising reaches those who are not active online, and even the most ardent web user is still exposed to traditional media to some extent.
But it is an intriguing way to think of it. If you already invest in brand-level advertising, the principle of using social media to produce a powerful but long-term effect should be one you accept. It just costs less and works harder.
It's a controversial viewpoint, but it always helps to consider the extremes, even if talking about it does get the media guys hot under the collar. Now, I have to go, there's someone on the phone...
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