B2B Brands and Integrated Marcom—Are We Ceding Control to Social Media?
The reality of branding from a B2B perspective is that marketers were never really in control. The only control marcom exerts is in communicating the framework for the brand—identifying what the image should be, articulating the brand promise, etc. However, it’s the customer perception that either validates what we communicate or denies it.
B2B social media enables customers to validate or deny the brand message en masse and in a public, transparent forum. Customers don’t control the brand, the company does in its behavior throughout the buying cycle and beyond. If what marcom is communicating about the brand is consistent with the experiences of the buyer, then that should be reflected in the social sphere.
Is B2B Marcom Staying True to the Brand?
Where brands get into trouble—seemingly “lose control”—is when there’s an inconsistency between what’s being communicated and the company behavior. If you say you offer great service and you really don’t, then your customers will communicate your lack of service in social media. Does that cede control of your brand to the customer? In my opinion… no. Customers aren’t controlling the brand. They’re simply reacting to an inconsistency between what marcom is saying and the company’s behavior. eMarketer points this out in a recent study where a “majority of respondents agreed that the brand must define what a company or product is, and that message should be communicated via various PR and marketing channels, including social media, and that the most effective way to communicate about a brand was to stay true to its message.” The study also mentioned that when it comes to social media, marketers strayed from the brand message in superficial attempts to create a presence in the social sphere that was inconsistent with the true brand message.
If marcom is saying one thing and the company is behaving contrary to what’s being communicated, the gap will likely be bridged in the social sphere. I’m not talking about isolated incidents where someone wasn’t happy with the company’s service and complained on a social media site. There will always be instances where a customer wasn’t completely satisfied, but it’s how the company handles the dissatisfied customer (or not) and the overall long-term satisfaction of all customers that either supports or rejects what marcom communicates as the true brand message. Aaron Pearson (@apearson) says it best in his blog post, Integrating Social Media with Corporate Website: How Far Can We Take This?, “…ultimately your customer decides what your brand really stands for.”
Are B2B Organizational Silos Preventing Social Media Success?
Because social media impacts more than sales and marketing, organizations need to integrate the stakeholders of social media, such as customer service, tech support and R & D. As Aaron suggests, “There needs to be a better spirit of cooperation between IT, marketing, advertising, public and corporate communications, sales, and customer service.” That’s a tall order for large B2B companies where social media is often owned by different groups within the organization, each of which firmly maintains its silo.
So much of the brand image depends on the experience of the consumer and the behavior of the company beyond marcom messages. Social media quickly uncovers inconsistencies in brand image and actual behavior. That’s where strong B2B brands have an advantage–they practice what they preach.
Share what your company is doing to integrate social media stakeholders?
Here are more resources on social media-driven organizational changes
Gaura Mishra shares six “seismic shifts” in marcom that are the result of social media. http://www.gauravonomics.com/blog/360-degree-marketing-redux-how-the-social-web-is-changing-the-marketing-communications-ecosystem/
Bob Liodice explained in Advertising Age how the practice of integrated marketing communications (IMC) is impacted by social media and why marketing needs to remove functional silos or at least interconnect them. http://aaasite.org/conferences/2010/Liodice.pdf [Link opens a pdf doc]
Cisco attempted to break down its silos and became a more collaborative organization, after which, John Chambers was named CEO of the year.
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