India’s online ecosystem, in the last few years, has witnessed a spectacular jump in terms of usage, primarily due to rising adoption of platforms and reduction in cost of access. The internet has gradually become a very significant part in the lives of Indian users.
From consumers to businesses, internet has enabled instant communication with a wider audience. Status updates, location based information and the creation and sharing of content has, among other online activities, endeared consumers to brands online and vice versa. This has led brands to actively adopt the online medium as a high impact engagement platform.
Even though it was always easy to establish an online presence, brands have now realised the difference in having a static online embassy and one that is constantly in engagement mode and the benefits that lie therein. Consumer engagement through social media has been around for some time and is now overly active. If you’re a B2C marketer and haven’t boarded the social media bus yet, you probably need to play catch-up.
If B2C marketers are already online in full strength, their B2B counterparts are still in early stages of leveraging the online opportunity. Companies such as Cisco India, SAP India, Huawei and Trend Micro have successfully gone online to build active B2B marketing programs. With the internet having minimal barriers to entry, B2B businesses from SMEs to large scale enterprises have the potential to scale up its online presence and growth tremendously.
For B2B brands, aversion to move away from the tried and tested strategies has long acted as a barrier to experimenting with the online platform. These brands are built on credibility, trust and long-term relationships and that is what drives top of mind recall with their core audiences. These factors of credibility, trust and long-term relationships are also relevant from an online perspective and helps create a level of comfort for marketers – B2B or B2C – when making the transition to social from traditional media.
With the fast-paced evolution that the online world has experienced over the last decade, business as a whole has moved from being transactional to being built on one-on-one relationships. This has been made possible purely because of the nature of the medium. For business to happen, especially on a medium where people typically haven’t met, there needs to be a high level of credibility to drive trust.
Once trust is established and sustained, it is easy to earn leads and drive business conversions.
An often asked requirement of B2B marketers is the quality and quantity of leads that social media can generate. Indian professionals on LinkedIn generated 149 million business leads in 2011. And with a local member base of approximately 57 per cent decision-makers, the qualitative nature of such leads is in little doubt.
In the B2B marketing ecosystem where time is critical, the fact that professionals can easily connect with each other, irrespective of location, makes it even more beneficial for marketers to choose this platform and engage with relevant audiences. This bodes well not only for large scale enterprises but also SMEs on the rise, looking to stretch every rupee in their budget.
In a survey on B2B marketing spend in the online space, it was seen that while mid-sized companies still have to establish themselves on social media, the transition for majority of small and large businesses has already taken place. Why is this happening? For small businesses, it is usually the affordability factor, while for larger players online, this is the space their audiences are increasingly spending more time at. But for mid-sized companies, before taking what they perceive as a risk, the challenge lies in understanding the platform and value for their brands by having well defined objectives. However, the potency and value of social media can only be realised once used over a sustained period of time.
A term that is fast becoming a critical part of social media strategy is ‘Big Data.’ Due to the unprecedented growth that internet usage is experiencing, there are vast amounts of data that people are generating online. This very data is now empowering brands and marketers with user driven insights to customise its approach to brand building. B2B marketers leverage these insights to tailor every piece of content in their marketing communication efforts to make it even more relevant to specific individuals.
Unlike other forms of marketing where display ads form the core of the engagement program in the online space, B2B marketers can structure their communication and choose options such as audience polls or customise groups to drive forward their engagement. Engagement through these channels has been successfully used by power brands such as Philips and Microsoft to strengthen thought leadership positioning with an influential audience.
B2B brands operate in a highly competitive environment. Having a limited audience reserves a brand’s reach while also allowing competitors into the playing field for mindshare. Even though lead generation and establishment of thought leadership are achievable, those playing the long game need to be focused on customer retention. If retained through the right engagement approach, B2B marketers can benefit from the opportunity of brand advocacy by cultivating a community of professionals who are highly educated and in decision-making capacities.
India has always had the tendency to skip adoption of technology by generations. This is evident from the fixed line versus mobile phone growth story. That said, as the proportion of digital natives increases among the next generation of professionals, B2B marketers need to be quick in making the shift from cold calling in large numbers to targeted engagement, and from individual interactions to building communities of like-minded brand advocates and experts online.
The author is Dhiman Mukherji, Director, Marketing Solutions, LinkedIn India