I recently saw a study by the market research firm, Keller Fay Group which was sponsored by experiential marketing agency Jack Morton Worldwide that concluded that word of mouth is the #1 influence on business purchase decisions and is best leveraged through face-to-face marketing efforts. The study’s conclusion was based on the fact that 50% of the respondents polled reported that they were highly likely to buy a product or service based on word of mouth; while 49% passed on what they’ve heard to others. The study goes on to say that “Business decision-makers most value communication channels that provide two-way dialog.”
I am not going to dispute that general claim that people are influenced by others and, more often than not, that communication comes in the form of a conversation. That seems totally reasonable. In addition, I do believe that people want engagement through a two-way dialog. However, I am not convinced as the study claims, that “face-to-face marketing efforts” are the primary method required to influence purchasing decisions.
I believe that there is a new way to initiate a two-way dialog (i.e. word-of-mouth) with others and share ideas and opinions in an open and engaging manner that does not require face-to-face marketing efforts. In fact, we see it all the time today, just not as frequently in a B2B environment. They are called social networking sites and they are one of the fastest growing channels on the Internet.
While their application is not yet mainstream in the B2B world, marketers are starting to leverage them. In fact, a study conducted in March of this year by B2B Online found that 26% of those polled indicated that they have in fact used a social networking site as a marketing channel, while another 22% indicated that they plan to do so this year. Another study conducted by iProspect found that the top reasons for placing content on social networking sites include driving traffic (51%); creating brand awareness (32%); direct selling (25%); and influencing a purchase decision (15%).
While I believe that we will never see the adoption of social networking sites for purposes of B2B marketing like we will for BtoC marketing, I think there is much we can learn from these sites in creating an open and engaging two-way dialog with your target prospects online without having a face-to-face discussion with someone.
If you believe that people want to engage with, and trust other people that share their common interests, then why can’t social networking work for B2B marketers? Social networking sites are really just communities of like-minded individuals that want to engage with others and share ideas and opinions.
In fact, I recently read about a good example of how B2B companies can leverage social networking sites. The site, called ITtoolbox Community Hub, is a recently-launched site of IT professionals that, among other things, allows users to share and compare information with peers who have similar interests including evaluating IT vendors This site allows its 1.5 million registrants post to blogs, join topic-based groups and check up on recent postings from their Connections, the site’s version of MySpace friends.
In an interview, George Krautzel Co-founder and President of ITtoolbox noted that online social networking for IT “is going to facilitate a lot more knowledge-sharing between [users] since people will be more familiar with each other.” He then went on to say that when presented in a “professional sense,” people will use networking sites like his “for real value and knowledge exchange.” And that this will translate to real value for advertisers who reach out to them there.
It seems logical to me. It does not require any face-to-face marketing efforts, but provides an engaging two-way dialog that many seem to desire.
Now before you run off and start participating in 100 different social networking sites, there are a few rules to abide by. First make sure you are only participating in those sites that are truly relevant to your product or service. Second, participate in a transparent fashion. Let people know who you are and be open and honest. Third, be prepared to accept the good with the bad. Don’t get defensive if people don’t love your product or service. Use this as a critical R&D feedback loop.
Finally, don’t assume you can visit a site once a month and post a few comments. You need to become part of the community through consistent and honest participation. If you can’t commit to that do not get involved. If you violate any of these rules the community will turn their back on you.
Again, I am not minimizing the value of a face-to-face recommendation or reference. I just believe that we can use the Internet to create communities of people that can share opinions and ideas via one-to-one conversations in a more efficient and scalable manner.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.