B2B Social Media Marketing: Branding or Lead Generation?

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Social media can be many things: a place to network with friends, a way to follow market trends and monitor brand sentiment, a customer service tool for identifying unhappy customers. But is it a tool for demand generation? I believe the answer is yes, but that it requires a different mindset for lead generation and measuring ROI.

Over a series of posts the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring the topic of B2B social media marketing from a variety of perspectives, including how companies can use social media for lead generation, tips for measuring the ROI of social media in B2B, the relationship between social media and lead nurturing, and a practical guide to getting started with social media in your company.

I’ll begin with a short history of B2B marketing trends, including the evolution of social media.

The Changing Buyer and Evolving Marketing Trends

A key tenant of Modern B2B Marketing is that buyers will use search and the ready access to information to take control of the buying process – and as a result do not want to engage with Sales until they are much further along in the cycle. But this was not always true:

Before Google (more than 10 years ago)

  • Buying behaviors: Information was not readily available and the only way a prospect could get the necessary information way to engage a sales rep from your company. Mistrust ruled the day, and buyers created RFPs and purchasing centers to try to equal the playing field.
  • Marketing trends: Marketers focused primarily on brand building and awareness. Most investments focused on hard to measure methods such as mass advertising, tradeshows, and PR with traditional print media. Direct mail and cold calling made up the majority of targeted interactions, and marketers passed all new leads to Sales for follow-up.

Before Social Media (2 to 10 years ago)

  • Buying behaviors: Corporate websites were mature and search became the dominant way to find information. Prospects were willing to share their contact information in exchange for the information they wanted.
  • Marketing trends: Marketers began to focus on SEO, PPC and email marketing to drive traffic, and created content such as whitepapers and webinars to convert traffic into leads. Marketers reallocated budgets towards highly measurable channels and began to be more accountable for lead generation. The best marketers realized that their leads were often too early to send to sales, and invested in lead scoring and lead nurturing to find the hot leads and develop the rest.

The Age of Social Media (today and future)

  • Buying behaviors: More and more information is available off the official corporate website and on social media sites ranging from LinkedIn and Twitter to YouTube and SlideShare. As buyers tire of “marketing speak” and over-aggressive marketing tactics, they search social sites as part of their research, and interact with other prospects to get and share word of mouth recommendations. Prospects are less likely to register for early stage content on the corporate website, and typically contact the company only when they are ready to engage in a sales cycle.
  • Marketing trends: Marketers will reallocate investments back to brand, buzz, and awareness – but instead of mass advertising and traditional PR, marketers will invest in smart ways to build brand such as social media, search engine optimization, and content marketing. Lead nurturing will evolve to include building relationships with prospects before they ever give you their name by sharing relevant and useful information across a variety of sites and channels. These changes will have a positive impact on lead generation by increasing the number of highly-qualified inbound leads, but measurement of ROI will be a challenge.

Tomorrow, I’ll explain why these changing trends mean that investment in social media translates into higher quality inbound leads.

Original Post: http://blog.marketo.com/blog/2009/11/b2b-social-media-marketing-branding-or-lead-generation.html