The term "brand" typically conjures thoughts of iconic logos and memorable taglines associated with some of the world's most famous companies. Yet every business – no matter what it sells or who its audience is – has a brand.
Whether you're a global consumer icon like McDonald's or a small B2B firm with a few clients, any business that wants to keep growing must continuously and deliberately cultivate distinctive brand images and value propositions. And a major channel to solidify that brand identity is social media.
A different world
Not long ago, B2B marketing focused on building credibility around a team, product or service to influence prospects. Marketers created collateral that justified value and pricing, and they armed salespeople with the information and materials necessary to convert qualified leads.
The fundamentals of B2B marketing (i.e., attract, educate, convert and engage) have not changed, but the world certainly has. More specifically, B2B marketers have more communication channels than ever at their disposal. This wealth of options allows them to shape the conversations and brand perceptions occurring within those channels.
Few companies are as effective at this approach as Salesforce. In its early days, the Salesforce marketing team could quickly and effectively communicate the CRM's value to prospects. As the platform's functionality and complexity grew, however, those marketing techniques had to follow suit. In addition to Trailhead, its proprietary learning experience platform designed to educate both new and experienced users, the company developed an entire branded ecosystem that empowers customers to exchange ideas and information related to the platform. Its annual Dreamforce event, which typically includes an impressive roster of innovative thought leaders and celebrated entertainers, brings users together to learn and share as part of a branded experience.
When it comes to acquisition, perhaps no B2B company has been as shrewd as General Assembly. The company used B2C marketing tactics, including highly targeted digital and email marketing, to become the classroom of choice for individuals looking to grow their technical skill sets. It applied those same tactics to market to businesses, and it has since become the go-to educator for companies looking to retrain and reskill their teams in the digital age.
These companies have more in common than sophisticated marketing acumen, though. Each one understands the power and influence social media wields with the public.
A marketer's dream
Social media's viability lies in its versatility to help brands accomplish almost any major marketing objective for businesses. Take recruiting, for example. There is no better channel for building an authentic employer brand than social; it allows companies to amplify their employees' voices while highlighting their culture and values to the world. Companies like Accenture, Deloitte and other top-tier strategy consultants competing for the same pool of knowledge workers do this exceptionally well, regularly spotlighting senior employees who exemplify the level of experience and expertise provided by those companies.
Regardless of size or industry, all B2B companies can use social media to provide clients a platform to share knowledge, engage prospects with relevant content, and broadcast wins and new internal initiatives. Likewise, social is a tool for interacting with influencers like media professionals, analysts and others who help shape public brand perception.
While B2C companies often use social media for those reasons above, they might prioritize direct conversions over other channel objectives. For B2B companies, social media is less about immediate conversion and more aligned with driving awareness, engagement, and credibility among internal and external stakeholders.
Illuminate your B2B brand with social
Here are four elements B2B marketers need to keep in mind when trying to maximize their social media ROI:
1. Purpose should power your story.
Your core mission and vision for the future should inform everything from your strategic decision-making to your brand messaging. A concise and compelling articulation of your company's purpose will help focus your team and reinforce brand resonance among critical audiences.
Consumer-facing companies such as Chipotle and GoPro provide excellent examples of how to summarize a brand's entire purpose in a short phrase. The former aims to "make fast food healthy," while the latter allows people to "share their experiences." Slack, which relies heavily on enterprise sales (though anyone can use it), calls its messaging platform the place "where work happens." The phrase not only captures Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield's vision for the product as an alternative to email, but it also reminds audiences that the platform is more than a messaging app.
A concise message that captures your larger purpose is a boon to all marketing efforts. It is especially valuable on social media, where space for communication is limited, and interactions can quickly veer off-topic. With a memorable phrase to remind everyone why you do what you do, your social media team can keep conversations on track and maintain on-brand messaging while crafting your story across various online channels.
2. Consistency is key.
No surprise is a good surprise, which is why consistency is so vital to almost any business. According to a Lucidpress study, a consistent brand presentation can increase a company's revenue by 33%.
Consistency impacts social media success in numerous ways. For starters, its presence in a mission statement builds credibility and attracts like-minded audiences. A brand's personality sets audience expectations before anyone ever interacts with a representative of your brand. That personality should appear in all brand messaging, including planned social posts and real-time audience interactions.
You also want to be consistent in how you use visual brand elements like logos, color palettes and fonts. The consistent use of these components is about more than creating an aesthetically pleasing brand image; it is about building credibility.
Finally, getting the most out of social media requires consistently posting and sharing content that audiences find valuable. Content can be informative, entertaining, inspiring,or educational, but it will be ignored if it is impractical. Regularly update your content to ensure timeliness and relevance, creating a content calendar to give team members a plan each time they log in to corporate social accounts.
Also, remember that social media is a two-way street. Rather than simply talking at your audiences, use these channels to engage with them by answering questions directly or discussing issues people want or expect you to weigh in on.
3. People remember what they see.
In 2008, MIT researchers found that human beings possess a much higher visual long-term memory capacity than previously believed. That is valuable information for marketers, as it underscores the need for the intelligent use of visual brand elements such as color composition, photography and typography. Together, these brand elements can help you tell a more compelling story that differentiates you from competitors on social.
Moreover, social media users are bombarded with stimuli while scrolling through news and image feeds. The consistent and thoughtful use of brand imagery can help you get their attention and help them recognize your brand in an ever-changing landscape of pixels on their laptops or mobile devices.
Just how impactful can brand imagery be? According to recent research from Reboot, just one signature color can improve brand recognition among audiences by 80%. Almost everyone knows the Starbucks name and logo, but this same research found that most people can recognize a Starbucks drink by seeing nothing more than its characteristic green straw. You can probably see it in your head right now. That is the power of imagery.
4. The details matter.
Attention to detail is a desirable trait for any product or service provider, and it is essential to earning trust as a business partner.
Social media is unique in that it allows for relatively spontaneous interactions between brands and audiences. But social platforms are also public forums, which means you must think carefully before sharing content on them. Create internal processes that allow your team to act quickly to capitalize on relevant news or trending topics while ensuring your brand integrity. Otherwise, small mistakes can turn into big problems.
Success in any business endeavor often depends on how you measure it, and the same is true of B2B social media marketing. While there are not many marketing metrics that universally matter to every business, B2B marketers should avoid focusing on vanity metrics like impressions, followers and engagement levels. Instead, focus on conversions and generating marketing qualified leads. Optimize your social media activity around these key performance indicators, and your ROI will take care of itself over time.