The theory of B2B social marketing

17 October 2013

I didn’t study the theory of marketing; something I’m constantly thankful for.

My issue is that while a theory is all well and good, its presence can easily cloud judgement, cancel out experimentation and discovery, and make it very difficult to change the way we think. By its very nature theory is just that – theory. Theories are things that are there to be tested, proved, or disproved.

Social marketing is a case in point. It’s a practice that’s still in its infancy, especially if compared to the Universal Theory of Marketing. It’s the Higgs-boson to Einstein’s Relativity. It’s here to be discovered and experimented with. It’s here to disrupt, to change the way we think about marketing theory altogether.

That’s because social marketing can only be successful if it goes beyond the application of technology, and the original theory of marketing. Social marketing is about people; and just like people it shouldn’t be bound by the rational mind-set of the marketer. It must have heart, and soul, and emotion, and pay homage to our collective humanity in a way that’s rarely seen anywhere else. Social marketing is storytelling at its very best.

As I’ve said, I didn’t study the theory of marketing and as a result I’ve always found the division between the worlds of B2C and B2B a strange one. They exist like two opposing tribes that seemingly speak separate dialects of the same language, wear different uniforms (quite literally when you put corporate chic next to consumer cool) and practice different rituals. This division is especially evident when it comes to marketing storytelling.

When we think about interacting with consumers, we happily default to a storytelling approach that is built on emotional engagement. Yet as soon as the word ‘business’ comes into play, the emotion threatens to disappear, and we’re left with a dry, disengaged and functional story that’s often barely a story at all.

B2B social marketing is our opportunity to change this, through emotional storytelling that seeks to engage at a human level, while still in the context of a business conversation. B2B should be B2C, because it’s still a consumer we’re talking to, regardless of how we’ve been trained to categorise them.

For me this column will be about examining B2B social marketing, and specifically the way it is already changing the way we think. It will be an exercise in turning practice into theory and vice versa, and a way of championing what I believe are the new principles we should adhere to. After all, just like the discovery of the Higgs-boson has the very real potential to disrupt and even unseat that particular theory of Relativity, in time social will do the same thing to our view of marketing.


Anonymous help

Agree around artificial

Agree around artificial difference of B2B vs. the B2C, we should stop using them. Social Marketing applies to both and my suggestion is to just call everything P2P (Person 2 Person) and be done with it.

Yes, but unlike other

Yes, but unlike other marketing that settles for "good enough," storytelling must be excellent. Or it fails.

The real world of social media is already irritated by clumsy corporate party crashing. Poorly conceived, poorly executed storytelling will leave an every worse impression.

Look forward to the content

Look forward to the content and discussion, Kimberly. At EMC, our social efforts are spanning well beyond marketing and increasingly more focused on all aspects of the business. For us practitioners the lines are beginning to blur, which raises marketing to a more strategic level. Good stuff.

Had a similar discussion

Had a similar discussion yesterday with @sheldrake who highlighted the fact that there are only two types of relationships. Family (not much choice there!) or those where mutual value can be established.
I'm with you & Rene on this, it's people to people whether you're associated with a brand or not.
Nice post!

I agree people buy people,

I agree people buy people, its all about building trust in the relationship in b2b. However the use of social media isn't a one size fits all approach, you have to carefully consider where in the sales or relationship cycle you are with the person. If its a prospect and you want to engage with them and raise your profile then social media may have a part to play. When it's an existing customer the relationship is different, they already know you they don't have time to read your blog/tweets, they have to get on with their job. In a recent survey we undertook of 52 b2b customers for a client when asked what method of communication do they value in conducting business with an existing supplier, email and phone came out top of the list. Social media got zero marks as it was deemed to be of no benefit to their jobs. Its all about planning, who are we trying to talk to, what messages will they respond to, how do we want them to react and how are we going to get the messages to them.

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