Guess what? Consumer marketers are bamboozled by social media too… (who knew?)
As B2B marketers, we've inevitably come to accept that we're behind B2C; in terms of sophistication, innovation… general clever thinking and cool stuff. This contention is so ingrained that it's rarely ever questioned; more to the point, it's generally used as a reason to knock B2B by those on the outside, or worse, those on the inside.
However, last week, at a roundtable lunch of B2C marketers which (unusually) I had been asked to chair, I found myself calling this accepted wisdom into question. The lunch in question was organised by Iain Lovatt, Steve Klin and the good people at data experts Blue Sheep, and the agenda was various issues around digital marketing generally, social media specifically and the evolving use of data.
Bearing in mind Chatham House rules were in place, I'm not going to name the participants personally, but around the table we had represented senior marketers from a double glazing firm, an online fashion retailer, a major utility, a telecoms company and a nationally recognisable charity - plus a couple of agency people. For me, this broad and diverse group provided a reasonable cross section of the consumer economy - it was pretty representative sample.
Fueled by good food and wine, the conversation and discussion flowed freely, and it immediately became apparent that not a single one of the client-side participants felt that they were even close to getting to grips with social media. They were all, very much still in the 'sussing-it-out' stage. Most – but not all – were using it, to one degree or another, although generally to a very limited degree. There was very little sophistication or depth of insight that any of the brands attending could claim that they had gleaned via social media.
The lady from the fashion retailer was particularly interesting: her organisation has started using social media, quite aggressively, in the last six months, although really only from an advertising perspective, and it was working well. However, she was happy to admit, there was nothing particularly clever or innovative in what they were doing. Meanwhile the representatives from the utilities company and telecoms provider were even further behind, recognising its potential, but still trying to fathom what it means for them.
Looking ahead, all participants recognised there is a huge opportunity surrounding use of social media and data, although this was very much still on the horizon for most organisations. Furthermore, there was a suggestion from many that they aren't really in a position to make use of the data that they do already have, the potential new universe of information from social media is simply too much to even consider right now.
Perhaps I'm naive, but I found these insights fascinating and revelatory. Far from showing how far advanced B2C companies are with social media and data, it suggested that, in reality, they are no more sophisticated than the average B2B brand – despite their advantages in terms of things like social-savvyness of their audience. They don't have all the answers, and in some situations they're still struggling to understand what the right questions might be. And that's not to denigrate or disrespect any of them: the individuals around the table were all passionate, talented, hardworking marketers who were eager to do the best for their brands, and attending this round table to learn from others was part of that process.
But it does lead me to conclude that we in B2B should stop beating ourselves up about how far behind consumer brands we are, and we should have a little faith in ourselves and pride in our achievements. Perhaps if we stop knocking ourselves, and build ourselves up for a change, then those on the 'other side' will stop knocking us too. Just a thought.
Social media has changed the rules for everyone, regardless of sector or size, and it will continue to do so. Every company faces an ongoing struggle to understand how to adapt to this new environment - as technology and tastes evolve, so will the implications. In other words, it's a moving target, and some companies will be better at hitting it than others.
But the key factor in determining whether you succeed or fail in this environment is your attitude: your propensity to investigate and learn about the techniques and tools available. In other words, to coin a phrase, it's not where you're from, it's where you're at. As Steve Kemish so eloquently put it at our recent annual conference, understanding the world of social marketing is an iterative process; an ongoing learning challenge. And it's one that B2B marketers must embrace.