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‘Social B2B Branding’ – Notes From a Hardass Motherfu*ker

I’ve always been impressed by those who study beyond the point of parental coercion. So when I was invited to guest-lecture to university MBA students, the irony wasn’t lost on me.

My lecture was, ‘Social B2B Branding – Notes from a Hardass Motherfu*ker’. A fair title I thought – assessing changes across the social marketing landscape from the frontline (as opposed to the back of the classroom).

Businesses are no longer in full control of their brands. In a social economy, the connected networks of followers, fans and advocates determine how, where and when a brand is communicated among its audience(s). Brands are no longer the sole voice of authority. The audience forms its own opinions and creates its own content, which it shares with wider connected networks. It’s a scary proposition for B2B brand leaders more comfortable where ‘The Word’ resides within a controlled corporate website environment.

The university was scared too. I arranged a video of the presentation along with the slide-deck (search Scot McKee on YouTube and/or Slideshare). The MBA course leader said I needed, “to remove all of the references” to the university, “immediately”. They decided, “not to locate our brand next to the deliberately provocative brand image you present.” I’ve presented the same image for 25 years. They might have considered their position before I invested my time and energy into preparing the lecture.

The location of the presentation was a point of fact, not an endorsement. The university was a venue, my gateway to a wider online and connected audience – including potential fee-paying MBA students.

I was told, “Some in the university think that this experience is evidence that we should avoid such problems by never allowing recordings.” Mmmm. They clearly hadn’t been paying attention in class because my evidence from the ‘Turdy Brown Trousers’ Keynote address at the B2B Marketing Conference 2011 demonstrated that while I presented to around 150 delegates on the day, the subsequent distributed content has (so far) engaged over 5,000 people and reached tens of thousands more.

Anyone can say pretty much anything about the university. Students, visitors, journalists, bloggers… we express our views in a social market. A search of the university on Twitter reveals just such opinions. Lots of them. The point is that the university (and every other B2B brand) is not in control of opinion. The crowd is. Brands need to be able to crowd-surf. That means creating, influencing and shaping content – counteracting the negative and leveraging the positive. To lockdown communications in the social world is futile and from a marketing perspective, counterproductive.

I considered naming the university, but my lecturers always told me to, ‘read around the subject’ – to learn. In the first 2 weeks since releasing the video and slide deck, over 500 people have engaged with the content. The reach runs into thousands. The content has been redistributed by 3 university MBA courses in the US (that I know of) and the real growth spike hasn’t even started. It could all have directed potential MBA candidates to the university brand. Instead, they’re all being directed to my brand – ‘deliberately and provocatively’.

We learn at our own pace. Some business brands will be quick learners and achieve competitive advancement. The majority will follow in their own time, but the advantage will be lost. And some will remain ignorant motherfu*kers.

Scot McKee
Managing Director
Birddog Ltd.

+44 20 7323 6666
Twitter: @ScotMcKee