7th article in Afera’s Sicily conference presentation series
One of the most eye-opening talks held at Afera’s Annual Conference was Bert van Loon’s session entitled “Can Afera Grow the Pie by Using Social Media?” An international communications and media strategist based in Rotterdam, Mr. Van Loon informed the audience of executives of companies belonging to the adhesive tape supply chain on why and how you should build your business communications strategy around content marketing and social media.
The bottom line: In order to keep abreast of today’s increasingly online business communication marketing trends, tape businesses should create an integrated B2B content marketing strategy particularly focussed on those who do not yet know about tape as a bonding and fixing solution in order to grow the market. This should include a bottom-up approach, in which online content represents a collaboration of your technical/R&D, sales, marketing and communications departments. Furthermore, strategic social media triggers must be utilised to attract interest from the outside world to your website.
Facing a new business reality which increasingly includes social media
Mr. Van Loon warned that many of you might not be happy after this part of his presentation, because you may realise that your branding strategy which was very successful in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, would not produce the same results in the 2010s and 2020s. You may realise that the current commercial organisation you have, possibly along with your business strategy, needs a significant reboot.
Why should you focus on social media in your business communications strategy today?
According to an April 2013 survey conducted by IHS GlobalSpec Digital Media on digital media use in the industrial sector, internet and social media utilisation rates are soaring. Of the 1,800 North American respondents, 93% of which are involved in the purchase of components and services, most of them used the internet – specifically social media and search engines – for work-related purposes. They were three times more likely to receive digital newsletters than print. Half of them did not physically attend a trade show the year before.
What do these statistics tell us? What we really already know. That people in industry, just like in every area of business, are real people. Like you and me, they use the internet to gather information, make connections and conduct business. Are you surprised?
Everyone is in instant publishing
Mr. Van Loon shared two well-known photos taken from the back of St. Peter’s Square as the new Popes were announced in 2005 and 2013. In the photo from 2005, we see someone holding a flip-open phone. Just eight years later, everyone in the photo is holding up not candles but €500 computers. The technological revolution of the last few years allows everyone to engage in publishing, real-time, all around the world.
Everyone has access to information
Only a few decades ago, access to information was a privilege of the few. Conducting research was time-consuming and tiresome, involving travel-time, transportation costs, manual searching, and hand- or photocopying. By the time you got what you needed, it might have fallen out-of-date already.
Nowadays, Google has a voice-activated search option called “Voice Search”. The technological revolution has also enabled instant access to information for everyone.
The big picture: Modernise, reach the masses
Mr. Van Loon used the example of a recent Dolce and Gabbana fashion show, at which the International Editor-in-chief of Vogue Magazine is seated in the front row with a young blogger. The Vogue editor may have 15-20 years’ experience and run a carefully built publishing empire that owns the eyes and ears of its audience. But seated in the front row is also a 21-year-old blogger who is the eyes and ears of the new generation and has brought his computer to report on the show to his followers in real-time. Now he is just as important to Dolce and Gabbana.
Also of significance is another lady of about 50 years old sitting in the audience working on her laptop. She is key, because she has changed with the times. She grew up without computers, but she noticed and internalised technological advances. Like every company should do today, she is ready to reconsider her branding strategy, her way of operating. She modernised herself, a step which takes a lot of courage. This is what is going on in the business world. This is the big picture.
Power to the people: Connected and informed through their own devices
Turning points in communications are happening in increasingly shorter windows of time. The printing press was invented in the mid-1400s, the newspaper in about 1600. Radio would not be introduced for about three more centuries. It then took half a century for television and again for handheld cell phones to become widely available. 25 years after this, the internet, and ten years later, Facebook. Five years later, the iPhone and so on. Shifts in communications media are happening faster, are reaching maturity quicker.
What this means is that people are increasingly connected and informed. Whereas a generation ago, we depended on our company to give us our communications tools with which to do our work, now we all bring our own devices to our workplace. Companies are becoming more defined by the way their stakeholders are connected and informed. Moreover, your employees no longer require the tools of their companies, as they have their own strategies. The lines between business and consumer are more often blurred as our devices allow us flexibility, freedom and individuality. For example, who has worked while sitting on the beach lately?
Power to the consumer: Two-thirds of the buying journey is now done digitally, without direct personal contact between buyer and seller
Mr. Van Loon shared that according to SiriusDecisions, 67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally. Harvard Business Review dedicated an entire issue to end of solution sales, saying that 60% of a typical purchasing decision is already prepared online. Online searches are executives’ first course of action. Just as you probably do when you buy a car, you get your information about your options online before you physically go to the showroom to buy the car. In many instances, you are probably better informed than the salesman.
This is happening in business-to-business as well, but with a bit of a delay. We as B2B executives have the luxury of taking a peek at what’s happening in the business-to-consumer environment and learning from it. And if lessons can be learned without paying for them, brilliant.
Zero moment of truth in the sales cycle: The online decision-making moment
According to Google, before we entered the digital age, the first moment of truth in the sales cycle was ‘the shelf’ or the first sales contact. That is when you decided with whom you were going to work. The second moment of truth was ‘experience’ of the product.
Now in the digital age, there is ‘the zero moment of truth (ZMOT)’, which is the online decision-making moment. Previously in the B2B environment, if somebody had a problem, he shortlisted a few companies and called them. He invited specialist companies to inform him of his choices and help him make up his mind. Now, your client will find out all he needs to know before calling you. Most importantly, whether he decides to call you depends on your online presence.
So being online is the wonderful opportunity it has always been. Are you and your organisation ready for the ZMOT? Is your business structured in such a way as to meet these business communication demands, or do you need to rethink your strategy and make some structural changes?
Sales in a new environment: The consumer is in charge, business processes converge
The traditional manner of campaigning to generate sales involved outbound marketing, in which the seller was in control. Media space was bought in order to push one-way communication onto your client. Marketeers stayed in their offices studying spreadsheets and rarely interacted with clients. The American marketing expert Seth Godin terms this “interruption marketing”, which doesn’t seem optimal for initiating a lasting relationship with a consumer in today’s communication landscape.
Now and in the future, sales take place in a new environment, in which the selling company is no longer in charge. It is the consumer who decides what, where and when he is going to take in information. So if your organisation is not prepared to meet the consumer online at this moment, on this channel, and with this type of information, you will miss a sales lead.
This is a revolutionary time in which we have a convergence of business processes. In the old world, you had little interaction between business communication and transaction channels. Your communication organisation advertised to your audience through magazines, television, etc., your sales organisation conducted sales, and your marketing organisation tried to tie this work together. You structured your company accordingly. Traditionally, marketeers and salesmen considered themselves to be cut from entirely different DNA.
Today in the online environment, communication and transaction channels are merging into one environment. Communication is business, and business is communication. Communication is no longer a campaign or an advertisement launched by someone in a corner office but is integrated into the business process. This means that you should probably restructure your commercial organisation so that your communication-, marketing- and salespeople are working together in the new online environment.
A threat and an opportunity: How can your tape organisation harvest from this online trend?
You have two types of potential clients: those who are interested in adhesive tape, to whom you have a direct line, and those who are not aware that tape exists as a bonding and fixing solution for their needs. Those who do not know about tape may have another method they use, and even if it has shortcomings, they live with it. The goal is to reach out to those who are not yet aware of the functionalities of tape and trigger the discovery of tape as an alternative for their design.
The online buying cycle: Don’t forget external triggers
The simplified version of the business cycle consists of four stages: awareness, consideration, action and experience. In the online environment, a non-tape consumer completes two-thirds of his buying cycle online. If he is just in the awareness phase, he is never going to read a white paper or participate in a webinar on the advantages of using adhesive tape.
The secret of content and social media marketing is how you deliver the right type of information online. All the information possessed by your pre-sales consultants, reformatted, published and distributed in an online environment to answer each and every question in the four stages, is not enough. You can have the most wonderful website containing the best, most focussed content, but if you do not advertise it correctly, it will be useless to you.
In addition to compelling content, you must utilise social media and blogs on third-party websites, for example, in addition to traditional instruments such as attendance of trade shows, to create triggers – traffic drivers – to attract interest from the outside world to your website. So if you want to reach out to a non-tape consumer, you have to get into his mind and figure out what he is looking for, whether it may be a next career step, patents, 3D printing, ecodesign, etc. If you start to publish in that interest field and can achieve a connection in that content to your offer of adhesive tape, you can gradually begin coaching that person from awareness to consideration and so on.
Creating and managing content
Your website should have interesting, high-quality content matching the stages of the buying cycle of your audience in order to assist them in their journey. Here are seven basic rules to follow:
Why should Afera engage in content marketing?
In the tape business, tape companies along the value chain are competing for market share, for their audience’s money. But you are also competing for attention, which is arguably more valuable than money in today’s world. Your audience’s minutes are so rare and valuable. Most people visit 150-200 websites a day.
An Australian association of associations has published research showing that visitors trust online environments such as Afera’s. They see it as an institution at which all European tape industry players and knowledge come together. Afera is considered an authority on adhesive tape technology, and one of its great strengths and opportunities, in addition to bringing its members together and facilitating information sharing, lies in serving as a voice towards your prospective clients, particularly in the product designer audience.
What you should do for your own company can also be applied to Afera. With Mr. Van Loon as consultant, the Association has launched a social media virtual task force to work on content marketing to non-tape users. Without interfering in the level playing field of each and every European tape organisation among its Membership, Afera is focussing on 1) raising awareness of the functionalities of adhesive tape among potential customers over the long-term and 2) converting interest into direct contact between potential clients and Afera Members through the Member Directory. For more information on Afera’s content marketing plan, visit here.
Don’t miss Mr. Van Loon’s presentation on “Re-engineering Marketing Communication in a Content-Driven World” on Friday, 3 October, 11.45-12.15, at Afera’s upcoming Annual Conference in Dubrovnik.
About Bert van Loon
Bert van Loon is an international communications and media strategist based in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. With over 20 years’ experience in a wide variety of industries, he specialises in B2B, internationally focused business, and associations. Mr. Van Loon’s ambition is to make communications effective for business purposes while accountable and fun at the same time. Most recently, he spoke about “The Relevance of an Association in a Content-Driven World” at the International and European Associations Congress in Paris. He is also an honoured invitee to present “Build Your Integrated Plan with the B2B Content Marketing Roadmap” at Content Marketing World, the largest content marketing event on the planet, taking place in Cleveland, Ohio (USA), in September 2014.
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