By Prasanth Aby Thomas
This is the first of a series of articles on B2B marketing in the security and automation industry, based on my experience as a journalist and writer covering these areas for over six years.
Early this year, at one of the largest security trade shows, I sat across an industry veteran sipping hot, bitter, black coffee. Around us, vendors, buyers, consultants, and casual visitors talked about business, politics, food, and weather.
"So how do you see the future of security trade shows?" I asked him, using the text-book small-talk strategy of referring to something we had in common.
He let out a deep sigh, which, I would realize after an hour of conversation that ensued, was a very long and detailed answer compressed to a nonverbal opener.
I won't bore you with all the details. He said that there were mainly two reasons a company would come to a trade show. One, to meet customers and show market presence. Two, see what new products and technology their competition is working on.
But with the internet becoming such an integral part of marketing strategies, the importance of trade shows is questionable. Most companies can reach out to customers online. Large companies even hold their events where they are the center of attraction. And it's easy to know what your competition is up to because everything is on their website.
On the other hand, many companies are not sure how to go about marketing online. They try to strike a balance between online and offline investment and end up not being able to do a proper job often. So at tradeshows, you see a lot of confused individuals, lamenting about shows becoming smaller and the dwindling footfall.
The whole conversation confirmed what I had suspected for quite a while now. Although most companies know the B2B marketing scene has changed, those in the security industry are yet to figure out a method in the madness. With so many different kinds of social media and content portals, besides the traditional media, how do you cut through the noise and let the customer hear you?
Step 1: Understand the Internet is not mass media
A persistently annoying group of people I come across in coworking spaces, and group-working cafes are those who call themselves digital marketers.
Wait, let me make it clear. I know there are some fantastic digital marketers out there who can really provide value to their clients. But there are also a lot of people who assume that you can post a few things on social media and call yourself a digital marketer because your client is probably someone from the previous generation who can't tell the difference between a 280-character post and an infographic.
I won't go into the details of how many of them are ripping their clients off, but what I want to talk about is why in B2B marketing, you shouldn't be bothered about how many likes you got, or how many times your post got shared. Yes, it does feel good to know that you have thousands of followers on Twitter, and it is not a bad thing.
But look closely - how many of them are actually going to buy your product? Are the decision-makers in your industry even using Twitter? For the most part, the security industry is still quite traditional. Many systems integrators are not into consumer-centric social media that strives to keep the users on their page by merely entertaining them.
Digital content influences 67 percent of purchase decisions in the industrial and manufacturing industry.
Step 2: You need to find the right people from the crowd
So the general use of social media is not ideal for B2B marketing, but that doesn't mean you can avoid the internet. After all, Google itself says digital content influences 67 percent of purchase decisions in the industrial and manufacturing industry. Most of your potential customers are going to use the internet to research before making a purchase. So you need to have an online presence tailored to your potential customers.
a. Find out where your target audience is
Assuming you know who your target audience, your job now is to find out what they do online. LinkedIn is an excellent place to start because 45 percent of LinkedIn users are from upper management (read decision-makers). A lot of people in the security industry spend time on LinkedIn but don't pay attention to Facebook or Twitter.
b. Build long-term online relationships
Your goal shouldn't be to get thousands of likes for your post. Yes, it does look good to know that a massive crowd just cheered for your efforts, but they would do the same for a cute cat video as well and wouldn't add any value to your business.
Create content that would address the needs of your potential customer. Make sure your post catches their attention with a suitable title. If this means you are going to have to create several different things to address different customers separately, so be it. B2B marketing asks for it.
c. Similar rules apply to e-newsletters
Email is still an excellent marketing tool because even those who are not on social media use it. The only problem is that since popular email sites are now smart enough to know what is promotional and what is personal, your newsletter could end up never being opened.
So email newsletters should be customized. If you have an extensive mailing list, break them up into smaller groups, based on some unique requirements they have. Create newsletters that directly address their problems first, not flaunting your solutions.
d. Blog posts and other content
Besides building relationships online, you need to have content on your site that confirms your authority on the field as well as informs readers about your products and solutions. You can't ignore google, so the writing needs to comply with good SEO practices.
Guest posts in trade publications and blogs that already have a strong presence in your field are vital because they will drive visitors to your site. An equally powerful tool is a reviews section, provided you can get your customers to write real reviews that confirm the benefits of your products.
Step 3: Bring it all together and track the results
Once an online marketing strategy is executed, you need to evaluate the results. But in the B2B/security market, Google Analytics is not the best metric. In fact, quantitative methods will not get you the right results. What you will need to do is analyze your posts, blogs, articles, and emails to see the response to them. Who has read it? Can you have a casual conversation with your target audience to find out if they have read it and what they think of it? In other words, engage with your potential customers and find out if you could influence them.
Herein lies another problem. Many companies want simple numbers that reflect the success of their marketing campaign. It's an understandable trait for a businessman; numbers don't lie, and we can't deny that. But what you need to be clear is which numbers to focus. Google Analytics and Facebook Insights are easy to see, but they don't tell you anything useful about your performance.
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