Thursday, March 19

Understanding B2B Blogs: Case Abstract

While there is always plenty of buzz surrounding social media, an integrated approach to marketing and communication still works best to drive companies forward. And as long as companies understand that social media is a flexible tactical tool rather than replacement strategy, they will see results.

Despite substantial limitations, we recently completed a startup blog for a niche green-solution engineering company in about 90 days. The initial focus, after market analysis (listening), was to establish a blog capable of capturing the interest of clearly defined audiences: manufacturers and regulators in the short term; environmentalists over the long term.

Why blogs work as a niche B2B solution.

In as little as three months, visitation grew from 0 to 600 visitors per month (outpacing the company's Web site by as much as 4-to-1), with five subscribers and frequent return visitors. While that might seem insignificant for people who focus on traffic, traffic was inconsequential. What was important was that one weekly post succeeded in capturing interest from a very specific niche audience, with the medium length of every visit around five minutes.

We also knew they were the right audience based on analytics alone. In addition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, South Coast Air Quality Management District, State Of California Air Resources Board (among others), the majority of visitors included major engineering firms, manufacturers, food processors, and universities. As an additional footnote, the blog initiated direct contact with two environmental reporters and one congressman, specifically interested in EISA Section 471.

Based on the company's median contract rate, the program could eventually return as much as $50 to $1 hard return on investment with one contract and a significant return on communication (ROC), long term, assuming the company followed through on recommended integrated marketing tactics. There was also a high probability it would take a industry expert position in 180 to 240 days, given its area of expertise was an underserved and underreported niche within the engineering industry.

Specifically, their audience is searching the Web for content that nobody else was providing. At least, for now.

Blogs aren't ends unto themselves. They are beginnings.

Of course, blogs alone do not necessarily generate direct results. As noted, it takes an integrated approach.

Given that, in this case, the company could identify visiting companies, it could have looked up the most appropriate contacts, mailed informative value-driven marketing material, and then followed up with a introduction call. Even in cases where the material might not reach the exact visitor, the dual contact points could eventually inspire dialogue within the targeted prospect.

Specifically, by creating impressions with different people inside a targeted company, the communication will eventually converge as needs in this area arise. And, when combined with additional programs already in place (such as trade shows, workshops, and targeted advertising), a niche engineering subcontractor could easily become the focus based on the quality of its shared content, the frequency and diversification of its impressions, and the potential demand generated by the passage of green energy grants with the recent passage of the Stimulus Package.

Long term, the engineering company can still expand its social media program to social networks, with an emphasis on those based on monitoring and, more specifically, blog reader information. (Not always, but often, our readers ask us to join or try out specific social networks, groups, etc.) In other words, they could become the hub of the existing niche interest.

Early results demonstrate momentum, despite limitations.

What struck me as especially significant about this case was the steadily increasing interest despite severe limitations. Limitations included:

• An incomplete and fragmented Web site without coherent organization (which likely diminished the positive impressions created by the blog).
• The lack of a clear connection between the startup blog and Web site (e.g., a RSS feed or widget would have increased its site traffic by including the blog content on the site).
• The lack of time availability from the company's engineers, even though the commitment could have been as little as one post every three months from each, supported by related content in between, as outlined by the initial program plan (e.g. other than two contributions from myself, the most popular entries were written by the engineers).
• The missed opportunity in promoting trade shows attended where the company was an exhibitor (the point designer claimed they didn't have time to provide basic information, such as booth number).
• The undervaluation of how related content (e.g., how the fluctuation of natural gas prices indirectly increases the expense of a prospect's operations) by one party could position them as a solution-driven company, much like EISA Section 471 posts did.

Going forward, the company can address these limitations and better formalize its integrated marketing approach. The point here, however, isn't to focus in on these as deficiencies as much as it is to demonstrate that despite such limitations, the blog still managed to capture the interest of the desired audiences.

So, as long as company staff maintains the program until these areas are fixed, they still have a successful though slower growth rate program that has a high ability to capture organic traffic and niche audience interest. Further out, long term, the recommended path would be to build out into other social media areas based on niche audience participation.

Small companies sometimes underestimate marketing.

One of the reasons this was a short-term program was because of a common challenge among small companies. Often, they claim to become too busy to be concerned with marketing but not busy enough to sustain a marketing budget. Years ago, I was guilty of such deficient thinking myself. Nowadays, I know better. Marketing not only is a priority, it is the lifeblood of business. Without it, companies eventually fade away or fail outright.

Where social media is especially successful is it helps maximize B2B marketing efforts while reducing the overall budget. And even if it is not integrated, it can, at minimum, capture more interest than a static Web site because content adds value and connections increase engagement over time. It not only makes sense, it's common sense.


Krystal on 3/21/09, 11:41 AM said...

as always my friend, A well thought out post that I will share with some of my clients who are new to B2B blogging. Thanks!

Rich on 3/21/09, 12:03 PM said...

Thanks Krystal,

I hope I have that opportunity to join the AIGA panel. There is much to be learned, and I know I'm learning new applications everyday.

It's always great when we have an opportunity to look back over what has been done and see if it measures up.



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