One of my favorite thought leaders and {grow} community members is John Bottom, a director at the Base One marketing agency in London.  John and I have had an on-going dialogue about the evolution of socal media and one of his recent comments caught my attention:

The people benefiting most from Twitter right now are obviously in the information businesses.  We are all marketers here and we are sharing views and ideas because that’s what we ultimately sell. If you’re selling something more physical, you need to first create the information-surround market (or at least understand the information-surround market) before you can start to get benefit from Twitter and other social media platforms.

What I mean is that, if you sell power tools, you rely on people talking about power tools online before Twitter starts to have relevance to you – and these people are taking longer to embrace Twitter than the rest of us, because our benefits are more immediate. That doesn’t mean it won’t come, but it makes it harder for us to convince them at those marketing meetings.

In this simple statement John sums up one of the biggest obstacles facing B2B marketers.

As I look at the social media landscape, at least for small and medium businesses, he appears to be correct … at least based in my own experience.  I think there are a couple of important business implications from this simple observation:

1) About 75% of Fortune 100 companies are actively involved in social media. Some of them (Boeing, GE) are industrial B2B’s.  Small businesses can learn from them to see how their brand-builidng online strategies might parallel their own.

2) This emphasizes the importance of considering social media as just one part of an overall marketing strategy.

3) It also implies the importance of doing a customer audit as part of that strategy development.  Are your customers online? If so, where?  If not, why not?  Don’t spend money in this area if the customers aren’t there.

4) One key to a successful marketing strategy is finding meaningful points of differentiation. This does not necessarily have to be in the product or service itself. It can be in HOW the goods are marketed and sold. So if competitors are not using the social web as a marketing channel and your customers are there, this can be a wonderful opportunity.

Of course this is all predicated on an assumption that B2B customers will eventually pick up on social media. I’m wondering what the timeframe will be … I have to tell you I still see a lot of blank stares at meetings with industrial clients!  What do you think about this?  Will we see a day when a larger diversity of products will benefit from the social web?

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