Social media for B2B marketing - inane or invaluable? Hofstede & culture

Ed Marsh | Mar 19, 2014

"The Mindset Divide"social media b2b marketing mindset divide

"Perhaps one of the biggest myths in B2B branding is that the nature of the decision process is so rational that emotions do not play a significant role." Kevin Lane Keller @ Phillip Kotler
Yesterday we looked at similarities between B2C and B2B marketing.  For dyed in the wool B2B product manufacturing folks this can be counterintuitive and pretty darned uncomfortable.

Generally though they become comfortable with story telling in the context of some video, documents which map to the buyers journey and even infographics.  

But social media is often too big a leap.  How many times have you thought or heard a senior exec from a B2B manufacturing company sound off about Facebook and Twitter?  Those seem to be the lightning rods (occasionally I hear folks blast LinkedIn as well - but most are blissfully ignorant of GooglePlus, Pinterest and others.)

Is time and attention paid to those channels fruitless?  It can be - just as it can be incredibly fruitful.  Not every channel is appropriate for every B2B product or business model.  But there are almost certainly some that are right for yours.  

Why are there such differing opinions?  Certainly people are people - each with personal preferences.  But there's more.  A fundamental difference in perspective.

Process vs. Results & People vs. Biz

Geert Hofstede's work on organizational culture established six dimensions of corporate culture.  They include:
  • Process-Oriented vs. Results-Oriented
  • Employee-Oriented vs. Job-Oriented
  • Parochial vs. Professional (does one's identity come from company or profession)
  • Open System vs. Closed System (inclusive vs. secretive climate)
  • Loose Control vs. Tight Control (of people's activities)
  • Pragmatic vs. Normative (procedure or market driven)
These differentiators are often applied to national culture - to predict and explain business conflicts which originate in different cultural norms and expectations.

But to understand the different comfort with social media, consider for a moment how they also define critical differences between generational approach to business in the US...... 

Personal vs. business - boomer vs. millennial (& gen x)

b2b marketing across generational and social media divideGenerational differences in perspective are behind much of the conflict over the value and efficacy of social media in B2B marketing.  Fundamentally those who see work as distinct from non-work view perpetual engagement differently than those who are digital natives (e.g. millennials.)

One of the hardest things for B2B execs to accept is that not everyone makes purchasing decisions and buys the same way they do.  (Step 3 in my 13 step program calls for that awareness.)  But buying is different today - and those who are constantly connected embrace tools which enable that.

That includes social networking - and many consider it a prime source for solutions to problems and challenges they face, and recommendations.

Obviously there's a continuum of connectedness across generations - there are extremes and large variations.  Many boomers wouldn't consider searching for B2B solutions on line - asking their accountant, attorney or golfing partner instead.  But the center of mass is rapidly moving toward digital tools.

While the lines are blurring, personal remains distinct from professional...sort of

"Professionally when I network, it's for information to do my job better....it is an essential part of being successful." LinkedIn / TNS data on social networking
MindsetDivide InfographicAnd this may be where some of the resistance lies.  If you see Facebook solely as a tool to vent about politics and keep up with children & grandchildren, you understandably don't associate it with any substantive business purpose.  You are likely inclined to be process and job oriented, and inclined toward the closed system, tight control and pragmatic approach to the market.

On the other hand if you use Twitter to keep current (in real time) with notable thought leaders in areas of professional importance to you - then that is a tool which is worthwhile.  (And likely one for which you might maintain distinct profiles for your personal and professional sides.)  And you are probably more apt to have a results and employee centric view, preferring and open and loose environment and market based outlook.

And between the two, there is likely a very different sense of propriety, appropriateness and pertinence of social networking in different contexts.

Get over it

Everyone instinctively finds a comfortable spot in their social and professional context based on individual preferences.  But the general societal context is shifting.  Companies must shift to remain relevant.  And their sales & marketing must be assiduously tailored to carefully crafted target buyer personas.

Just as one can recognize that promiscuous selfies uploaded to social media channels are likely to have unfortunate consequences for adolescents.  One can also intuit that if 70% of the B2B sales process happens before a rep becomes involved, that increasingly social networks are a resource to those seeking solutions.

One can remain skeptical of the value, but embrace a best practices approach and reserve a final judgment based on carefully measured KPIs and ultimately ROI.

And if you're still struggling to understand...here's a final question for you.  Have you ever turned to Consumer Reports (or some analogous source) in print or online to get an opinion on what you were about to buy?

Of course you have.

Where do you think folks turn now?

Struggling to come to terms with the reality of B2B digital marketing?  Check out our Step by Step Guide.

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