Nobody loves paid ads.
I’ve not once clicked on any form of banner ad, never pressed the button to interact on a paid ad, retweeted or liked a brand message on Twitter.
I know I’m not alone in this.
Most people these days are proud not to watch advertising. In fact, they are proud to actively avoid it as they embrace ad blocking technology.
In 2016, 11% of the global population used ad blockers.
I’m not saying paid digital advertising doesn’t work; it has its place and always will, but it is less relevant and less effective in B2B marketing.
The problem lies in the current digital advertising model, particularly in its landscape and design. In the programmatic industry, we are seeing huge leakage in marketing spend with only 20% of media spend reaching consumers.
It makes you wonder. What happens to the other 80%?
The reality is, rising costs in bid marketing and leakage in the model are wasting marketing budgets, fuelling the revenue of media and adtech platforms. As much as it’s a waste of money, the most damaging effect is often the weakened trust and relationships between brands and their audiences.
The fall and rise of social media.
Anyone who has spent time on social networks lately has also seen first hand how commercial interests are ruining the promised purpose of ‘connecting people’ on these platforms. Instead of seeing organic content from your network, you’re getting walls of paid ads. In this case, it means poorer organic reach, as well as the more recent data issues and the devastating loss of trust in our most popular sites.
Why does this matter?
When I look at the latest major purchasing decisions I’ve made (both as a consumer and as a business), it wasn’t because I clicked on a banner ad or saw a pre-roll video, that’s for sure. I did, however, seek out reviews, and the views and opinions of those around me – not any form of brand advertising.
When it comes down to it, it’s organic peer-to-peer communication and content that usually has the highest influence, building trusted and ongoing relationships between audiences and brands.
If you’re thinking this isn’t ground-breaking stuff, you’re absolutely right. Because we already know the voice of your peers will always be more influential on your decisions than that of a corporate brand driven ultimately by their bottom line.
What’s different now is how and where peer-to-peer communication and relationships are happening.
Once again, we turn to social media.
People first, brands second.
The growth of LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social networks has been driven by an environment in which real people organically communicate directly with others. What matters here is recognising that the voice of peers is more influential than that of a corporate brand.
Just take a look at how people follow individual profiles over company pages.
Richard Branson, the man and the legend, has 14 million followers on LinkedIn. Compare this to the 242,000 followers for Virgin Atlantic as a brand – that’s 57 times as many. On Twitter, Branson has 12.6 million, versus 585,000 followers on the Virgin company page – this time it’s 22 times more.
Communicating a corporate message through real people is the secret sauce to success, because people buy from those they know, like and trust. Taking what I call a “people first” approach includes communicating and engaging your audience through your brand ambassadors, influencers, company spokesperson, sales and executive team.
Basically, anyone with a face rather than just a logo.
Where to next?
The big opportunity now lies in putting people first through social networks organically, without relying solely on paid media.
Most brands aren’t doing this well – or at all – and there is a skew of marketing budgets supporting paid media. It’s possible that the very real pressure of immediate ROI has forced marketers into a short-term mindset leaving no option other than being trapped in a virtuous circle of paid media.
How can you make a change?
Start by assessing your own (and even your competitor’s) LinkedIn profile, and I’ll wager it sounds like an online resume. An online resume does nothing to help communicate your corporate brand message and engage your target audience in a meaningful way.
Now compare that to your personal page, or even Richard Branson’s.
To begin, define the right social network that has organic audience reach for your brand. You don’t need to have a presence across ALL social networks – it simply needs to be relevant for your brand. Re-think who currently are and should be your brand ambassadors to communicate your message via social networks (start by looking at your sales/BD team, executive team, company spokesperson, customer service, distribution partners).
To build an ongoing relationship with your audience, you need a social media content plan to support your goals. There is not much point having a LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook presence if it is empty, has no content, and doesn’t interact with the audience.
To establish the position of trusted peer and advisor to your audience network, you need a direct communication and social selling strategy that enables peer-to-peer engagement.
Faces for the future
This is a very exciting time in social media and social selling, however, I’d like to see brands take a more humanised and ‘people first’ approach to social marketing, particularly in B2B social marketing. Relationship building hasn’t changed, but somehow, it has been forgotten online.
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