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In our third interview in our exclusive series we speak with Dominic Ng (Demand Generation Manager,Cisco Systems) on B2B marketing in asia through social media channels, how to approach a new market using social media to effectively market and establish your products/ services and the different challenges faced by social media in Asia.
In the first part of his interview, Dominic shares with us his views on the changing perceptions of social media as a marketing, branding and sales tool, as well as the increase in spread and reach of social media to encapsulate a larger audience both in their personal and professional lives.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the video are the personal views of the interviewee and and do not necessarily represent the philosophy or viewpoints of their organization or clients.
Transcript of the Interview
Dominic here from Cisco Systems. I actually focus on e-marketing within Asia-Pac, probably except Japan, but right now key focus is mainly China.
What distinguishes the social media landscape in Asia-Pacific from the West
I think there are multiple things that’s happening and APAC is a hugely diverse landscape. We talk about, just in simplicity, 7 languages that you need to deal with. Most countries, the big ones like China, Korea, they have their own key language portals. They even have their own search engine in that particular case.
There is QQ chat in Google and MSN, and you talk about social media as a whole as a trend – I think there are so many aspects of social media in APAC and there are so many different portals, there’s tons of millions of influencers, bloggers out there in each of the different countries that it’s really challenging if you want to look at it in its entirety as opposed to maybe Europe or US in that case with one or two languages being the core and that actually is how I see APAC landscape that’s very much different from Europe and US just in terms of social media.
Demand Generation using social media channels
I mean being totally focused on the B2B landscape right now for Cisco – there are many niche portals and these niche portals are not just focused on the Tier 1 regions, or provinces or state but across Tier 2 and Tier 3 states as well and when we talk about conversations that we can leverage on from a demand generation point of view –if you look at it in its entirety there are actually probably close to a thousand and every single moment as we are speaking right now there is probably somebody else talking about a particular product, doing either one of product comparison to asking for your opinion on a product or even in the case looking for a solution without mentioning any products. In that particular case going into each of one of these portals, I think, I would always take the 3-step approach.
One: To understand what the entire buzz in the medium is about and this works across, I think, not just for China but our engagement across the rest of the countries as well. From that with the understanding, and of course you need to prioritize what of the key portals you are going to actually look at – you can’t exactly go in and try to handle a good thousand of them and of course there are different departments in Cisco that handle that. So in terms of demand generation wise it is then critical to first understand the entire conversation, to understand the top ten sites you are going to use and probably from there you kind of learn (or) have the engagement model. It could almost be a work-flow; a yes or no and I reckon most of the time you don’t even engage the audiences at all.
After all if it’s a social network I think it’s very easy for consumers or even just users to identify that you might not be a person who just has an interest, or an evangelist in that case but you actually are representing a company. Nothing wrong with that if you’re blatantly honest about it and you are putting up facts across – I think the tricky thing is then making sure your communication is a more structured one and it is neutral enough not to create any sort of conflict –so we go then into engagement.
I think there are quite a few consumer companies who are in there but a lot of time when it comes to the B2B landscape it’s still rather tricky – which is first off aside from looking at the general face of the consumers that I have there is then determine if these are your potential customers and if they are, or they could be potential influencers within your customer segments; and if they are how are you going to engage them.
Two – From the engagement you move on to the sort of like the, I call it direct, if you could put it in any other way to actually potentially seep out whether there are opportunities and leads or potential revenues that you can get from there. That’s probably the trickiest part. I’ve always put it in the simplistic 3-step process and right now as we work on China – China itself requires a lot more depth just on the first stage, just to understand and be able to determine their work flow and engagement and direction comes after.
Cultivating social conversations
We try to segment whatever conversations; my earlier note on whether they are product comparisons, whether they are people looking for a specific product or service, or whether people are just generally talking about trends in the landscape and when you look at all this conversation you kind of need to be able to differentiate them and in any company, big multi-national company in that case, you will then have different departments – you have marketing, sales, you have PR – you’ve got even within your marketing departments you’re broken up into your brand team, your demand generation team.
Now which aspect of the conversation actually drives something that is tagged to your KPI – that’s something that we need to consider as well and if you look at the entirety of all the different segments and the possible conversations there – that’s why I said you’ll probably only end up engaging only 10% of it that’s within your domain, if you let me put it that way, and in order to generate the optimized results from actually engaging them and actually getting some sort of registration information.
I think social media itself, most of the time people come in to gather info, to get an opinion as opposed to looking to buy a product. They are very much still in the upper end of the purchasing funnel. That’s something we need to be conscious of when we engage because if we try to aggressively bring them in to, for example buy something from you within 3 replies, you might end up getting a real mess of conversations saying how you’re really pushing sales when you’re actively engaging them but then instead you get negative feedback from the overall engagement and that’s something that all, besides demand generation and the program teams for every company or any marketing team, that’s actually something that we need to manage in terms of our brand reputation as well as almost the PR influence in the market. Because ultimately the product might be good but because you’ve engaged wrongly at the start when the product first launched it might in the end turn against you instead of for you and instead of a whole bunch of people evangelizing for you; you actually get a whole bunch of advocates that are saying all sorts of things about how the sales are and the marketing is engaging, how the overall campaigns are rolling out in the different countries. That can be tricky.
Social marketing and selling
Actually a lot of depth in that question that if you probably pull yourself out in the wider landscape of things and you look at social media in its entirety to the consumers whether its B2B or B2C. If we think about it right now, I mean, the latest 2 articles that are out in the market – one social media platforms like Facebook brings in more traffic to a campaign site or program as opposed to Google search- which we all off our mind as a normal consumer or even as a marketer you would expect otherwise. If that’s the phenomenon that’s actually happening right now that depicts how important that media could be ultimately to you selling your product or to you even convincing your customers or influencers that it’s important.
So in that same domain or sphere of things I would say it’s almost equally if not more important than some of the channels out there and only time will tell. I’m a firm believer that over time there won’t be a segregation between what we call traditional online/off-line altogether. All of it might just be digital-based, it has some sort of involvement required from the marketers or the companies. We call it social media right now. It might just be a social way of marketing or social way of selling in that aspect as everybody trusts the friend’s opinion or the community’s opinion as opposed to just looking out for the advertiser’s product specifications into tables and making comparisons on even any of the tech platform sites and that’s just in terms of electronics in that case.
So that is one aspect of how important social media may play and how you need to get in, as my earlier engagement suggested model. I don’t think there’s a foolproof way to do it. Should you engage, and every single time you engage in every different market in APAC you’ll probably get a different response and you’ll probably need to re-jig your entire workflow to get it to work and that’s something that all marketers who are interested to explore this domain need to be aware before they even step in. Now that’s one aspect.
The other thing I see coming – I believe it will be a trend, this would be an upcoming trend, maybe its five years, maybe its ten years, maybe even shorter in two years time – that the other article that we’ve just recently seen is that Facebook as a key social media platform that’s sharing most of the content in the landscape as compared to other things like Twitter, MySpace or even some of the local domains like for example Naver in Korea. I mean all these sites have their equivalent platform or modules that allow content sharing and I think it will be interesting. Right now the articles doesn’t quite compare social media platform to social media platform instead of comparing social media platforms to all the rest of the channels in the landscape. What would be really interesting I think is to explore and invest in an article that actually says content sharing has become more prominent in social media sites as opposed to specific content sharing site that were developed in that case – things like Slideshare, things like Flickr.
I actually do believe that it will all merge ultimately and from a user point of view, coming from a user point of view there is only so much bandwidth I could put in a linking way that we can actually link through and that’s why aggregators exist. Similar in the social media landscape from a consumer point of view I see it probably merging over time and you will only use one to do whatever sharing you want; whether its video, whether its photos, whether its PowerPoint, whether its work related or whether its personal. Yes there will be some virtual segregation within the entire spectrum but in the end you will probably only have one or two that you visit on a daily basis, or actively visit to read about the latest news, to understand about the latest product or to even just in a general basis understand about the activities that are happening in your interest groups or whatever you choose within that landscape.
So with those 2 propositions in mind, with those 2 visions in mind it will actually allow us as marketers to better understand where consumers are coming from and I think its we who try, as marketers, who try to draw that line between business-to-business and business-to-consumers, because if you ask me as we look at the entire thing, everybody is in every one time of the day wearing different hats so as the line blurs and the technology kind of totally engulfs us within this, all the different channels and every day we see different things, at one point we are at work –does that mean at work we wear the hat of a business person but when our wife calls or our children call we do not answer because right now you are maybe the CEO or MD of a company and I answer to my employees- we don’t. Similarly when we read about news, do we read only about technology news or do we read about what happens with our friends, do we go to Facebook to take a look at the photos? I think to be open to the entirety – is it easier to market to a business owner or a tech decision owner and the frame of mind when they are thinking about what solution to pick up or would it be better as and when they are actually engaging with their kids and the time is spent at home and they happen to come across or their kids happen to come across something that’s interesting.
Say for example a viral campaign driving a particular product of interest and to hear their kids mention something that actually has some significance in their own lives – I think the influence is actually starting to blur if not already blurred in our current landscape depending on which era you live in and I think the other latest interesting article that has come out is that there are 12 million new users that are 35 and older in Facebook and that in itself debunks the initial myth of us saying that “this social media stuff. It’s for kids”. Unfortunately I think it’s here to stay even if it is for your kids you are there because like for example in the latest IDA forum that they had. In Singapore you have parents that are attending all these forums because the key advice is that you need to get on to it yourself to understand what your kids are there for.
I think similarly this is why adults engage the platform in the initial basis but thereafter as all the different technologies and objectives merge this becomes the core platform to monitor your kids, to think about what works for you, to have your business network connected to you, to have your relevant articles feed in, to have your interest groups into this entire Facebook profile. It could be anything out there. It could be your neighbor profile. In China’s case it could be your entire QQ homepage. It could all just be there. It doesn’t need to segregate in this case anymore. So why then I would ask ourselves as marketers, as advertisers, why then are we putting that segregation in when the consumers don’t really see it that way anymore?