Marketing ‘with’ clients – Leveraging User Generated Contents in B2B

  • Ajit Aras

Earlier in the month of June, Worldwide Business Research held their Next Generation Customer Experience Asia Virtual Summit and Expo, NGCX Asia 2021. Aimed at providing attendees with the opportunity to tap on some of the best minds in the field of CX through peer-to-peer facilitated networking, interactive workshops and discussion groups, the team brought together leading experts across the continent from a diverse range of industries.

It was a great roundtable at the NGCX Asia, with generous sharings by Priyanka Nadkarni, Anol Bhattacharya, Joel Chang, Rohan Kamra & Walter Jennings on the challenges & possibilities of ‘Leveraging User Generated Contents (UGC) in B2B’.

The rapid increase of content marketing in B2B is a significant trend observed ever since COVID-19 curtailed face-to-face meetings. This has brought about challenges like content clutter & high hurdles to capture the attention of the potential audience. UGC offers help in overcoming these challenges, as it is perceived to be more authentic by the audience & received with a low guard. 

To understand why UGC is rarely leveraged in B2B, especially when compared to B2C, we first need to investigate the differences between B2B & B2C. Indeed, the B2B marketing approach tends to be utilitarian (read technical or even clinical) which contrasts the humanly, personal & emotional approach typically observed in B2C. B2B puts emphasis on subject matter expertise and functional disciplines which add layers in B2B social marketing and reduces its agility.

B2B buying journeys are longer, so buyer-seller relationships tend to be long-term rather than transactional. Feedback thus tends to be shared directly and seldom through social channels. Social media usage could be limited by company policy. This makes the generation of organic UGC unlikely.

Besides, B2B brands are seldom ‘aspirational’ in nature, which can prompt a user to post UGC. Rather, UGC creators are frequently bothered by concerns of compliance & even conflict of interest, as UGC essentially means promoting another brand, typically that of a supplier. 

While the creation of B2B UGC is already challenging enough, B2B specific requirements on the contents of UGC raise this even further. Who or which function of a customer organization the UGC comes from, matters to its relevance and its effectiveness thereafter. The devil is indeed in the details of how that brand helped to solve a specific problem. Was it through a new technology or a new business model or great by offering support or possibly by offering it a better pricing point?

Emotions indeed do play a part in B2B, albeit quite different ones from B2C. Communication does happen in B2B, though far less in the public domain or social media. There is substantial B2B UGC happening with Technology Review Platforms such as G2, TrustRadius & Gartner Peer Insights and the role of marketing in encouraging UGC is evident. Emotional interaction gives way to intellectual engagement in B2B, both in early access to advanced roadmap information directly from top management – positioning influencers or in early users within an “inner circle”.

Having authentication/qualification requirements to join a semi-open online community and then leaving the discussion largely unbiased could be a great way to kindle community spirit and generate brand-related conversations. These closed communities could be small in member numbers, quite like small followings of B2B industry-related Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) but are still valuable to B2B marketing with The Community Roundtable’s 2019 The State of Community Management report estimating an ROI of nearly 6,500% on average. After all, B2B is often about micro-targeting with subject matter expertise. To encourage such groups, marketers should refrain from attempting to bias the conversations in their favour, as this would result in members losing comfort & dropping off. 

The traditional form of UGC has been Word-of-mouth (WOM). Although B2B customers would not boast of a great buying experience on social media, they would certainly value it and recommend the brand to their peers. It’s no wonder this forms a significant part of the B2B business that has traditionally come through WOM.  Comparing & contrasting with WOM – the end goal of UGC lies in influencing a greater number of people, thanks to its scalability. So, while UGC conversation among a closed community can help increase sales – spreading this UGC openly on social media can multiply those benefits plus enhance the brand’s value. There is an incentive for marketers to spread unbiased conversations over open social media without screening for positive ones, as research has shown that even negative reviews in B2B, spark interest to explore more about a particular product. Such radical transparency is hard for marketers to adopt, but if achieved, can boost the authenticity of the contents and therefore acceptability of UGC drastically. 

While the B2B brand can adopt radical transparency, it may not always be feasible to share details about a customer’s project in a case study. Here a “use case” could be a middle way out to help potential buyers through their buying journey. Use cases retain the essential details of how a product or solution solved the problems & generated value, either financial or otherwise,  to a customer but stops short of divulging customer identity. This could be of great relevance & help in reaching buying decisions, particularly where the stakes are high.

B2B certainly has some catching up to do. If the right steps are taken, UGC can be a force to be reckoned with. Our panellists shared some insights on the further steps B2B marketers can take. Firstly, UGC or any form of participation marketing is too important to be left to agencies and an in-house focus is necessary to ensure it is done well. Though the attribution of UGC is complicated, its ROI is certain. Marketers should put in place a framework to encourage UGC and step forward by offering guidance and templates for UGC creators to make it easier for them. 

When it comes to influencer recruitment in B2B, it is not necessarily the quantity (number of followers) but quality in terms of the subject matter expertise and the relevance of the conversation to the target audience. An influencer with a much smaller following could still be a valuable resource for micro-targeting potential customers in a niche market segment. The same holds true in the case of customers or ‘users’ who can generate UGC. Brands can participate in focused peer groups such as developer communities online and offer to add value to discussions by sharing their expertise or access to developer tools etc. to solve some of the problems discussed. Such emphatic gestures from the brand could well earn them some organic UGC too!

When we assessed the importance and relevance of video in B2B marketing & particularly B2B UGC,  the response received was a resounding “video works!” and works better than the majority of other content types out there. With research showing that 70% of B2B buyers consume video content throughout their path to purchase, video messages could be the logical next best thing given that COVID-19 has restricted face-to-face interaction. Video case studies that can highlight the problems or challenges, how it was resolved and how the brand helped can be of great value. While a polished video is nice to view, it is certainly not a must. Rather a couple of little ‘rough edges’ left on the video might actually help it to be perceived as more authentic. Hence marketers are encouraged to leverage video use cases. While the video may be the de facto option, standard audio can help in marketing promotions as well, with audio podcasts or interviews with leading customers, well worth the marketing investment.

As organic B2B UGC is less likely, marketers can take steps to trigger and co-create quality UGC with leading customers. Keeping the focus on such co-created UGC on the lead customers’ achievements will help navigate the hurdles in UGC generation. Such UGC use cases can be helpful for decision making during potential buyers’ journey and hence could be an invaluable tool for B2B marketers.

About the writer:

Ajit Aras is frequently invited to be a keynote speaker at Industry conferences across Asia. He has built teams & B2B partnerships, to co-innovate value in the diverse fields of Mobility, IoT, Medical & ICT across Oceania, India & SE-Asia. As the Executive Vice President at Sharp Singapore, he heads the Device business that enables brands to deliver a premium user experience. Ajit has been an advocate of local Startups and advises entrepreneurs on B2B go-to-market strategies and leadership.

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