James T. Kenny, Ph.D., and Peppi M. Kenny, Ph.D.| WESTERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY
In today’s digital-centric environment, third-party logistics companies (3PLs) can’t ignore the importance of technology in their marketing efforts. Although social media is more than two decades old, most marketers will inform you that it really took off in 2006. This was the year Facebook and Twitter became available to users around the world. In the past decade, the evolution of social media has been enormous. Marketers first used social media to leverage content with consumers in business to consumer (B2C) markets. However, 3PLs operate in the business to business (B2B) arena, where social media use is newer. While the tools are the same, the tactics required to market to these two critical markets are quite different. This article is designed to help your 3PL leverage its use of technology when marketing in a B2B arena.
The Core of Marketing
The core component of the marketing concept for any business is the exchange process. Before launching any marketing and communications program, it is important to appreciate how the exchange process works. An exchange process occurs when a 3PL firm decides to satisfy a need or want by offering services in exchange for money. It’s that simple; you enter exchange relationships all the time. 3PLs should inherently understand this concept – after all, it’s what they do all day long: exchange loads, capacity, service and money. Marketing communication is delivered through five channels to facilitate the exchange: advertising, professional selling, publicity, public relations and social media. All exchange is inherently social, and all exchange can involve technology.
Social media is an electronic form of communication (via apps or websites) that enables groups of people to create content (ideas, videos, photographs, audio and personal messages) with other members of an online community. It differs from advertising, public relations and professional selling in that it is digitally based. Evidence indicates that many firms are not as effective as they could be at leveraging social media.
B2B versus B2C
Social media was originally used to link groups of people. Soon, marketers realized the medium could be used to attract customers by feeding a small number of users an idea in hopes it would go “viral” in a larger community within hours. This outcome is a marketer’s dream. While there are now hundreds of B2C social media efforts that resulted in viral responses, examples of true B2B campaigns having the same result are as rare as unicorns prancing in your yard. Thus, to make your B2B social media efforts work, focus on the following:
- Sales Cycle. In the B2C world, the sales cycle is very short. In fact, a “viral” outcome can cause customers to go on immediate buying binges. A B2C social media campaign aims to drive instantaneous buying behavior. On the other hand, a savvy B2B social media campaign is not going to be successful in driving an instantaneous buying decision. It is going to drive brand awareness. By driving brand awareness, you are keeping your 3PL in the buyer’s select set of option providers. Your social media efforts should be focused on generating more leads and increasing brand awareness in a
- Content Distribution. In the B2C world, content is meant to be “shared” with all of your “friends.” In the B2B world, can you imagine a 3PL sending out a blog post and having four or five carriers or shippers share that information with each other? This would be a highly unlikely occurrence. In the B2B world, content is designed to be shared with decision-makers, influencers and gatekeepers and serves the purpose of providing information and educating your prospects.
In the B2C world, there is a much higher focus on the visual (videos and photographs) when sharing content via social media. In the B2B world, firms use other options with which to share content with their target audience. “One-pagers” (abstracts), case studies, white papers and webinars are exceptional tools to transfer content via technology in the B2B marketplace.
Webinars are an excellent way to transfer information to your target audience. While these tools are often ignored in the B2C world, interested 3PL readers will take advantage of them in the B2B world. The Transportation Intermediaries Association (TIA) runs 8-10 webinars a year to reach members and pass along information. Another excellent example of the use of webinars is a few TIA members who used them to educate shippers about the Electronic Logging Devices (ELD) change that took place in December 2017. A small number of TIA members used webinars effectively to educate their shippers about market changes with regard to the ELD mandate. By sponsoring a webinar, a 3PL can benefit through the fact that those who sign up are indicating an interest in the service solution that your firm provides. A good example would be a firm that specializes in consolidating refrigerated LTL freight into truckload moves. Developing a webinar on how to do this effectively and notifying members of the National Frozen Food Distributors Association (NFFDA) would result in those who register being identified as critical leads in the investigation or provider selection stage of the buying process.
Infographics are also commonly used to distribute content. An excellent example of the use of infographics in the B2C world is ESPN transferring information through its app and website. This strategy follows the classic cliché, “a picture is worth 1,000 words.” A 3PL can use infographics on their apps or Facebook posts to quickly transfer information to shippers and carriers about the existing market situation. Additionally, you can use specific customer data to create infographics to send a customized daily, weekly, or quarterly snapshot of the shipper’s or carrier’s world. There’s nothing a customer (shipper or carrier) loves more than a concise view of their situation.
A much larger number of TIA members used “one pagers,” or abstracts posted to Facebook and LinkedIn, to educate their shippers about the market changes due to the implementation of ELDs. A very small number of TIA members employ the use of case studies and white papers posted to Facebook and LinkedIn. However, the use of case studies that revolve around unique, customized or hard-to-find solutions 3PLs can offer to a specific marketplace produce a high level of lead generation. One example is a TIA member firm that developed a Transportation Management System (TMS) and posted a case study regarding this development to their Facebook page. The result of this posting drives inbound calls from senior decision-makers. The same strategy can be employed using white papers.
Again, the sales cycle is very different between the B2B and the B2C markets. In the B2C market, firms are using social media to drive instantaneous buying behavior. Effective lead generation tools include one-pagers, case studies, white papers and infographics posted to social media outlets, as well as webinars. These tools help communicate the exceptional service you can provide to your target market. It is beneficial if these tools focus on a substantial target market. For example, does your case study talk about an LTL solution for the dairy market? Does your white paper focus on a TMS solution for the produce world?
Finally, in the B2C arena there are many social media tools with which to reach the groups that firms want purchasing their products and services. In the B2B world, the most effective social media outlets are LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. All four of these tools are highly effective in firms who use them to recruit new employees. However, LinkedIn and Facebook are most useful for transferring information with regard to your services on a professional level.
- Focus on Outcomes. The goal of a B2C campaign is to drive immediate sales, while the goal of a B2B campaign is to drive leads. A prospect who contacts your 3PL based upon a social media blog, webinar, case study or infographic posted on Facebook or LinkedIn is announcing to you they have a problem that would benefit from your firm’s solution offerings. This is the very definition of a “hot” lead, which is the desired outcome. Additionally, sources impact social media outcomes. When a B2C firm is trying to enhance its brand, it often relies on “celebrities” who have high name recognition to generate the desired outcome. In the B2B world, firms should be using influencers and experts to achieve their desired outcomes. Your social media will be received better if the message is coming from a President/CEO, COO, or the person responsible for resolving the problem. Some firms make the mistake of using a photogenic employee instead of the “expert.”
Simple Tactics, Great Results
The three major differences between B2B markets and B2C markets (sales cycle time, content distribution and focus on outcomes) help define the means to make your marketing programs more effective through technology. The tactics below are designed to help keep your social media fresh or generate potential prospects:
In the B2B world, the most effective social media outlets are LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
- Manage the Profile. This tip is rooted in the “Goldilocks” syndrome. Some profiles are too complex and technical; some are incomplete or simplistic; and some are just right! If you have a unique or complex solution to a logistics problem, be sure to list your examples and solutions in layman’s terms on your LinkedIn page, on your Facebook profile, or in your white papers. Don’t assume that your prospect has the same depth of knowledge that you have. The flip side of an overly complex profile is one that is incomplete or so simplistic that it doesn’t differentiate you from other 3PLs in the marketplace. Your firm’s profile should be neat, clean and informative. Keep it authentic. Keep the copy short and concise. Most importantly, maintain a consistent message across all social media. Finally, remember that you’re running a business. You should portray a serious, authentic and professional image. Think about this before you litter your social media with too many emojis or inappropriate humorous stories. These ideas serve as great management tools in your social media world.
- Remember your Target Market. You need to remember as a 3PL that in a single day your employees, prospects, potential recruits and even competitors will all see the same material on social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. You will be posting material that is directed at two different target audiences: prospective customers and potential new employees. While there is overlap, each of your target markets requires some different content.
Tone-deaf Tweets, inappropriate photographs, incorrect grammar and misspellings in social media outlets all have a negative impact on your target markets. It’s critical that you have tight control over those who can post, upload or Tweet on your brand’s behalf. If you have any doubt about how devastating bad behavior can be on your brand, search the web for “corporate social media mistakes.” Finally, if you do make an error, submit a sincere apology and immediately remove the content.
- Stick with Your Message. Every day you strive for consistency in how you handle your shippers, enter your loads, sell to your carriers and dispatch your loads. Consistency is key to getting your message across to your potential prospects. If your message changes constantly, that makes it harder for your target market to remember your brand, unique solutions and core message. Over time, consistency builds comfort and improves recall of your brand and message. Prospects decide by choosing the familiar. Earlier this article talked about the importance of exposure. Your brand becomes familiar because you’re managing the exposures they receive from your firm. The brand also becomes familiar because there is a consistency in your message over time. Never underestimate how familiarity with a firm’s message helps people make decisions.
Besides developing a consistent message, it is also important to follow a consistent communications’ notification plan. Are you going to Tweet three times a day or three times in an hour? Are you going to post on Facebook twice a day or twice a week? Are you going to update your LinkedIn message once a day or three times a week? It is important to remember that engagement is critical to the success of social media. The volume of messages you send through social media can overwhelm if there’s too many of them and will make people question your brand if they are infrequent. A quick random check of three TIA members during the writing of this article revealed that two had not posted anything new to their LinkedIn sites in the last 45 days. The one member who had posted had no activity in the last 17 days. Not only should your message be consistent, but regular, frequent contact should be maintained. Manage the number of communications as diligently as you manage the consistency of the communication.
- Follow-up is Key. In the B2C world, social media is trying to drive an immediate purchase. In the B2B world, social media is trying to drive a contact from a “hot” lead. Failure to monitor responses to your social media postings and provide quick feedback to those who make inquiries makes people question your brand. The policies that 3PLs have in place for responding to shippers with rates are good examples of this tactic. In a world dominated by technology, remember that “high touch” is still the key to building a relationship. Social media may be driven by technology, but relationships are developed on a one-on-one basis.
3PLs can successfully use technology to improve their marketing efforts and stay current with the changing world of business. Prospects and potential recruits will use information disseminated through technology to evaluate your 3PL. Make your social media presence and use of technology successful by managing your firm’s profile; using one-pagers, case studies, white papers and infographics posted online; offering webinars; responding quickly to comments on social media; and creating consistent and timely messages.
James T. Kenny, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Marketing at Western Illinois University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peppi M. Kenny, Ph.D. is Professor of Finance at Western Illinois University. She can be reached at email@example.com.