Online technologies can help shorten the distance between industrial innovation and its beneficiaries.
Undoubtedly, humans have benefited immensely from industrial and technological innovations. Improvements in daily life, such as food production, household appliances, medicine, communications, transportation, etc. are all the result of various industrial technological developments and discoveries. Despite reaping the benefits of such processes and products, the vast majority of these innovations go unnoticed or are not fully understood by end users and consumers. For example, everyone is familiar with Coca-Cola, but few people know about Krones, the worldwide leader in beverage bottling and production line technology. Volkswagen, BMW, and Mercedes are known commodities, yet it is KUKA’s robots and automation systems that make the mass production of automobiles possible.
For the Chinese market, Weibo and Wechat are social media channels that can help B2B companies overcome this information-gap with consumers and potential customers. Just like B2C companies, B2B ones need social media. The ultimate question then becomes, what type of role should social media play in the B2B marketing mix? What kinds of content should be delivered through social media?
In general, B2B marketing is either branding-oriented or lead generation-oriented—with a large focus on the latter. Many B2B industrial companies dedicate their marketing efforts to communicating with potential customers and direct sales support. However, this model is shifting towards branding, especially as price sensitivity is becoming less and less of a determining factor in the buyer decision making process. This is exceptionally true in the international context, where the perceived cultural background of the products and brands themselves becomes one of the most important selling points.
In this way, a thoughtful and strategic combination of Weibo and Wechat can not only help B2B companies expand their brand awareness and notoriety, but also generate leads, provide sales support, and after-sales customer relationship management.
Weibo Case Study: Siemens’ Corporate Weibo Account
Weibo (Chinese translation of microblog) is similar to Twitter, but incorporates multimedia functionality and performance, making it incredibly powerful and engaging for users. There are two weibo providers in China, each with a different target market and user group. Tecent Weibo is geared towards teenagers and students, whereas Sina Weibo has a more professional and highly educated user-base—making the later more amenable to B2B companies looking to increase brand awareness.
The Siemens Group has many subsidiaries and business units active in China. In addition to their corporate Weibo—which is responsible for the branding of Siemens Group—there are several other accounts for specific business units and target groups. These include Siemens Industry, Siemens Energy, Siemens Industrial Software, Siemens Home Appliances, and several others. All with the exception of Siemens Home Appliances have a B2B focus. The challenge then for the Siemens’ corporate marketing team is how to showcase to Chinese consumers ALL of the products and business units of Siemens Group, not only its washing machines and refrigerators. Highlighting other core business areas that serve the B2B space is the chief goal of the Siemens Group corporate Weibo account.
For example, a recent post on Siemens Group’s corporate account highlighted Siemens’ medical imaging technology. When someone goes to the doctor and needs a medical scan from a CT, x-ray, or ultrasound machine—they typically don’t know the difference between tests, or care who produced the machine—much less have a say in the matter. What people ultimately do care about, however, are the results and diagnostic insights the technology provides, so that they can receive the proper treatment or therapies to feel better as soon as possible.
Siemens took note of this discrepancy in consumer knowledge versus need, and created an easy-to-understand infographic which illustrated the differences between procedures and which body parts or systems are targeted by each (see image below) machine. This post effectively used Weibo as a touch point for consumers, not only teaching them the differences between common medical scans and diagnostic tests, but moreover connecting those procedures to different disease diagnoses. This information is useful to consumers who want more autonomy and understanding of their health, allowing them to partially self-diagnose symptoms and better incorporate opinions from medical professionals into their health decisions—possibly avoiding unnecessary costs. In this case, using an easy-to-understand graphic with simple texts helped to ease peoples’ minds about the medical technology and machines—combating the unknown with solid information while simultaneously promoting the efficacy of Siemens as a manufacturer of life-saving medical technology. As patients and consumers become more familiar with imaging tests and body scans, so too will they equate those machines with diagnosing their illnesses—and ultimately as a means to get better. So too then will people internalize that Siemens produces those life-changing machines, growing awareness for the brand and increasing consumer trust and confidence. This is an excellent strategy for B2B content marketing that builds brand awareness.
Case Study: B2B eCommerce—Wechat Facilitates Lead Generation and Direct-Sales Support
The biggest difference between Weibo and Wechat lies in the privacy and content distribution settings of each channel. Wechat is valuable for marketers because it allows a one-to-one direct dialogue between users and accounts. There are two types of public accounts that can be useful for B2B marketers—a Subscription Account and a Service Account. A Subscription Account is similar to a newsletter but operates under a mobile communication framework. Using this account, companies can regularly send corporate news, product information, or applications to their subscribers (only once per day). These aren’t push-enabled notifications, so the user will only receive the messages upon opening the Wechat app. With a Service Account, companies can only send one group message to their followers per month. Its main purpose it receiving inquiries from followers and responding quickly to questions and concerns. This is especially suited for service-oriented companies or after-sales departments of industrial companies. This seamless communication allows companies to easily maintain a direct relationship with their existing and potential customers.
For B2B companies, using a one-two combination of both Wechat account types can help them to more precisely connect with their market and send them the latest product and company news. It also serves as a feedback channel, enabling timely responses to problems or issues raised by followers. Wechat is also unique in that public accounts (companies, for example) cannot add or invite private accounts to subscribe to them or message unconnected accounts in any way. Private accounts can only add public accounts to their contact list via QR code or direct search within the Wechat app. Therefore, those individuals connected to a company as a private account demonstrate users who are more inclined to buy or care about company news, since they had to subscribe to the information themselves.
Wechat is also useful for lead generation, after-sales support, and customer relationship management. As eCommerce becomes more and more popular in China, it is easy to understand why companies (even B2B) have integrated Wechat into their selling and customer communication processes. Some companies exclusively use Wechat to communicate with existing and potential customers as a service channel.
When compared with B2C companies, the inquiries received by B2B companies tend to be more complicated and complex, taking a longer amount of time to finalize each order. Wechat allows B2B companies to serve their customers from a mobile platform—which means increased convenience, shortened wait times, and personalized service for customers. Because Wechat offers instant one-to-one and one-to-many messaging options within groups, multimedia communication and mobile data sharing enable more efficient and easier inquiry processing and responses. This improved processing is beneficial both to the business and customer, and is made possible thanks to the dynamic Wechat app services.
hc360, a B2B portal with 180,000 members, is currently cooperating with Wechat to introduce a new Wechat-based eCommerce platform and add-on service pack for its members. These will be called WeMall and WeShop. The integration of Wechat functionality into B2B eCommerce processes will help boost sales and support of B2B companies who utilize this service. By focusing on customer engagement and direct messaging, B2B companies can optimize their marketing mix to fit the increasingly mobile Chinese consumer.