Brand building requires engagement on every channel so customers come ready to buy

There’s an old saying in the business world that past performance is not an indicator of future performance. In the age of the informed consumer, marketers cannot rely on doing things they way they have been done in order to ensure growth and success down the road.

A recent column in Inc. magazine tackles the strategy-by-hindsight challenge by delving into the data-driven purchasing process that consumers go through before opening their wallets (real and virtual). Social influence, online research, and peer-driven reviews are vital to a consumer’s decision to engage with and buy from a brand.

That makes sense for the end consumer: you want to buy a TV, you read reviews on CNET and Amazon. You want to try a new restaurant, you ask for recommendations on Facebook and check out comments on Yelp.

But what about the B2B consumer? Does she behave the same way? The short answer is yes: what’s true for the end consumer is true for the decision maker with purchasing power within the enterprise. Executives with buying power do online research, check in with members of social networks like LinkedIn, ask questions on Quora, and test ideas among their peers before deciding to buy.

This is especially true in the midmarket, where layers of procurement tend to be thin—or nonexistent—and executives manage spend from their own budgets directly, rather than via a centralized purchasing department.

For marketers trying to capture the attention of potential buyers, this means that what we previously thought of as “consumer” tactics have to be deployed in the B2B environment. Any marketer in a B2B setting that thinks Facebook and Twitter are still irrelevant to their audiences are just plain wrong.

For business executives looking to make a purchase, this means that a 360-degree brand experience is suddenly critical, rather than nice-to-have. Interacting with a brand and its offerings on social, online, and in person must happen almost simultaneously in order for a purchasing decision to follow.

In the past, brands influenced buying decisions by pushing information out and waiting for consumers to arrive at their doorsteps (real and virtual), or respond to an email, or sign up for a promotion on a website. Even if this approach has delivered success in the past, it’s not a safe strategy for future competitive advantage.

Now that brand building has become a two-way dialogue between buyers and marketers, it’s about engaging on every channel so that customers come to you already ready to convert into buyers.

The new age of the informed consumer may seem overwhelming to marketers with finite budgets and enterprise customers with finite time. But to me, it makes perfect sense: give people platforms for engaging online, in communities, and in person so that they can make business decisions that will bring value to both.

Which is exactly why we believe business is personal—and business success is built on personal engagement.