Carving a social niche
Erica Ng talks to BT Global Services' marketing director of Asia Pacific Ruth Rowan about the company's social plans - online and offline.
You can't have a conversation about marketing these days without the mention of social - and when the conversation is with a senior B2B marketer, it takes an interesting turn.
BT is not the most familiar name in Asia, at least not among general consumers. Within the enterprise space, however, outside its home-base in London, the communications giant is well known for offering IT services to business clients such as multinational brands, including the likes of Unilever, Coca-Cola, DHL and Standard Chartered.
And Ruth Rowan, BT's marketing director of Asia Pacific, is at the heart of the action. As a B2B marketer, Rowan says her strategies are very similar to any mass brand, except she needs to place an extra focus on segmentation.
"Other than that, the marketing principles are the same," she says.
In Asia Pacific, Rowan says BT targets about 1,000 organisations, and at each of the organisations, there are roughly 10 people who are the relevant decision-makers. As a result it has a targeted list of people it is looking to build relationships.
"There's no need for us to shout loudly," she says.
To understand its clients, BT uses multiple channels to gather information and, as with any other consumer brand, Rowan says social media is playing an increasingly important role. It helps BT understand its target companies, their recent developments and who best to talk to. It is working with several different social media platforms, including LinkedIn, in a number of different ways.
Increasingly, as many of these executives use social media to communicate and understand their markets, it becomes a great medium for BT to learn about their client's priorities. "It helps us to start building a relationship with them."
BT uses LinkedIn to research its audience and their job profiles to understand the target audience better. "It's a great new online database of who's who in corporate and government life."
It also works on LinkedIn to start and participate in discussion groups or interest groups on subjects such as business continuity through the Olympics and also leverage the social networking site as a source of much targeted advertising. "We can run tailored banner adverts on the pages where we all log in, that can be personalised based on the company you work for, job role, sector and so on."
But like all others, Rowan says social media is a new medium which involves a lot of leaning. "I think we're definitely learning about how social media plays a role in the wider marketing mix that we all have to work with," she says.
But what is the one key thing she has learnt?
"One of our key learnings has been that social media can suck up a huge amount of time without any understanding of the impact it makes.
"And the time our team spends updating Twitter and Facebook and so on has to be logged and accounted for in the same way as a budget spend on more traditional campaigns."
To manage this, BT is developing a much more mature and robust approach to social media that is integrated into its other channels and tactics, encouraging more of its people to be confident while engaging with the channels.
"At the moment we're seeing a lot of success in being able to engage with new potential customers through social media - I believe at the moment it's the new unobtrusive alternative to telemarketing - let's see if this lasts."
While the Hong Kong office is its APAC headquarters, Singapore is its hub for Southeast Asia operations. It forms a critical chunk of the business given the fact 81% of its customers are expanding into this region by strengthening their base locally. She recalls the recent WEF Summit where many speakers reiterated the importance of Southeast Asia in their growth plans.
"I was intrigued to listen to many of the speakers explore how critical it is for all of us to support continued growth in Southeast Asia to help underpin the global economy - more so now than ever."
As part of its expansion plans in the region, BT invested £1 million (S$2 million) to roll out six demonstration suites across the region to let customers experience BT's capabilities first-hand. The six customer innovation showcases ran across the region in Sydney, Singapore, Delhi, Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong and BT is in the process of building a seventh in Tokyo.
"What we sell is intangible. It's like electricity. These showcases help us bring our services to life and in turn helps our customers understand how we can help improve the way they run their organisations," she says.
"Whereas we ensured we could demonstrate all of the technical aspects of our services, we focused on ensuring we do so in a way our customers could understand and appreciate."
Sure enough, the showcases seem to be working. These six showcases across the region have already generated 80 million pounds (S$160 million) of business in one year. "To date we've spent about £1 million (S$2 million) building them and found over £125 million (S$250 million) new pipelines. But for me, the main return is seeing our customers and employees wowed by experience they have in the showcases across the region."
For better targeting and minimum wastage, Rowan says BT has been moving away from traditional marketing strategies in the telecom business such as trade shows. BT is social, in the literal sense of the term outside the online realm, with corporate social responsibility being a key part of its branding strategy.
It has a three-year partnership with Outward Bound Hong Kong in which it contributes funds to support community investment programmes. Across Asia, it works with each local country to identify programmes that are relevant for that market. In Southeast Asia, for example, it supports a charity called Tabitha in Cambodia that provides volunteering and fundraising opportunities for employees, customers and partners.
Rowan says such efforts meet the three main objectives of the company.
"We can get our people engaged with the project and volunteer; there is an opportunity to work alongside our customers with the programme; and finally, there's an opportunity for us to enhance our reputation.
"It's a great branding opportunity, if I'm talking selfishly. We get to engage projects alongside our clients - we get to build a different form of relationship with them outside of work."
"Social media can suck up a huge amount of time without any understanding of the
impact it makes."