Social Media in Business-to-Business: A Slow Start but Gaining Momentum

Social media content is overwhelmingly created and distributed by consumers. It is very popular among consumers and business-to-consumer (B2C) organizations but the same is not true for business-to-business (B2B) firms. Social media has been defined by (Kaplan and Haenlein 2010) as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content.” Why is it that B2B organizations have been slow to use this powerful medium? There have been a number of studies that suggest that industrial marketers do not know how they will benefit from its use and social media does not research B2B customers. Social media has also been slow as an aid to an organization’s selling function. The main barriers to utilizing social media in a B2B organization are that it is not of importance within the industry the organization operates in and has not been used in the past; uncertainty whether or how social media could help their brand; unfamiliarity of staff with social media; the perceived big investment in time required; in some cases competitors don’t use social media; and importantly, a lack of social media knowledge and technical skills by the organization's staff.

This been said, there is some evidence that there is some change in B2B use of social media. Thirty-three percent of B2B buyers reported they researched at least 90 percent of products online before purchasing, up from 22 percent in 2013. Forty-four percent of respondents had researched company products on a smartphone or tablet in 2014 compared with 41 percent in 2013 (Acccenture, 2014). Although an increasing trend, social media use in B2B is much lower than in B2C.

B2B markets are different from B2C markets. Turka and Sasan (2015) noted that organizational buying behavior is much more complex than consumer buying behavior. They identified five key differences between organizational buying and consumer buying: First, negotiations are a key element involved in the organizational buying process. Second, relationships are more important in the B2B environment than in B2C. Third, there are fewer organizational buyers when compared to consumers. Fourth, organizations are more rational when purchasing compared to consumers. Last, the organizational buying centre is typically more knowledgeable with respect to the purchase than a consumer buyer.

Be careful with whom you associate: Brand building through association

The recent incident with the Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte who filed a false robbery claim while at the Rio Olympics, has led to sponsors Speedo and Ralph Lauren withdrawing their sponsorships. Other well-known sponsors have also withdrawn their sponsorships. This is not an isolated incident. Many other stars have lost their sponsorships due to some form of misconduct.   Maria Sharapova lost some of her endorsement deals after testing positive for a banned drug, Manny Pacquiao, the eight times world boxing champion lost his Nike sponsorship for disparaging remarks about gay people, and running back Adrian Peterson lost his Nike and Castrol sponsorships after he was indicted on child abuse charges. Ray Rice, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Luis Suarez, Ryan Braun…the list goes on.

Many people make mistakes in their lives. So is it worth the risk? One should ask then, why do organizations endorse and sponsor well-known sports personalities? A major reason is brand building. Consumers see athletes as experts that fans look up to and even idolize. The bottom line is it helps their revenue and profit. But what happens when a controversy arises? The brand could be negatively affected if firms don’t break with the transgressor or at the very least, have a good reason to stick with them.

Brand building requires firms to use multiple athletes if they can afford to do so in case they have to drop one because of misconduct.  Firms must also realize that brands are built in many ways, but a major effort should be through other brand associations. Endorsers are just one type of association. The person an organization employs is also a critical association. For example, faculty credentials are a major reason for a university’s good or bad reputation in the eyes of its stakeholders. Other brand associations include organizations associating with causes, for example, a commitment to sustainable practices. Organizations could also associate themselves with other brands, for example, Delta airlines serving Starbucks coffee or Diet Coke sweetened with Splenda. The point that firms need to remember is that their brand is often judged by whom and what they associate with.

Russell Abratt, Ph.D., is Professor of Marketing in the H. Wayne Huizenga College of Business and Entrepreneurship, Nova Southeastern University. He can be reached at

The Volkswagen Corporate Brand Challenge

CNBC reported that Volkswagen stock fell over 20 percent on Monday September 21 2015, after it told U.S. dealers to halt sales of some 2015 diesel cars, following regulators’ discovery that software designed for the vehicles gave false emissions data. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that the software deceived regulators who measured toxic emissions, adding that Volkswagen could face fines of up to $18 billion as a result. Such actions by one of the world’s leading vehicle manufacturers, whether by design or not, can have a negative effect on the VW brand and hurt its reputation, at least in the eyes of some stakeholders.

One of the important strategic differentiators of organizations is their corporate brand. A brand is the promise it makes to stakeholders and reputation is the degree to which a company fulfills that promise. Your reputation is important among stakeholders because you need customers to be loyal to repeat purchase and recommend your brand. Policy makers and regulators should give you the benefit of the doubt, the media should support you, suppliers and other partners should provide you with high quality product, and your employees should be engaged to support you and be brand ambassadors.

Companies like Volkswagen must build their corporate brand by first building their identity. Corporate identity involves answering two questions, who are we and what are we? Corporate identity thus involves strategic choices by the organization’s leaders which include the development of a set of values and a code of ethics. Identity also involves the expression of identity. This involves the development of the brand promise, visual identity elements like the corporate name, slogan, colors and symbols, and other forms of communication. It also involves developing the brand personality.

All of these elements lead stakeholders to form impressions about Volkswagen.

1. Is it a mistake on VW’s part or was it deliberate deception?

2. Will the brand be hurt in the short or long term?

3. Who is responsible for an incident like this?

4. What has VW got to do now to recover its reputation?

Whatever happens, this recall seems to be very serious for VW.

Russell Abratt, Ph.D., is Professor of Marketing in the H. Wayne Huizenga College of Business and Entrepreneurship. He can be reached at

Athlete Endorsers - Risky Business?

Many of us are aware of Oscar Pistorius who is now on trial for murdering his girlfriend in South Africa. Pistorius made history at the London Olympic Games in 2012 by becoming the first double amputee to participate in the games.  He at one time received endorsements of $2 million a year. Oakley has cancelled its contract with Pistorius, and Nike has "no further plans" to use him in advertisements. This is not the first athlete who has run into problems. There are many examples of popular celebrities transgressing in some way. Michael Phelps lost a Kellogg’s endorsement for inhaling from a bong at a party, Michael Vick was dropped by Nike when he was charged with participating in dog fighting, and Lance Armstrong lost endorsements from Nike, UPS, Oakley, and RadioShack among others when he admitted to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Tiger Woods at one time was making over $100 million a year in endorsements before some of them dropped him after he was involved in a car accident outside his home following an argument with his wife. 

Marketers have for many years used popular athletes to endorse their products and services. Selecting the appropriate source or communicator to deliver the message is an important part of communication strategy. Marketers realize the value of this form of communication. But what happens when these athletes transgress in some way? No company can monitor its endorsers all the time. Can it have a negative effect on the brand? The quick answer to this question is that it depends on a number of things. The answer lies in the question: how does a company choose an athlete or some other celebrity to endorse their product or service?

First, the endorser must be credible and match with the target audience as well as the product or service. The athlete’s familiarity and likability with the target audience is important. Tiger Woods for example may not have any influence with non-golfers but is certainly a credible golfer. Second, the overall image of the athlete is important, as well as his trustworthiness. The target audience must find the athlete believable. Third, the cost of acquiring the celebrity must also be considered. They are not cheap.  Phil Mickelson made over $50 from endorsements in 2012, and Maria Sharapova is paid $22 million from her deals with Nike.

Celebrity endorsers are big business. They have large followings. They “sell” products. But they are also human. The Oscar Pistorius trial - likely to be a long one – serves as a reminder that some of the most admired athletes are only human and transgress like many of us.

Is it too risky, therefore, to use athletes to endorse products?

Do you think Oscar Pistorius is likely to get endorsement contracts if he is found not guilty by the court?

Belch, G., & Belch, A. (2014). Advertising and Promotion: An Integrated Marketing Communications Perspective, 10th Edition: McGraw-Hill.

Russell Abratt, Ph.D., is a Professor of Marketing in the H. Wayne Huizenga Business School of Business and Entrepreneurship, Nova Southeastern University. He can be reached at 

What’s in a Name? Everything, or is it?

One of the most important concepts in marketing is branding. We as consumers' do not buy products and services, we buy brands and we shop at stores we know and respect. We shop at Publix or Macy's. We don't buy toothpaste we buy Colgate, we don't buy a car, and we buy a Chevy. We don't go to school. We go to Nova. Some of us are so impressed with brands we pay premium prices for products like Apple. As a result, organizations spend a lot of resources on building their brands. Brand building takes time, sometimes many years, much money is spent on building brand identity and firm's employ branding experts just to give focus on brand development. There are even specialized agencies that would value your brand. An example is Interbrand, who put the value in 2012 of the world's two top brands, Coca-Cola at $77.8 billion, and Apple at $76.9 billion. Thus brands are one of the most valuable assets of an organization.

So why then do we have a company like Maroone rebranding to AutoNation? Is there no brand equity in the Maroone name? This is not the first or only time organizations have rebranded. I am sure that you can think of many. The airline industry has also lost some big brands recently. Continental is now United Airlines, Northwest is now Delta and the most recent is US Airways becoming American Airlines. As there is great value in brands, and we as consumers love brands, why do companies rebrand?

There are generally speaking four reasons for organizations wanting to rebrand. First, there could be a change of ownership structure, usually as a result of mergers or acquisitions. This was certainly the case in the airline industry. Second, there could be a change in corporate strategy. For example, the company wants to have one name nationally and internationally. This could be the reason in the AutoNation example. Third, there could be a change in the competitive position. A company could have reputation problems or an outdated image. Last, there could be a change in the external environment, for example a legal obligation. This happens when government owned companies become publicly owned ones.

A rebranding exercise is costly, risky and time consuming. Just think of all the logos and signs that have to change, all the advertising and promotion that needs to be done in order to create the new image. It is also risky. Will the staff "buy" into the new name. Will they identify with the new brand? How will consumers react?

So what do you think? Is it good for a well-known and respected brand name to change its name even for one of the reasons stated above? Will they lose or gain business?

Russell Abratt, Ph.D., is Professor of Marketing at the Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship, Nova Southeastern University. He can be reached at About the Contributor