In one of my most recent studies on the topic of web 2.0 marketing platforms, B2B marketers universally mentioned that "the internal limitations of budget and people" is their number one challenge in meeting marketing goals. Survey results suggested that many marketers are curious about how to use internet-based marketing techniques such as Email Marketing, Social Media/Blogging, Webinars, SEO/SEM, and Display Advertising, for lead generation and to achieve other key marketing objectives. The Marketers that were interviewed in our "Non-IT B2B Marketers Research Study" spoke candidly about themes including Lead/Demand Gen, Branding, and the economy. The study's focus was to see how Non-IT B2B marketing professionals view a few different online platforms to reach their audience.
I was given the opportunity to interview more than a dozen marketers at publicly traded companies about their biggest challenges, greatest success, and their opinions on a few different internet marketing platforms. Survey results confirmed that at the root of most marketing challenges is the state of the economy. While every marketer and company confronts different challenges, here are the few overarching thematic challenges that i noticed:
The umbrella of challenges that Marketers face makes pinpointing a single solution seemingly impossible. What works for a multi-national financial institution is not going to work for a single office insurance company. However, with the growth of Web 2.0 and the ever increasing need for Marketers to offer cheap and accessible information, the internet provides numerous alternatives and solutions to the traditional, and oftentimes expensive offline marketing programs.
"Meeting and conference attendance is going to get hit hard in 2009 and 2010" one Marketer stated in an interview. With the current economic situation, there is no doubt that companies are going to be more reluctant to "spend money to come together." In addition to traditional conference campaigns, collateral marketing efforts through direct mail and print are expensive and tend to yield only marginal results. As these issues become more evident, companies are looking for cheaper and more effective ways to market than traditional offline platforms. Continued use of large scale offline marketing efforts are useful because they put vendors in a "premier spot on the supply chain for when the market gets hot again," said one Global Marketing Manager. The use of offline vs. online marketing is a great example of the internal conflict that many marketing professionals experience. One Marketing Director I spoke with summed it up nicely when she said that the biggest problem was, "given X amount of dollars, we don't know where to prioritize the money." And that tends to be the biggest issue. How can online marketing spend be justified when calculating ROI is so difficult?
This summary will discuss the advantages, constraints, and overall sentiment regarding the main internet marketing platforms that interviewees focused on in our most recent "Non-IT B2B Marketing Research" Study.
Email Marketing- One of the most overlooked forms of internet marketing in the non-IT business space is email marketing. Those who have explored this practice reported back with, at the very least, marginal success. While most companies use this practice to some degree, not everyone is doing it right. The general consensus is that email marketing is best at optimizing a particular existing client base. In fact, over 85% of marketers said that they have used or use this platform to reach their audiences. Email marketing is particularly beneficial in that it is highly targeted. By "blasting" a pre-developed list, marketers are able to provide viewers with continuous reminders of the company's presence (branding) and any new promotions or products that the company might have. The end goal with any marketing campaign's success is often measured by the amount of interest it sparks for the viewer, or the quantity of leads it generates. With most CRM technology, marketers can easily organize the ROI metrics that follow an email marketing campaign. However, the main concern that all marketers addressed with email marketing is that of diminishing returns. When large quantities of emails get sent out that neglect to address current topics such as the campaign risks "Opt out" from its audience, leading to what is called "List Decay". Thus it is extremely important to constantly update topics and maintain relevant content. Relating the economic impact to one's audience is a great example of this. Furthermore, email campaigns can be resource-intensive (software costs as well as time spent developing multiple campaigns). However, data strongly indicates that marketers who utilize the email platform to reach their audience can get quantifiable results.
Social Media/Blogging- The hottest topic of discussion in online marketing right now is the optimization of social media websites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. One financial institution that I spoke with had even created a network on Facebook specific to their business clients to increase interaction and spread messaging. This practice has not become uncommon in the B2B space, however, is still in its infancy. Social media and blogging platforms allow for its users and administrators to interact with others that share a common relationship with a particular company. By adding social media aspects to their business, one Marketing Communications Manager said they were able to create "a whole lot of thought leadership as well as build a strong referral system." The biggest roadblock that marketers face in the social media arena is quantifying their ROI. I was shocked to hear the account of one Online Audience Developing Manager who claimed that "given a certain budget, she could guarantee X number of leads through social media." Her account of being able to "steer the ship" in terms of calculating ROI on these types of campaigns is extremely rare for most internet marketing efforts of non-IT companies. While it is still difficult for many to predict and quantify the metrics of success that social media and blogging provide, there is still a lot of optimism about the use of these platforms. Even the respondents who said they were not currently utilizing the medium said that there was a lot of interest and saw it as a "future tactic" to connect with their target audience. The hype and focus is there, but one has to wonder, at what point do social media marketing efforts begin to pay off?
Webinars- Webinar use is one of the more interesting topics that were discussed in our interviews because of the disparity of opinions regarding this particular platform. Interestingly enough, less than 50% of B2B marketers interviewed said they used webinars to reach out to potential/existing clients. Webinars are targeted and yield easy-to-see metrics because of attendance numbers. In addition, there were a select group of respondents who said their companies used webinars more to message new ideas to their internal audience (company's employees). Internal uses of webinars can facilitate certain processes between Sales and Marketing, making it more efficient by helping to keep everyone on the same page. Webinars can also prove to be an excellent source of lead generation as well. One Marketing manager from a Chemical manufacturing company said that webinars are especially useful during new product launches and stated that adding a case study element to the promotion helps because "buyers tend to like hearing what other experts in the field have to say about their experiences." The key is to incorporate customer and peer testimony into the campaign. Webinars tend to be especially useful in a considered purchase process where potential buyers need more than just one platform of information in order to justify their investment. Overall, the messaging style of webinars is still fairly new to a lot of B2B vendors but when utilized correctly, webinars can be an excellent source of lead gen for marketers.
SEM/SEO- Seen more as a website optimization effort than a conventional marketing strategy, SEM/SEO is a fairly multifaceted practice in online marketing. "SEO is a challenge that not everyone can be successful at" said one Audience Development Manager at a major online media company. The end goal with SEO/SEM is always GOOGLE. The plethora of things to consider are abundant. How can we get on the first page when buyers are searching for relevant terms other than our company name? What algorithm is the search engine giant currently using? Which key words do I want to make sure I get pinged for? Additionally, making sure that all your Meta Data (yes, Meta Data) is lined up in the correct format on the website page source is crucial. Even the "smallest mistake in formatting content means the difference between millions of visitors and none" said Marketing Audience Development Manager. Since formatting is scrutinized so highly, the SEM/SEO process can be quite labor intensive and only experienced administrators can really guarantee the quantifiable results that marketing agencies seek.
Online Display Advertising- Probably the most traditional form of internet marketing is Banner Advertising. Surprising results from our study showed that less than 30% of B2B vendors interviewed used banner advertising in their marketing campaigns. This medium, like most offline marketing efforts, is viewed mainly as a branding effort; with the actual ROI being very minimal. Another similarity found between banner advertising and print advertising is their targeting strength. These campaigns have to be implemented in trade publications that are viewed by an audience within the vendor's target industry. However, even when this happens, there is no guarantee that the viewer is an active buyer or even remotely interested in the vendor's offering.
Each of the marketing programs discussed present respective strengths and weaknesses. To create an index for success for all media platforms would have required us to project our own judgments of the topics discussed above. Here are some high-level themes to always consider when evaluating which platform will yield the most success:
Regardless of the industry and company size, the predominant focus of marketers is how best they can serve their respective Sales departments. The message from our study is loud and clear: marketers are struggling to find the most innovative and successful way to attract real buyers to their pipelines. At this point, there is no clear cut answer. In fact, the internet and Web 2.0 tactics have given us many to choose from. And finding out how to integrate all platforms and campaigns together is a step in the right direction.
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