B-to-B Online and Interactive Marketing: Cutting Through The Hype

Online advertising, social networking, search engine marketing, Internet broadcasting, wikis, Web 2.0… What do these terms mean for your B-to-B marketing strategy? How do you harness the power of these new channels and Internet strategies without derailing your current strategy? Who in your organization is responsible for this emerging area of marketing? How can you leverage your online and interactive marketing activities to improve marketing’s performance measurement strategy? The new and constantly changing digital marketplace represents great opportunity for your marketing organization and your company, and these are just a few of the questions that you should be asking yourself. However, many tech marketers are off to some operational false starts in this area.

Keeping on Course: 2008 Guidance for CMOs

You may expect that the first place to start reviewing this topic would be to describe the latest and greatest application available on the Web. However, to prevent losing focus on your overall marketing strategy and to keep the digital marketing hype in check, it’s important to begin with an understanding of your CMO’s overall priorities.

During 2008, many technology marketing leaders will maintain the focus from last year of improving their internal alignment, within marketing as well as within the organization as a whole. This includes improving alignment with field marketing, business unit marketing and sales and product management, as well as improving key processes such as lead management, marketing performance measurement, sales enablement and centralization/decentralization (see Figure 1). Only the more advanced organizations will be capable of turning their attention to include a greater focus on the needs of the market, better leverage online and interactive marketing, improve ROI of channel marketing and work internally to develop a single view of the customer to enable end-to-end marketing.

Online and interactive marketers should focus on three key efforts:

  1. Think about tech marketing more from the “outside in.”
    In the IT vendor community, the traditional marketing approach is becoming outdated. Tech marketers typically come into the marketplace with a trumpeting of products, features and benefits. The marketing mission is to climb to the highest point on the “noise pile” and plant the company flag – until that flag is supplanted by another. This is “inside-out” marketing: from “us” (the vendor) to “them” (the customer) in an asynchronous torrent of communications. This mind-set has deep roots in the traditional power centers of the tech vendor organization – sales and engineering – and in the traditional go-to-market process, where the marketing function serves primarily as the mouthpiece for those groups.

    If the following statements sound familiar, your organization is likely more inside-out than outside-in:

    • “We think a lot about messaging.”
    • “We position ourselves.”
    • “We ‘go to market’ (and just so they know we are serious, we use military jargon).”
    • “We launch campaigns.”
    • “We blast emails.”
    • “We work in theaters of operation.”
    • “We provide air cover for sales.”
    • “We use a shotgun approach when we target our markets!”

    This inside-out orientation will return less on the investment over time. Buyers indicate that they are less interested in the traditional messaging of product and feature attributes from vendors. Instead, they have a greater need to learn about the impact of new technologies on their existing business as a first step, followed by learning about products and how they can be leveraged within their existing environment. The other key shift is that vendors are no longer the main source of information. Since vendors have failed to provide a valuable learning environment, customers prefer to leverage relationships with independent third parties and interaction with other buyers. Marketers must take heed of this “voice of the customer” and design their company’s customer-creation process (i.e., marketing and sales) to better meet the full spectrum of customer needs. Online and interactive marketing provides a significant opportunity for differentiation in meeting these market needs.

  2. Embrace online and interactive marketing.
    IDC defines online and interactive marketing as follows:

    The people, processes and marketing activities that are specifically designed to engage the market (including customers, prospects, partners and influencers) in an exchange of information with the marketer/ vendor by leveraging digital marketing. This includes the following types of marketing activities/technologies: websites, banner advertising, search engine marketing (SEM), Email, blogs, wikis, podcasts, webinars, online demos, RSS feeds, social networking communities, etc.

    Tech marketers allocate about 9.6 percent of their marketing program’s budget (i.e., not including staff and IT infrastructure) to online and interactive marketing. Of this overall allocation, 17.2 percent is allocated to SEM, 29.1 percent to banner advertising/sponsorships, 27.8 percent to webcasts and podcasts, and 24.4 percent to Email marketing/ electronic outreach (see Figure 2). Growth in these areas is expected to significantly out-pace overall marketing investment by at least 2-to-1 in 2008. But marketers need to get ahead of the curve and address some potentially problematic operational issues related to online and interactive marketing.

  3. Make further progress on end-to-end marketing.
    Marketers tend to know their role at the beginning of the customer-creation process – to build awareness, expose new products and services and create initial demand. Marketers also tend to know their role toward the end of the customer-creation process – to provide sales support, resources and tools for revenue generation. It is in the middle of the customer-creation process that capabilities need to be improved.

    For instance, one problem is that after a prospect’s record is created in a company’s lead management database, multiple records of that customer are subsequently created by different individuals in marketing and sales groups. This makes it difficult to “tag” the activities related to that prospect on an end-to-end basis. Many IT vendors recognize this problem and are in the process of consolidating customer databases, so that they can maintain a single view of the customer that includes general industry information, prior purchase history, and marketing and sales touch points. As this consolidation takes place, marketers have an opportunity to improve performance monitoring and measurement, lead qualification and nurturing processes, the quality of the sales pipeline, and eventual share of wallet and customer advocacy. And all of these areas should be inextricably linked to your online and interactive marketing strategy.

CORRECTING OPERATIONAL FALSE STARTS

Even the best marketers face challenges in responding to their organization’s and the market’s needs for leveraging online and interactive opportunities. As a start, marketers should reflect upon the following questions:

  • Who in your organization is responsible for online and interactive marketing?
  • How are you leveraging online and interactive marketing to advance your marketing strategy and improve the organization’s return on marketing investments?
  • How should these new marketing channels impact your strategy for meeting both internal and external customer needs?
  • What is your performance measurement strategy in this relatively new area, and how does it tie in to your overall measurement strategy?

Establishing Accountability Within Marketing

One problem is that the personnel and processes for supporting interactive marketing are often not located in the marketing area. For example, it may be that engineers from each product line are starting their own separate community sites to monitor product feedback from customers, or the company webmaster does his best to manage a new blog initiative. If marketing does not govern these efforts, the company may miss out on the most valuable benefit – the ability to collect and process marketplace information in a codified fashion, not to mention the opportunity to ensure that consistent branding and messaging is deployed.

Marketing needs to manage and integrate the organization’s online and interactive marketing processes. This might include, as an important starting point, oversight and governance of policies of programs that are executed across multiple departments. It might also include evangelizing marketing’s availability as an internal service provider to other functions that are deploying interactive marketing tools. This marketing role will help ensure that online and interactive marketing is an extension of the overall marketing strategy, not a new, disconnected effort.

An Extension of Your Marketing Strategy

As new technologies and applications have become available, early adopters and innovators across your organization may be developing new methods and techniques for communicating with the market and with prospects/customers. This experimentation and innovation is highly valuable and should continue, but these new and quickly maturing ideas and activities should still be integrated into your overall marketing strategy and go-to-market plan. This ensures that the fundamentals of marketing are not lost, the needs of the market are met and return on these efforts is optimized.

Two examples provide more insight here: execution of a “more mature” activity, the webinar, and development of a “newer” interactive strategy, social networking.

  • Execution of a webinar. The ease of execution and reduced cost of webinars have enabled organizations to host more events that are attended by more people. Problems may arise, however, if these marketing-related activities are not managed according to the same process used by traditional event-planning professionals, such as aligning webinar schedules and content with existing marketing campaigns and events/ activities; identifying the most appropriate target audience; ensuring the content meets the needs of that target audience; establishing objectives and metrics to measure performance; collaborating with sales and lead generation teams to develop the list of prospects and customers to invite; and following up with participants.
  • Social networking. Customers continue to indicate that vendors’ selling processes are out of sync with their buying processes. They desire access to a greater amount of technology versus product-related information on a self-serve basis, and they want to get it from sources other than the salesperson (e.g., company engineers and third-party sources such as peers and industry analysts). Individuals across your organization may be setting up blogs and other varieties of social networks as resources for your customers, and these efforts should not be stifled. But they should also be structured as a part of your larger Internet strategy for interacting with customers, not as stand-alone initiatives without any sense of cohesion.

Working With IT: A Key Success Factor

Much discussion occurs regarding the alignment of marketing with the CEO, the CFO and sales. Much less attention is given to forging a stronger partnership with IT. Many marketers indicate that IT has historically been too slow to respond to their needs and that they feel relegated to the bottom of IT’s to-do list. To fulfill short-term needs, marketers have traditionally outsourced their application development, leveraged software-as-a-service models and/or deployed homegrown applications (e.g., campaign management, market resource management, content management and lead nurturing). To make further progress on end-to-end marketing and better meet the needs of customers, marketers must develop a more holistic approach to their IT strategy. This key success factor becomes especially apparent with the advent of more advanced online and interactive marketing strategies. For example, your organization should eventually gain the ability to track online and off -line interaction with your prospects and customers
to better target resources to meet their needs, and to better align the marketing and sales process to the buying process.

Performance Measurement: Focus on the ‘So What’ of Your Metrics

Tech marketers need to improve tracking and reporting of their online and interactive marketing activities (both investments and returns), just as they would with other elements of the marketing mix. But when working with the huge sea of data and metrics associated with online and interactive marketing, marketers must be careful to select and analyze the correct key performance indicators. As many marketers are unfamiliar with newer applications, there’s a real risk for misinterpreting the data and forming incorrect conclusions.

Additionally, although online and interactive marketing provides significant opportunities for better measurement, not every aspect of this strategy should be directly tied to a metric. For example, not every visitor to your website or landing page should be aggressively pursued as a lead. One of the great advantages of a comprehensive online and interactive strategy is the opportunity to develop and deepen a relationship with your prospects and customers. While taking a “hands-off” approach during the early stages of their education and awareness-building process may impede your data collection, it will improve the organization’s overall customer creation and retention process in the long term.