Interactive Marketing For B2B Managers

Marketers have an increasing number of Web-based tools and programs at their disposal nowadays, which is mostly good news. The challenge is in determining how to wisely allocate dollars among all of the different available tactics, especially in consideration of the overall marketing mix. This article discusses some of the most important considerations when thinking through the process, specifically as they relate to B2B managers. 

Online Marketing Breakdown 
 
It’s no secret that interactive advertising is on the rise. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PricewaterhouseCoopers, interactive advertising grew 37% in the U.S. during the first half of 2006 to reach $7.9 billion, and spending has increased in each of the last seven quarters. This measurement includes the following advertising formats: search (40% of spending), rich media / banners / sponsorships (31%), classifieds (20%), referrals / lead generation (8%), and email (2%). 
While the emergence of proven online marketing techniques provides managers with additional options for accomplishing their goals, it also makes the planning process more complicated. 

Discussion Framework 

When we say “B2B marketers”, we are referring to people who are responsible for selling their company’s products and services to other businesses, unlike organizations such as Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, and Walt Disney, which sell primarily to consumers. Many companies, of course, sell to both businesses and consumers (e.g., IBM, Verizon), but the marketing and selling process is usually quite different. B2B marketers face a unique set of circumstances when promoting their products and services, and that challenge extends to their interactive marketing plans. 

The biggest attractions of interactive marketing are track-ability, accountability, and flexibility. Nearly every move that users make when they interact with websites, search engines, and emails is measurable, and changes can be made to programs in nearly real-time. Never before have marketers been able to understand the results of their activities so precisely, and demonstrated ROI to executive sponsors so articulately. 

Planning Recommendations & Considerations 

B2B interactive marketing plans need to be customized based on variables such as target audience, offline marketing tactics, industry nuances, and budget availability. But by and large the underlying goals are buoyed by basic marketing principals: direct response and brand awareness.

Integration 

The most successful marketing programs maintain consistency across online and offline channels, and realize the benefits by hitting prospects with repetitive messaging at different touch points. Remember that your customers and prospects watch TV, read trade magazines, attend conferences AND do research on the Internet. 

Cohesive messaging between online and offline channels can yield disproportionate benefits, in addition to allowing you to re-purpose creative strategies and assets both on and off the Web. 

Know The Numbers 

B2B product and service offerings are often highly targeted and customized, so the target prospect audience for some B2B companies could only encompass a few hundred—or dozen—people in the world. So the interactive marketing tactics need to be tailored to meet the needs and size of the target audience. 

One of our clients is a wholesale distributor that knows exactly how many prospects it can market to because it is contractually restricted to a defined geographic region. In cases like this one, email marketing and online product demos or video can be used to maintain a high profile with known prospects while complementing a direct sales team’s efforts. 

Likewise, online marketing programs that include SEM and/or brand-building rich media campaigns can deliver solid returns for companies that have a specific solution to offer across a large group of geographically-diverse buyers. Knowing exactly who you’re trying to reach and how much you can spend to accomplish your marketing goal will have a big impact on which interactive programs to consider and which to discard. 

Manage Expectations 

For some reason, executives are often misinformed about realistic yields to expect from interactive marketing programs. The truth is that email marketing programs sometimes take months or even years to show their value, quality B2B leads can cost thousands of dollars to generate, and .25% banner ad click-through rates are the norm in some sectors. What’s also true is that sometimes a $2,500 price tag per qualified lead is perfectly acceptable when it involves a $100,000 purchase and your sales team has high close ratios. 

The other common misunderstanding is often found with the depth of reporting data that is available. Yes, there is more data available, but it doesn’t always tell the complete story. You will know that your new rich media ad or SEM campaign generated 25,000 new visitors to your website and where those visitors went on the site. But if there is no specific buying action for a visitor to take online, then your sales people will need to be trained to artfully inquire about where the lead came from and that data will need to be tracked internally and mapped back to campaign reports. 

Learn About New Techniques 

Now that interactive marketing is more widely adopted and spending is steadily increasing each year, vendors are clamoring to provide the latest-and-greatest tools. Many are proving valuable to B2B marketers. Three noteworthy areas are corporate blogging, Web-enabled video, and industry specific search. 

According to Fortune magazine, about 5% of all large corporations now sponsor blogs. They often serve as a point of differentiation and a unique window into the company that appeals to customers and buyers. Google’s recent $1.65 billion acquisition of YouTube has highlighted the appeal of Internet video, and corporations are using it with increasing frequency as a user-friendly mechanism for conveying complicated or lengthy information. Industry specific search, highlighted by sites such as GlobalSpec.com (engineering) and FindLaw.com (legal), is tailoring content and search techniques to specific industry sectors, and offering B2B marketers another advertising outlet to exploit. 


Customization Can Be The Difference 

Lastly, many B2B customers develop one-of-a-kind interactive tools that accelerate the buying process, serve as a compelling competitive differentiator, and create community. 

ITW Thermal Films, a global thermal ribbon manufacturer and distributor, hosts the TTR Almanac, an online tool that helps users compare products across a variety of competitors and select the most appropriate ribbon. 

Mac-Gray Corporation, one of the largest laundry facility managers in the U.S., offers LaundryView, which allows students to do their laundry more efficiently by being able to monitor laundry room activity over the Internet. LaundryView provides Mac-Gray with a clear point of differentiation from its competition. 

Constant Contact®, a leading email marketing service provider with over 75,000 customers, sponsors ConnectUp!, an online meeting place for members to connect with like-minded peers to get ideas, share insights, ask questions, and foster best practices. ConnectUp! helps Constant Contact reinforce its position as a market leader while staying close to its customers and their constantly evolving needs. 

Conclusion 

Emerging interactive marketing techniques offer B2B managers the ability to: 

  • Measure performance with unprecedented detail and confidence
  • Make changes on-the-fly without having to ignite the printing presses
  • Communicate with thousands of customers and prospects in near real-time
  • Engage customers and prospects in ways that were undeniably cost-prohibitive before the Internet

With digital tactics accounting for more than 10% of many B2B marketing budgets last year, devising savvy interactive programs can be an important determinant in an organization’s success. B2B marketers who apply interactive marketing techniques creatively, and are willing to continuously experiment and refine, will gain definable advantage over their competition, especially as digital marketing expenditures capture a bigger piece of the overall B2B marketing pie in the coming years.