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‘BtoB’ NetMarketing Breakfast speakers emphasize customer communications

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Chicago--Effectively communicating with customers necessitates keeping content fresh and interesting, according to all three speakers at BtoB’s NetMarketing Breakfast Thursday in Chicago, as they shared strategies for navigating the evolving media landscape.

Kevin Espinosa, Caterpillar Inc.’s e-business platform manager, has led the construction and agricultural machinery conglomerate through a difficult situation. Caterpillar, a strictly b-to-b company, had focused all its efforts on the needs of its own dealers, neglecting its network of 204 independent dealers. Nor was it able to close the loop between its marketing activities and its dealers’ sales.

Caterpillar is now in the process of introducing a centralized CRM system to help the company network with its dealers. Previously, leads were handed directly to a dealer. “We would effectively lose the lead and have no idea what the ROI was,” Espinosa said. “We’re going to fix that.”

David Pittman, senior director-marketing communications at data management company Initiate Systems, echoed the need for change in appealing to customers’ needs. When others in the industry attempted bold new strategies to improve consumer relations, Pittman chose to make new something the company already had: its Web site.

Two years ago, following what was then the prevailing best practice advice for designing a Web site, Initiate built a site that “brought all of [its] information to the top,” Pittman said. “Our research showed that people wanted educational information and a lot of it—and [at the top], not hiding below pictures.”

After the initial site went up, Initiate’s marketing department discovered high bounce rates, few repeat visitors and alarmingly low page views. “The content was a big yawner,” Pittman said. “So we made a new site that had pictures of people, highlighted content and no scrolling.” The bounce rate went down 11%, repeat visitors increased 14% and page views went up 35%.

Matt Aldrich, director of business intelligence and customer marketing at holding company and engine manufacturer Navistar Inc., spoke of the specific challenges that faced International Trucks, a unit of Navistar. The unit’s Web site saw little traffic, and its products often fell short of user expectations. “We weren’t talking to owner-operators,” Aldrich said. “With them, brand loyalty and passions run deep; and we needed to figure out how to start talking to that audience.”

In response, International Trucks launched a blog in June 2007 that became a forum for truckers to post information and experiences. The blog, which has seen 340% growth over the past two years, has spawned greater click-through traffic to International Trucks’ main Web site as well as its MaxxForce TV site—a channel devoted entirely to trucks and engines.

As a result, Navistar’s long-haul market share increased from 15% to 22% over a two-year period. “We started to hear the voice of the trucker,” Aldrich said. “We enabled a trucking community and were able to talk to owner-operators.”

Like Pittman and Espinosa, Aldrich was able to increase business by improving the means of communication with customers. “We set the model for the industry,” he said. “Now everyone has to ante up.”

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