BtoB

The new age: Beyond lead generation and brand identity

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Lead generation and brand identity typically rank No. 1 or No. 2 in the list of objectives b-to-b marketers seek to achieve. And for this reason, b-to-b marketers have adopted strategies that drive prospects to Web sites where they can register for newsletters, download white papers, enroll in webinars and read the latest company news. That set of capabilities and offerings is competitive but does little to help a brand stand out and create demand.

Legacy marketing ideas are to blame. As they have for the last seven decades, brands are banking on traffic, generating leads and enabling prospects to learn about a brand's features, benefits and prices to drive sales. That's still vitally important. But the best marketers take advantage and integrate the new qualities of digital media instead of simply dispensing brandcentric information that is all too often overly promotional and unable to address the business context of the customer.

Online advertising's interactivity and involvement are moving marketers to new models, such as engagement, that blur the boundaries of lead generation and branding by focusing on customer relationship and relevance. Savvy b-to-b marketers recognize the need to make every visit worth their customers' while by creating and delivering compelling brand experiences that inform, entertain and educate in ways that create brand demand.

Visa USA shows us one way. Its Business Breakthrough program dramatizes the benefits for small businesses of working with Visa to become more efficient and more profitable by improving marketing, organizational development, technology or accounting. After holding a competition that identified small, dynamic one-to-five-person businesses in need of improvement, Visa selected finalists it then hooked up with appropriate consultants. Visa developed their progress into video case studies and made them available on its Web site. Although competitors such as American Express Co., Intuit Inc. and PayPal offer advice, the video cases enabled Visa to more fully engage its customers by working the cases through.

Maintaining a laserlike focus on efficiency, Visa assiduously avoided becoming yet another provider of business information and was able to differentiate itself from the pack. Why video and not a white paper? Insight from research showed that the target audience watches videos more often than do consumers in general or larger businesses, and that those customers are more eager to participate in contests and related events. In just three months, the campaign generated more than 2 million visits to the Business Breakthrough site.

Engaging consumers earned Visa USA the leads it sought, but within an experience, a context and a connection with the brand arguably more relevant and potentially longer lasting than a download, FAQ or a form-based e-mail inquiry can accomplish on its own.

The engagement model, as the Visa example shows, is enabled by technology but grounded in a penetrating customer insight. As you discuss ways to create brand demand through an engagement strategy, start there.

Steve Rappaport is director of knowledge solutions at the Advertising Research Foundation and co-author of "The Online Advertising Playbook" (Wiley, 2007). He can be reached at steve@thearf.org.

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