It's easy to make sense of the current digital marketing universe. Marketers are enamored of email marketing as a means to accomplishing most of their goals, including garnering leads and enhancing the company brand, with social media marketing not far behind as a marketer favorite.
According to a new study by BtoB, “Online Marketing: The Next Frontier of Email, Display, Search & Social,” email is used by 88% of marketers surveyed and ranked as their No. 1 form of digital outreach. Social media, used by 80% of companies, ranked No. 2.
While email often is considered a direct marketing tool, marketers are overwhelmingly focused on branding as a competitive differentiator, according to the study: 51% said their brands provide a powerful way to distinguish their companies from their competitors, and 91% said they currently are making an effort to increase the value of their brands online.
Eighty-eight percent said they use email as a branding channel. This finding indicates a marketing disconnect, said Russ Glass, CEO of business targeting and ad network company Bizo Inc., which co-sponsored the study.
“Marketers understand the idea of building the top of the funnel,” Glass said. “But then they also turn around and say email is best for doing that and are deploying it for both direct response and increasing the value of their brands. That's a big problem, because email can't possibly reach all of your target audience.”
Glass said social is more effective than email at driving brand awareness, along with display advertising. Display advertising was cited as the third most popular channel in the BtoB study.
“There's a tremendous branding opportunity with display advertising,” Glass said. “The value marketers are seeing in display is twofold: One, it's about reaching more of their target audience; and, second, it complements the entire marketing mix, affecting the top, middle and bottom of the sales funnel.”
The preferred lineup of email, social and display, in that order, also holds up when marketers were asked which channels achieve the highest conversion rate.
Despite the generally bullish attitude of marketers toward digital channels, nearly two out of three (63%) b-to-b marketers report that their current online marketing approaches are not meeting the demands of the sales pipeline or that they are generally unsure of their ability to do so.
“The fact that so many marketers say marketing is still not filling the sales pipeline is very telling,” Glass said. “Although marketing has gotten more efficient, and the Web is a great channel for reaching people, there is still a hunger by sales that marketing must continue to feed.”
A main culprit seems to be the lack of data to properly target campaigns, cited by 37% of respondents. Other major drawbacks to effectively filling the pipeline are lack of time and resources to deploy proper targeting and segmentation (33%) and the inability of currently employed marketing technologies to help with the task (13%).
“The lack of data is increasing marketing frustration,” said Chuck Richard, VP-lead analyst at business information company Outsell Inc. “Marketers are being teased. They've had the power of new tools dangled in front of them, but all they have to show for it are reports on the number of page views or click-through rates.”
Richard said database managers must be incentivized along with marketing and sales to make sure their analyses “drive revenue decisions and not just generate charts and tables.”
Marketing diversification across channels was cited by 77% of respondents as a key solution to increasing marketing effectiveness, and 64% of respondents indeed attribute leads to more than one marketing program, according to the study.
An outlier in BtoB's study is paid search, used by just 36% of respondents as a core ingredient in their marketing efforts. It is considered the fourth most effective digital channel and reinforces the branding efforts marketers said are so important.
“Branding, which is being rediscovered, increases search activity,” Richard said.
BtoB's study was based on an online poll conducted in January and February that generated 326 responses. While the sample of companies was diverse, advertising agencies and technology companies predominated, comprising 26% and 25% of all respondents, respectively. Manufacturing (11%), financial services (8%) and consultancies (7%) also were well-represented.
The sample skewed toward small-to-midsize companies; 45% of the companies represented have fewer than 50 employees, and 63% have annual revenues less than $25 million. Thirteen percent reported annual revenue greater than $1 billion.
For information about obtaining the complete research findings, go to www.btobonline.com/nextfrontier.