Driven by factors including declining mail volume and increased competition, Pitney Bowes this year launched a new strategic platform that positions the company as a provider of broad business solutions.
To do this during a slump has been a challenge. In the following interview, James discusses how the company is using a mix of marketing tools to reach its customers and prospects in a downturn.
BtoB: How has the economy impacted your marketing this year?
James: We have, as a result of the current economic environment, become very focused and very selective in terms of our marketing efforts this year. We have shifted dramatically from major mass media advertising and been much more selective in very targeted markets, very targeted publications and major events where we know there is an audience for our products and services.
BtoB: Can you give some examples?
James: There are a couple of trade shows we participate in that are primary audiences for our products and solutions, whether it's software solutions or some of our equipment. We tend to then advertise in trade publications directed to either the chief operating officer or the chief technology officer audience, use that targeted media specifically around the time of the major shows then drive traffic to our Web site for much more in-depth information about our products and solutions.
BtoB: You recently launched a new campaign. What is the strategy behind that?
James: It is really to get people's attention and help them understand that Pitney Bowes has a much broader portfolio of products and services. We are known for hardware equipment, and particularly our postage readers. So the campaign thematically is, “There's a lot more here than you think.” For example, in our software solutions division—Pitney Bowes Business Insight—location intelligence is one of the products and solutions we offer. Most people are not aware of that.
BtoB: How are you measuring the success of the campaign?
James: In the first four months of the campaign, we've had more than 27 million impressions in very targeted media; we've had more than 50,000 unique visits to specific landing pages; and 30,000 went into the targeted specific sites and clicked through to white papers, solutions and video clips. We also discovered that we are reaching the audiences we want to reach: the CTOs and CMOs.
BtoB: Are you using social media as part of your marketing strategy?
James: We have stepped up our use of social media. We have a corporate blog, and we have a few Twitter experts—for example, one is very focused in talking about our prominence in health care solutions. Also, at the recent World Innovation Forum, we set up a blog called the Bloggers Hub, which is about our solutions for innovation; and we are keeping that blog going as people ask about our technologies and some of the new solutions we're offering.
BtoB: How are you measuring ROI on social media?
James: I think we're still in the exploration stage. At this point what we are tracking is the level of activity within each medium and how many customers are engaging, how many are repeat customers and whether they are people we would consider to be part of our traditional customer base or are they coming from areas in which we are trying to get attention and awareness.
BtoB: How are you integrating some of these new media platforms with traditional marketing?
James: Marketing, particularly in the b-to-b space, is really about integrated messaging and using multiple channels in a very coordinated way. So we are using traditional targeted print and combining that with Web marketing. We have also really stepped up search and search engine optimization and have increased traffic through that channel by over 1,000%. When we go to a trade show, we make sure there is a social media component. So one of our people might go to the trade show and tweet from the show about the activity there to see what kind of interest that generates from our customer base. We are working in partnership with our agency, GyroHSR, to explore ways of how the media connects and which channels are most effective.
BtoB: Are you changing your event strategy this year?
James: We are not doing as many events this year, but we are making sure that the events we do have a multichannel component. We are still very much focused on the big shows or areas where we want to increase our presence. For example, the World Innovation Forum is something that we have continued to participate in, and it's something we use to bring our customers to, as well as to engage in dialogue with some of the speakers.
BtoB: How does your budget look for next year?
James: We haven't actually gotten anything approved yet. I have budget A and budget B. Budget A is if we don't want to ramp up our investment, here are the things that we want to continue to focus on, things that we feel have generated results. On the other hand, we are celebrating our 90th anniversary as a company next year, so this is a significant opportunity for us to convey that we have a number of new products that we're planning to launch next year and a number of new initiatives that we're planning to announce about how we are reinventing ourselves as a company. So I have a much more aggressive plan B budget to tie all of that together.
BtoB: So what will determine which budget you end up with?
James: There will be a number of factors. Clearly, what is happening with the global economy is one challenge. But, frankly, I think it's more going to be receptivity to the message. If we feel that our customers are in a place where they will be investing more, then we will be much more aggressively marketing a lot of our programs and campaigns to them. In retrospect, we did plan some major initiatives for this year, but given where our customers are in their product life cycle, it would not have been the right time to do it. However, next year might be a much more opportune time for us, as well as for our customers.
BtoB: When do you see the economy improving?
James: At the moment, from our customers, we're not really seeing that. But what I am seeing is the fact that our messages are getting through to our customer base—how we can help them grow their business and help them operate more efficiently. So I see upside in terms of raising the level of awareness and a deeper understanding of our capabilities.