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ECI's Howard on networking vendor's social media, online initiatives

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Global networking equipment provider ECI Telecom is big (in 2007 it merged with Swarth Group in a deal valued at $1.2 billion), but not as big as some of its competitors—which include Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Systems and Ericsson. Marketing is one of the only ways ECI can differentiate itself from these “giants,” CMO Laura Howard said. “ITM” recently spoke to Howard about the company's evolving interactive marketing strategy.

ITM: What's the biggest challenge you've faced over the past year?

Howard: Although we're a really big company, we compete against giants. We compete against $20 billion-to-$30 billion companies. So in our market, we position ourselves as the smaller, more agile company. As part of this, we offer a fairly broad product line, and our sales culture is very entrepreneurial and opportunistic. Salespeople don't have a clearly defined sales methodology that they can use over and over again; and the people they are selling to are not just traditional service providers. [They may be] utilities that want to use extra network bandwidth to become retail communication providers, Internet retailers like Amazon … moving into cloud computing or Google, now owning their own network.

There are no two networks that are designed, implemented and provisioned the same way. From a marketing perspective, it creates an unmanageable number of problems to go out there and try and solve.

ITM: Do you have a specific goal you're trying to meet?

Howard: Our challenge is to segment and target core marketing messages that elicit a response that sales can respond to anywhere in the buying cycle. Whether we're trying to educate the customers to [go with a different technology implementation than they already have] or we're [educating them about something that they are asking about], we have so much to say.

ITM: What marketing tactics are you using right now?

Howard: We're definitely tapping video. We've done a hard push into video because you can say much more in video—especially in an industry where it's a very dry topic to talk about. But we're limited in how much we can do with real interactive marketing, Web 2.0 techniques, because our target audience—the technical people in the operations side or the network engineering side—don't want an interactive dialog. What they want is one-to-one high touch but [without] real-time engagement.

Still, for all of our high-moving products—and we determine those by looking at business analytics and Web and partner portal analytics, seeing what white papers and products are most accessed—we translate them into video. We've posted [these videos] to our Web site, [and] we've formed strategic relationships with the popular news aggregators where our customers go daily. We're aligning our videos with the topics that they are reading.

ITM: Are the videos part of a banner strategy?

Howard: No, actually, we've had a really tough time with banner blindness and banner advertising. In 2009, when I had a 30% cut in my marketing budget, I stopped all banner advertising. Instead of doing banner advertising on these popular news sites, we've paid for sponsorships to do webinars, live content, white paper or video posting aligned with what the customer is reading. When a customers goes to OpticalNetworkDaily.com, he's blind to the banner staring in his face. But if he wants to know what's going on in the optical world, we make sure on the sidebar all our white papers and video is there. It's directing the content to the topic rather than random placement.

ITM: What kind of results are you seeing?

Howard: Since we're still in the process of changing our analytics—and we recently implemented a marketing automation tool—we don't have all the results. My gut instinct tells me we are hitting the audience better because we have more salespeople requesting more of this type of activity. I should know better by Q1 2010 which placements and topics are garnering the best results. All of our e-mail campaigns go through [our marketing automation software, and] all the landing pages [are tracked] through it, so we can create a digital profile for all our customers and channel partners.

Marketing automation has also changed the way we're organizing our marketing internally. Instead of having six program managers—one focused on China, one focused on Africa—now we're focusing on specific problems and topics. Now … I'm focusing on bandwidth optimization, for instance. I'm adapting campaigns by region but with a centralized approach.

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