Grassroots marketing, technology integration trends for 2002

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[Third in a series of executive outlooks]

While 2001 started off with a bang for b-to-b marketers, many of whom launched expensive TV campaigns during the Super Bowl telecast and deployed multimillion-dollar campaigns throughout the year, 2002 will see more grassroots efforts taking place. In an interview with BtoB, Sheree Johnson, senior VP-director of media services at NKH&W, Kansas City, Mo., and international chairman of the Business Marketing Association, said guerilla marketing tactics and a greater emphasis on public relations will be important marketing strategies for cost-conscious b-to-b marketers. But, she added, these need to be part of a larger, integrated effort.

BtoB: What are the challenges for business marketers in 2002?

Johnson: The first thing is “time poverty,” which will continue to get worse with all the downsizing and layoffs throughout businesses, agencies and media companies. Fewer people will be expected to do more with less, particularly within the marketing function. That will lead to shortcuts and quick fixes, where people will rush to focus on what has worked best in the past. For example, they might take direct mail out of context and do a letter to key customers, without it being part of an integrated plan. They may not have time to do an integrated plan.

Another challenge is, the competitive environment will change for a lot of people.

Traditional competition for goods and services will broaden. One of our clients, the Branson [Mo.] Convention & Visitors' Bureau, is a top consumer destination, but now they are seeing an opportunity to reach business travelers and meeting planners as a destination for conventions. There is a need to stay closer to home with cutbacks in travel. The competition will broaden for business hotels, too. Instead of Hyatt competing with Westin, they will have to compete with budget hotels. The competition is broadening for a lot of b-to-b marketers.

BtoB: What are some marketing strategies b-to-b marketers can deploy to meet these challenges?

Johnson: One thing I'm seeing is, both consumer and b-to-b marketers are thinking about and are challenging their partners and marketing staffs to look at grassroots, guerilla marketing tactics. They want something that will get them some visibility and get them in the news. It can work. The danger is, they might be paying more for it than what it is worth, at the expense of diluting harder-working tactics.

BtoB: What are some of the guerilla tactics you're seeing?

Johnson: In the technology sector, some people are doing road shows and demonstrating new software and inviting people to big events at hotels and relying on one-on-one and guerilla things to get word of mouth going, versus building awareness on a broader basis. Other grassroots efforts would be atypical media, such as mobile messaging or sidewalk signage. [Marketers] need to make it part of an integrated plan, with things that have proven to work, like advertising and direct marketing.

BtoB: What other strategies should marketers be focusing on?

Johnson: Companies will need to truly start integrating technology [within the organization]. So many companies have set up e-commerce departments that were standalone entities. Instead of e-commerce departments having their own marketing efforts and marketing to customers online, it will evolve back to the traditional marketing function, especially as companies cut back [on people and resources].

BtoB: Any other trends you see this year?

Johnson: Another one is the change in the consumer demographic picture, particularly with the increase in the Hispanic population. The decision-maker target will start to reflect this in categories like building and construction. Those marketing industrial tools to managers and buyers in the building industries will be impacted. You have to have an appreciation for cultural nuances of marketing to a Hispanic population. It's not necessarily publishing ads in Spanish language in building trades but having an appreciation [for the cultural differences] with direct mail and other programs.

--Interviewed by Kate Maddox

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