Patrick Esposito is the kind of marketing director b-to-b media companies have seen too frequently since the economic slump hit hard last fall.
“We took a step back and looked at everything we were doing,” Esposito said, referring to an October review of the marketing budget at Misumi USA, a component supplier for the manufacturing industry.
In the end, he slashed print advertising and most other forms of marketing spending. But he spared the company's lead-generation programs, which he concentrated with GlobalSpec, an engineering search engine and online newsletter company. “We found we were underutilizing GlobalSpec,” Esposito said, adding, “I've more or less doubled my leads since early December.”
Economic downturns always place renewed emphasis on lead generation. This time around, marketers have gravitated to the Internet and its ability to deliver extremely measurable return on investment. B-to-b media companies have reacted by beefing up their online lead-generation programs.
“I'd say it is Reed's primary online growth strategy, and most b-to-b media companies that I'm talking with are in the same boat,” Kevin Maloney, Reed Business Information VP-online sales, said of lead-generation programs.
Technology media companies such as TechTarget led the way in online lead generation, and the techniques they pioneered have been adopted by many traditional b-to-b media brands over the past several years. “It's webinars and white papers,” said Outsell analyst Chuck Richard.
But other methods for generating leads are gaining converts. International Data Group, for example, launched the IDGTechNetwork, a grouping of dozens of non-IDG online publications—including tech-oriented blogs—that are used for generating leads for marketers.
Like many media companies, IDG has also moved into the business of scoring and nurturing leads, even employing telemarketing, to provide a higher value to customers willing to pay for the service. Matthew Yorke, IDG VP-sales and marketing, said there will be a market for both high- and low-value leads. “We plan to be in both markets,” he said.
There's even a spot for print in driving leads, Yorke said.
“Historically, we would have used databases to leverage and drive print brands,” he said. “Now we use print brands to drive the databases.” In other words, when IT professionals sign up for the magazines, they provide deep data. “Qual cards are pretty rich,” Yorke said.
Another tech media company, Ziff Davis Enterprise, is putting a new twist on virtual events. In March, it announced a new custom event simulcast service designed to bridge the gap between digital and face-to-face events. The service allows users to “attend,” in real time, a live, face-to-face event through a desktop interface.
Reed Business has made acquisitions to bolster its lead-generation capabilities. Almost a decade ago, it bought what is now known as Reed Construction Data, which provides leads on new projects to construction companies.
More recently, Reed Business acquired BuyerZone.com, which offers request-for-quotes on business commodities such as phone systems. Currently, the company is working to align BuyerZone more closely with Reed publications such as Modern Materials Handling, creating RFQ categories that match the magazine's advertiser base.
Design World allows manufacturers to post 3-D CAD drawings of their products on designworld.com so that engineers can download the drawings into their designs. “That's a high-value lead,” said Marshall Matheson, Design World's VP-new media.
Design World is also experimenting with generating leads from video. The company uses what Matheson calls a “YouTube model,” allowing marketers to upload videos at no cost and users to download them for free. Design World also generates leads (and revenue) by posting white paper links on its video pages.
There are those who question the wisdom of investing so heavily in this one revenue type. Some observers worry about the emphasis on lead generation, arguing it diminishes the brands of the marketer and media company alike.
These publishing executives also worry that the lead-generation programs commoditize media and cheapen their own brands, not to mention the content they spend so much to create. That content, they point out, is what attracts target audiences in the first place.
“It's not all about lead generation,” said Jim Vick, staff director-publisher of IEEE Media. “It's about more than that. But we seem to have given up the fight [about the relevance of branding].”
Others respond that powerful b-to-b branding does occur online, not just in print, and that white papers and webcasts offer branding opportunities, too. In fact, some argue that online marketing can be an even better canvas for branding than print.
“The Internet has given us a great opportunity to tell our story,” said David Ziebarth, CEO of Astec-Insulating Coatings Corp., which used a white paper-oriented lead-generation program with Plant Engineering that quickly turned in solid leads.
Ziebarth is not alone in this assessment of the Internet's branding capability. A report released this month by IBM Global Services said the Internet was a medium in which direct marketing techniques have converged with branding.