As marketers pump more money into digital marketing, agencies of all sizes are expanding their interactive services in areas such as social, mobile and online video to help clients connect with customers.
According to BtoB's “Outlook 2012” report, 74.0% of b-to-b marketers will increase their online marketing budgets this year.
The report was based on an online survey of 343 b-to-b marketers conducted in November and December. It found that the top areas of online marketing spending this year will be: website development (cited by 67.6% of marketers), email (67.5%), social media (64.3%), search (54.8%), video (50.5%) and webcasts/virtual events (45.6%).
“We are using the vast array of tools we're now equipped with in the digital space to allow customers to tell the story,” said John Osborn, president-CEO of BBDO New York, whose clients include AT&T, FedEx, General Electric Co., Monster.com and Motorola Solutions.
Last year, BBDO helped develop a website for GE called GE.com/stories that featured case studies of actual customers and employees involved with GE technology.
The site includes online videos, customer testimonials and social media sharing tools to tell customers' stories. For example, one case study features a video (also used in a TV spot) of a group of cancer survivors meeting with employees of GE Healthcare to talk about how GE's diagnostic equipment helped save their lives.
On the site, users can also submit stories of how technology is working in their own communities to help support local nonprofits (GE donates $1 for each story or photo submitted to a weekly-designated nonprofit organization).
“The b-to-b space can be a little technical and complex. We are striving for the emotional high ground,” Osborn said.
Agency executives also said technology has prompted changes in clients' marketing organizations and that successful agencies have to understand how to effectively work with these new organizations.
“From the client side, it has become incredibly complex,” said Bill Kolb, CEO of MRM Worldwide, the digital agency of McCann Worldgroup, New York.
“There are four huge buckets on the client side—traditional marketing, sales and operations, the IT group, and outside partners. Clients are wrestling with that from an organizational perspective—for example, IT having a reporting line into marketing or some other organizational change. Agencies that will be successful have to understand how to sit in the middle of that.”
Kolb said his agency has been working with clients to help them understand how IT fits into the whole marketing mix, work with IT-process-driven approaches and use IT tools in marketing.
“It's a fundamental change in the marketplace very few agencies understand,” Kolb said.
Another prominent digital agency, Digitas, Boston, recently expanded its b-to-b focus by opening Digitas Business, a unit dedicated to b-to-b digital marketing.
Dennis Reilly, senior VP-global practice lead for Digitas Business, said the agency has seen a spike in demand for the services it offers. “Companies realize if they're not embracing digital, they're at a direct disadvantage,” he said.
Digitas is using digital technologies to provide “active branding experiences” for clients, Reilly said. “It's all about making it real, or advertising as a service,” he said.
For example, Digitas created a digital tool kit for American Express OPEN to help merchants leverage Small Business Saturday, the Thanksgiving holiday shopping day immediately following Black Friday. AmEx successfully introduced the concept of Small Business Saturday in 2010 as a way to encourage consumers to shop locally.
The promotional kit included a free YouTube video-maker with scripts, templates and music, as well as a Facebook page-builder. More than 100 million shoppers visited local stores during the event, with all 50 states observing Small Business Saturday.
Another area agencies are expanding into is analytics, as social media, search and other online tools provide a wealth of data about online behavior.
Doremus, New York, last year introduced an analytics service called DNA (Doremus Network Analysis) using proprietary technology to analyze social networking activity and online behavior.
“Clients are really beginning to understand and appreciate the intelligence they can get with social media through intelligent engagement with their key constituencies,” said Carl Anderson, CEO of Doremus. “One of our main success drivers is DNA. It helps us understand who are the influencers [for clients] and what kinds of conversations they are having; and it really informs our media strategy and messaging.”
The agency is also expanding its work in mobile.
“Clearly, in the consumer realm, mobile has been embraced in the last few years. Mobile will be an important vehicle for b-to-b going forward, by virtue of the increased use of tablets, and the reach and engagement mobile provides for our clients' key audiences,” Anderson said.
Adam Kleinberg, CEO of interactive agency Traction, San Francisco, said mobile is evolving from apps to Web-based browsing.
“Mobile experiences are going to shift toward the browser,” he said. “It's very powerful for a brand to have an app on the iPad, but there are also drawbacks. The app is a "walled garden.' Users discover content through search and share, but I can't get into your app.”
Kleinberg said marketers will need to work with their agency partners to develop mobile-enabled sites as a top priority. “Brands have to understand that their content is discoverable through the mobile Web,” he said. “HTML5 makes that possible. Sites will need to be designed mobile-first as more digital content is being consumed this way.”