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Realizing the promise of online display ads

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In his keynote address at the Interactive Advertising Bureau Annual Leadership Meeting in late February, Google Chairman-CEO Eric Schmidt spoke enthusiastically about the future of online display advertising.

“Pretty much any brand advertiser of any significance now has coherent and coordinated campaigns across display media because it works, because they can measure it and because the technology has finally caught up with the promises that we talked about for so long.”

Well, it seems many b-to-b marketers haven't caught up—at least that's the conclusion of a recent study by Forrester Research.

“Although most b-to-b marketers buy display advertising, their investment levels are paltry,” Forrester Interactive Marketing Analyst Michael Greene wrote in the report, “Making Online Display Marketing Work for B2B.” “Only 27% of b-to-b marketers we surveyed have display budgets of more than $1 million for 2011, and 20% had budgets under $50,000. Overall, display represents only a small sliver of overall b-to-b interactive marketing spending.”

Greene also said prospects appear bearish, as only 13% of those surveyed indicated they're working with increased display budgets this year.

The report pointed out several shortcomings in b-to-b marketers' approach to the medium. These include focusing on generic branding rather than product promotion and thought leadership, as well as relying on “short-term metrics” (i.e., clicks and impressions) to judge a campaign's effectiveness.

So how can b-to-b marketers make online display advertising more effective?

Greene recommends they use it to promote lead nurturing by driving prospects toward white papers, webinars and virtual events. They should also explore the opportunities to better pinpoint their target audiences through ad networks and exchanges, he said.

Another area of focus should be prospects at the top of the sales funnel. “We find that b-to-b marketers have strong ideas as to how to best market to sales-ready leads and existing clients but struggle to apply interactive marketing to early-stage prospects,” Greene said.

There's little doubt online display advertising is poised to take off, as Schmidt predicts, especially with the proliferation of tablet devices. Here's hoping b-to-b marketers are along for what should be a wild ride.

John Obrecht is editor of BtoB and Media Business. He can be reached at jobrecht@crain.com.

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