When the going gets rough, branding or lead generation?

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With the economy slowing down, b-to-b marketers have to ask themselves a tough question regarding their spending: Do they focus on advertising that plugs the brand or drives sales leads? When the economy slumps, advertising is typically one of the first items companies put on the chopping block. Yet despite the expected squeeze on marketing budgets this year, the choice between building brand awareness and hard sales efforts shouldn't be a matter of either/or, said Joan Blackwood, CMO of online job recruiter Monster Worldwide. “Regardless of the economy, and as much as marketers are looking for shortcuts, there's no shortcut to good, solid integrated marketing,” she said. “With the economy tightening, integration becomes more important. Each tactic plays an important role.” Blackwood said that rather than shrink ad dollars from either branding or lead-generation efforts, marketers should re-evaluate the way they segment their marketing. seek clusters of opportunity “You have to see the clusters of opportunity and ask which segments you should walk away from,” she said. “It's not a conversation on tactics but what strategies do you no longer need to fund and what do you need to take off the list.” Monster recently introduced “Your Calling Is Calling,” a global marketing campaign that positions the company as a guide for career advancement. BBDO Worldwide, New York, handled the campaign. Spots are running on “American Idol” and “60 Minutes”—programs inoculated against the strike by the Writers Guild of America—as well as cable news outlets CNN, Fox Business Network, Fox News Channel and MSNBC. The first spot, titled “Daybreak,” opens with hundreds of people awakening before dawn on a Monday and collectively rallying to postpone the coming day by fighting the onslaught of daybreak. The message: Monster can help make Mondays something to look forward to. While the TV spots cast a wide net, they also direct viewers to Monster's Web site. “We think of these things as a continuum,” Blackwood said. “While the creative is not a specific direct response, [the spots] are very much designed to incite action and get people to thinking about questioning the status quo” when it comes to their career. Media buyers and branding executives said it would be unwise—particularly with the economy starting to skid—for marketers to shortchange either their branding or lead-generation efforts. “The choice is not between branding or lead generation but more to do with scale of integrated programs and whether they need to be larger or smaller,” said Rick Segal, CEO of b-to-b ad agency HSR Business to Business, who added that he's not seen any cutbacks in ad spending among his clients, which include Eclipse Aviation, Hobart Corp. and USG Corp. “It's not about the form of tactics but finding the most appropriate form of communications in the buyer's purchasing cycle.” Alan Seigel, chairman-CEO of branding agency Seigel+Gale, said he's seeing more of his b-to-b clients increase their spending on branding. “If you're in a competitive situation, the stronger brand is going to win; and people in the b-to-b sector will pay 15% more if they see the company as higher quality,” said Seigel, whose clients include Dell, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, a Winston-Salem, N.C.-based law firm, recently introduced the latest iteration of a branding campaign it originated in 1996. The campaign, titled “Innovators at Law,” includes a print ad with a large image of “Winston the Bulldog” attempting to cross a high wire. In a sequence of images that follow, the dog figures out how to turn a treacherous option into a fast-moving zipline. “The ad symbolizes how the law firm's attorneys bring fresh thinking to help clients reach their goals,” said Paula Blanchat, director of marketing communications. The ads, created by Greenfield/ Belser, Washington, D.C., are running in The Wall Street Journal, in regional business publications and on WTOP-FM in Washington. “It's a classic branding campaign: no call to action but to raise awareness,” Blanchat said, adding that Womble Carlyle runs a lead-generation program through Google AdSense. Branding as backbone As a general rule, the law firm devotes 90% of its marketing dollars to branding, in good times and bad. Blanchat said independent research conducted every five years has shown that the branding campaigns have significantly improved awareness of the firm when it entered new markets, such as Atlanta and Northern Virginia. “Branding has got to be the backbone of advertising, especially when you're in a lot of markets,” she said. And when the economy tanks, she added, “You have an opportunity to make an impact; and you see the payoff when the economy improves.” B-to-b companies selling products that are more commoditized need to strike the right balance between branding and lead-generation efforts. “With b-to-b media vehicles you have to get the biggest bang for the buck, and that's lead generation,” said Hayes Roth, CMO of branding agency Landor Associates. “But if that's all you do and you stop worrying about the brand promise, you're withdrawing from the brand bank and not reinvesting in the brand, and that's always the inclination of companies when the economy weakens.” Roth added: “You abandon the brand, you abandon the future.” M
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