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Taking the leads

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Patrick Esposito is the kind of marketing director b-to-b media companies have seen too frequently since the recession hit hard last fall. “We took a step back and looked at everything we were doing,” Esposito said, referring to an October review of his marketing budget at Misumi USA, a component supplier for the manufacturing industry.

In the end, Esposito slashed print advertising and most other forms of marketing spending. But he spared the company’s lead-generation programs, which he concentrated at 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.

“They’ve taken a hard right turn toward everything that can be seen as raising their ROI,” said Chuck Richard, VP-lead analyst at Outsell.

To meet the demands of their marketing clients, 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,” said Kevin Maloney, Reed Business Information’s VP-online sales, concerning lead-generation programs.

Technology media companies such as TechTarget and others led the way to online lead generation among b-to-b media companies, 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’s Richard. But other methods for generating leads are also gaining converts.

International Data Group, for example, introduced IDGTechNetwork, a grouping of scores of non-IDG online publications—including tech-oriented blogs—that generate 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 Communications’ 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, adding that there’s even a spot for print in driving leads.

“Historically, we would have used databases to leverage and drive print brands,” Yorke said. “Now, we use print brand to drive the databases.” In other words, when IT professionals sign up for the magazines, they provide deep data. “Qual cards are pretty rich,” he said.

Ziff Davis Enterprise, another tech media company, is putting a new twist on virtual events. It announced in March 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, Reed Business acquired what is now known as Reed Construction Data, which provides leads on new projects to construction firms. More recently, the company acquired BuyerZone.com, which offers request-
for-quotes on such commodities as phone systems. Currently, the company is working to align BuyerZone more closely with Reed publications like Modern Materials Handling, creating RFQ categories that match that magazine’s advertiser base.

Marshall Matheson, VP-new media at Design World, said his Web site, www.designworldonline.com, allows manufacturers to post 3-D CAD drawings of their parts so that engineers can download them and incorporate the drawings into their designs.

“That’s a high-value lead,” Matheson said. Design World is also experimenting with generating leads from video. The company uses what Matheson called a “YouTube model,” allowing marketers to upload video for free and users to download it for free. Design World also generates leads (and revenue) by posting white paper links on the video pages.

But there are those who question the wisdom of investing so heavily in a single revenue type. Some observers worry about the emphasis on lead generation, arguing it diminishes the brands of the marketer and media company alike.

“If that’s where we’re going to go, you might as well pack it in,” said one industry observer, who requested anonymity. “That’s the fight that everybody has had to fight for the last 100 years in the b-to-b publishing market.”

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 say, 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].”

No one disputes that having a solid brand helps a company generate leads. For a lead to be generated, the target must, in most cases, have heard of the company selling the product that might interest them. If the prospect hasn’t heard of the company or has a negative impression of it, that company has a more difficult path in reaching the considered set.

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 his assessment of the Internet’s branding capability. A report released in March by IBM Global Services said that the Internet is a medium where direct marketing techniques converge with branding.

That leaves many b-to-b media companies faced with a dilemma. They need to find a way to make money online and the best way might be lead generation, which they fear may damage their content brands. They worry that their print revenues are dwindling faster than their online programs, including lead generation, are growing.

But there may be a silver lining. It’s possible they aren’t charging enough for the leads they are producing for their customers.
One marketer that used a b-to-b media company Web site to generate leads, said: “Our leads usually cost about $250 to $300 apiece. Some of the highly qualified leads cost $500. This campaign was $50 a lead … for good, qualified leads.”

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