ITM: How is the year going from a business standpoint?
Etherington: Clearly, itâ€™s tough. Weâ€™re on the lead end of innovation, and we probably saw the softening back in the summer, so we took a number of actions to dampen the effect. Right now weâ€™re seeing a lot of people deferring larger capital expenditures, and thatâ€™s pretty much been our biggest challenge. Business is tough, but I think weâ€™ve taken adequate measures to ensure we weather the storm.
ITM: What adaptations have you made from a marketing standpoint?
Etherington: We used the downturn to look at our strategy structure processing people. In terms of our strategic perspective, our strategy remains the same today as it did back last year. But from a structural perspective, weâ€™ve taken the opportunity to collapse a couple regions togetherâ€”for instance, Japan. Weâ€™re getting tremendous efficiencies from outsourcing and also in-sourcing to our China operations many of the functions weâ€™d been doing in Japan. Also, weâ€™ve really increased our investment in and around our digital marketing capabilities.
ITM: Are your digital investments coming at the expense of traditional approaches, such as print and events?
Etherington: Face-to-face events are still going to hold good. I think what we are going to seeâ€”and weâ€™re doing thisâ€”is downsizing our actual size and presence at some of these events. Iâ€™m very keen to maintain the face-to-face. In terms of traditional print advertising, absolutely we will be reducing that pretty significantly over the year. Now thatâ€™s based upon a number of things, not just a knee-jerk reaction to the old adage â€śWe donâ€™t know how effective our advertising is.â€ť The voice of our customer tells us that of the top 20 advertising [channels], print is about 13 or 14 on the list of [channels] that influence them in the decision-making process. So itâ€™s partly based on the voice of the customer, partly based on economic conditions.
ITM: Regarding newer, and often lower-cost digital techniques, what are you exploring?
Etherington: Social media is something we donâ€™t know what we donâ€™t know aboutâ€”itâ€™s in its infancy. We are certainly attacking that. Weâ€™re trying things such as forums, blogs. Weâ€™re even going for a Facebook entry. But again, itâ€™s going to take a long, long time to get the groundswell [and] understand exactly what our customers are looking for in terms of social media. Weâ€™re preferring to spend a lot more of our time and investments in and around search engine marketing.
Also, this past month, we launched our new Web site, which was based upon two or three years of voice of the customer data telling us we needed to improve our navigation and help our customers find, learn, buy and use our equipment.
ITM: So your refresh of the Web site was based on a lot of empirical work you did earlier?
Etherington: Yeah, absolutely. And weâ€™ve questioned, â€śIs it the right time?â€ť And that was something I made sure I put a steel-lined fence around the budget forâ€”for the content development and for everything that went with it. Weâ€™re seeing that the Web probably accounts for 50% of our leads worldwide for our business.
ITM: What are the success metrics for that refreshed Web site?
Etherington: No. 1, primarily, is the voice of the customer. We do monthly voice of the-customer assessments â€¦ understanding the levels of satisfaction. I mentioned 50% of our leads come from the Web, [so] we want to make sure that we continue that run rate or even increase it. But No. 1, primarily, is making sure that our customers are able to find information, learn about our products, are able to buy them instantaneously and also, once they have the products, use them more effectively than they would otherwise. Thatâ€™s the primary driver.
ITM: Are there any upcoming initiatives you want to tell us about?
Etherington: Itâ€™s all about becoming just a lot smarter. I already mentioned search engine marketing. Weâ€™re spending a lot more time in educating everyone internally in terms of the importance of propagating content with the keywords so it gets picked up. And once weâ€™ve got the engagement, itâ€™s up to us then to ensure we try to affect them and move them along the decision-making process as quickly as possible. So I wouldnâ€™t pick out any one campaign. I would say search engine marketing is probably the biggest focus for us in this year and beyond.
ITM: By search engine marketing, youâ€™re talking about both organic optimization and keyword buys?
Etherington: Absolutely. Exactly. The breakdown is about 80% of our search comes though organic. Weâ€™re actually increasing our organic, which is a good sign. It means weâ€™re getting smarter in peppering our content, and being picked up by all the Web crawlers. So weâ€™re pretty happy with the balance we have right now.