Execs focus on marketing in "new world'

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Senior marketers at last month's ANA/BtoB conference in Chicago talked about how the economy has forced them to come up with new and effective ways to reach customers. The event, Marketing in the New World, brought together more than 200 b-to-b marketers, who shared strategies and had frank discussions about how the economy has changed the face of marketing. “In a down market, where there is a recession, you really need to change your selling methods and marketing strategies,” said Mark Wilson, VP-corporate marketing at Sybase Inc., during a keynote presentation. “As a marketer, you need to hit the hard reset.” Sybase, which sells database and risk analytics products, had to change its approach to selling to one of its key markets, the financial services sector. When the economy took a nose dive a year ago, “There was a huge uproar, and financial services got completely turned on its head,” Wilson said. “We realized that tried and true does not work.” So Sybase created a new sales methodology called “provocation-based selling” to market to the strapped sector. The process includes presenting a nonstandard point of view, confirming a serious dissatisfaction among customers, not being afraid to discuss difficult subjects upfront and being disruptive in order to drive the message home. One of the key strategies is bringing senior leaders in at the beginning of the conversation, Wilson said. “It's a lot more upfront investment, but it tends to shorten the sales cycle.” While it's making more of an investment in the sales process itself, Sybase is also finding inexpensive ways to market to customers, such as using social media. “This stuff is so cheap to do, you want to go out and experiment and do a lot with it to see what sticks,” Wilson said. For example, Sybase is producing online videos in-house (at an average cost of $500 each), blogs and virtual conferences. In another keynote presentation, Marcy Shinder, VP-brand strategy and marketing for American Express OPEN, discussed how the company's embracing of social media has helped it drive marketing efficiency during the downturn. The commitment to social media, she said, has enabled the company “to do more with less.” One of its key components is, an online community for small-business owners. The site was created with a team of fewer than five people and at a fraction of the cost of other marketing initiatives, such as TV advertising, Shinder said. American Express uses Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and blogs to drive traffic to the site, which, in addition to attracting small-business owners, has also drawn marketers looking to reach that sector. FedEx, for example, has become a paying sponsor of a segment of the site. Marketing transformation was also a key topic during a panel discussion featuring senior b-to-b marketing leaders. Juanita James, chief marketing and communications officer at Pitney Bowes, discussed the 90-year-old company's strategic transformation to focus on expanded products and services. “We are in an industry that is undergoing a fundamental shift,” she said. “Mail volumes are dropping off at clifflike rates, and we have been in the process of shifting from mail-focused to technology and business solutions.” Pitney Bowes this year introduced a new ad campaign, “There's a Lot More Here Than You Think,” to communicate its new positioning. During a fast-paced session, “10 B-to-B Issues in 50 Minutes,” marketers and agency executives debated topics such as budget cuts and improving creative. Gary Slack, chairman-chief experience officer at Slack Barshinger, Chicago, noted that print advertising and events are among those areas being cut by clients, while tactics such as web-inars and custom virtual events are on the rise. On the topic of b-to-b creative, opinions were mixed on the need for improvement. “In the consumer world, there is a lot of thinking about the next big thing, which doesn't really exist in the b-to-b world,” said Howard Sherman, president of b-to-b agency Doremus New York. “There is a whole ton of room for the bar to get higher in the b-to-b space.” Slack pointed to the importance of measuring creative with definable metrics. “What counts is if your online creative is pulling and meeting metrics goals,” he said. “If you're not testing and optimizing, creative quality is the least of your problems.” M
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