It's better to give and to receive

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Marketers looking to punch up their b-to-b campaigns are increasingly turning to the give-and-take of online incentives and promotions.

In fact, the average b-to-b site has budgeted close to $72,000 for promotions this year, according to a recent report published by ActivMedia Research Inc., Peterborough, N.H.

With the right offer and creative, these campaigns can achieve higher click-through rates than banner ads or e-mails without incentive offers, and ultimately build a richer qualified database or generate more leads that result in sales, marketing experts say.

The most popular online promotion strategies b-to-b marketers currently are using include sweepstakes, giveaways, viral marketing where individuals receive a gift after referring others to the site and scavenger hunts that send people searching through a Web site before they can claim a prize.

Incentive programs must appeal to a highly targeted audience, said Brian Heathman, VP for 24/7 Promotions, a division of 24/7 Media Inc., an online marketing agency. For example, a program targeting information technology professionals might use a wireless router as the free incentive.

Design campaign to your goals

Also, marketers need to be clear about what they’re trying to accomplish with a promotional campaign, experts say.

"If image is all you’re looking for, [offline] mass media is better suited than promotions," said Steve Caputo, senior VP for, a New York-based promotions agency. "But if you’re looking for developing a direct relationship or developing a list of people that want you to inform them about products or services, promotions will give you the most highly qualified list you can get."

If a company wants to build its online database, a sweepstakes program that gets qualified individuals to consent to be contacted or provide useful information is ideal, Caputo said. If the goal is to educate people about the breadth of products or services available through a Web site, a scavenger hunt makes the most sense because it sends them to different parts of the site in search of clues, he said. recently ran a highly focused sweepstakes campaign for ADP Investor Communication Services, an Edgewood, N.Y.-based company that prints corporate annual reports, proxy statements and other documents for broker-dealers and their investor clients. The goal of the program was to get investors to consent to receiving materials electronically rather than by snail mail, said Michael Marcigliano, VP of ADP’s Internet initiatives group.

By offering a $5,000 cash prize to one winner each month and a grand prize of $50,000 to one lucky individual at the end of the six-month campaign, ADP succeeded in growing its online database by about 5,000 names, he said.

Everybody’s a winner

People who respond to incentive offers will answer as many as five qualification questions or more if they find the offer appealing, said Barry Silverstein, CEO for Directech eMerge, a Lexington, Mass.-based online marketing agency.

Viral marketing campaigns offer participants an incentive to refer like-minded colleagues, Heathman said. He advises executives to always include a viral component in any promotion.

Wireless products are still drawing a lot of attention, promotions experts say. And while cash is always king, some companies may prohibit individuals from receiving awards personally, Silverstein said. Ways to get around that problem include offering an alternative such as making a donation to a charity, he said.

The key to getting the best response is to make prizes relevant to the company’s other products or overall message, Caputo said.

Hewlett-Packard Co. recently ran a promotional offering on and other sites for a free folding keyboard, valued at $100, for every mobile professional who purchased an HP Jornada 540 Series Pocket PC. The monthlong promotion exceeded HP’s sales goals, said Sandra Punta, manager-HP Jornada Programs, though she would not disclose specific results.

But a cool offer is only half the battle. Using highly creative tactics to get people’s attention is critical too, Heathman said. The latest online technologies marketers are using for incentive programs include skyscraper ads, decoder technology and "out-of-banner" ads, he said.

Skyscraper ads, which run down the side of a Web page, are getting unusually high response rates. These ads, which have been around only for the past few months, are achieving click-throughs in the 3% to 8% range, he said. "They’re harder to ignore than a banner ad, and if created right, they draw your attention immediately," he said.

Decoder technology uses offline direct marketing to reach the target audience. A direct mail card is sent out with a transparent instant-win card affixed to it. To find out if they won, players must log onto a designated Web site and hold the card up to their computer screen to reveal the results, Heathman said. Response rates are as high as 11%, in part because of the novelty feature, he said, adding that offering relevant prizes still is an important component.

Out-of-banner ads are free-floating Flash animation images that pop up on the Web page. These ads flash for 20 seconds in a very intrusive manner and then disappear, Heathman said. He hasn’t seen any such ads in the b-to-b sector yet but said they are likely to appear in the future.

"These strategies are catching on like wildfire because the latest and greatest creative features often get very high response rates," he said.

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