Marketers and agencies debate top 10 b-to-b issues

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Chicago—During a lively panel discussion Tuesday on the opening day of the ANA/BtoB conference “B-to-B Marketing in the New World,” marketers and agency executives debated 10 hot b-to-b topics, ranging from budget cuts to improving creative.

“We are cutting anything that is not measurable and doesn't demonstrate immediate return,” said Phil Clement, global chief marketing and communications officer at insurance broker Aon Corp. However, Aon is expanding its marketing investment in some areas, including a multiyear, estimated $130 million sponsorship of soccer team Manchester United announced in June.

Linda McGovern, director of marketing at building materials company USG Corp., noted that the building industry has been particularly hard-hit by the recession.

“We have had some significant cuts, but instead of cutting across the board, we are focusing on our customers and are optimizing dollars toward what is most effective,” she said.

For example, USG has changed its approach to selling and is now marketing bundled solutions to targeted segments rather than taking a product-centric approach to marketing and sales.

“The downturn in budgets has really been an opportunity to pursue a solution-oriented approach,” she said.

Gary Slack, chairman and chief experience officer at Slack Barshinger, Chicago, noted that print advertising and events are among those areas getting cut by clients, while tactics such as webinars and custom virtual events are on the rise, resulting in improved ROI.

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.”

Clement agreed that progress needs to be made in improving b-to-b creative. “Creative will probably be one of the last frontiers. B-to-b marketers need to engage people in different ways than catalogs or pricing discussions,” he said.

Aon is experimenting with creative development through a user-generated ad campaign it plans to launch in which fans of Manchester United will create their own ads for Aon. “We will turn over ad production to the fans,” Clement said.

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.”

Other hot topics debated during the panel were analytics, reaching the decision-maker, the role of procurement and risk-taking.

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