But marketers also face a complex set of challenges, from rapidly increasing media fragmentation to a sharp uptick in CEO turnover to ongoing pressure to prove their department's return on investment and contribution to the bottom line.
Following is a look at the top 10 marketing trends for 2006, based on interviews with marketers, media companies, analysts and agencies.
One of the hottest marketing trends in 2006 will be the increased use by businesses of syndication technologies such as RSS (really simple syndication) feeds, which provide continuous updates from blogs and podcasts (downloadable audio segments) delivered from many sources.
These technologies allow marketers to share content with customers, business partners and prospects in engaging, interactive formats.
"Companies that seem to be the most successful are those that capture the intellectual capital," said Gary Stein, senior analyst at Jupiter Research.
"They are not specifically doing it to talk about marketing, but they are using designers or engineers behind the product to connect with audiences," he said.
Many b-to-b marketers—including General Electric Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co,. IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp.—are using blogs, podcasts and RSS, and plan to expand their use of these platforms in 2006. At Oracle, for example, there are now more than 60 blogs published by customers and business partners talking about how they use Oracle technology.
Search will become even more targeted in 2006 as publishers provide opportunities for marketers to reach segmented audiences through vertical search engines.
Some b-to-b publishers that have recently launched vertical search engines include Advanstar Communications (www.dentalproducts.net), MediaTec Publishing (certmag.com) and Reed Business Information (www.reedlink.com).
"Now there are opportunities for publishers to become the Google of their vertical," said Bill Furlong, president of SearchChannel, which builds custom search engines for publishers. Furlong is also chairman of American Business Media's new vertical search task force, which is charged with looking at vertical search opportunities for publishers.
"Publishers want to be the go-to resource for information in their niche, and having a dedicated, focused search engine is one way to do that," he added.
Online video ads
B-to-b marketers are embracing online video ads as the technology improves and formats become standardized.
EMarketer projects that spending on online video ads in the U.S. will increase from $225 million in 2005 to $385 million in 2006, up 71%.
Also, more online publishers are expected to be in compliance with new standards for online video ads, released in November by the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
AT&T, IBM, Intel Corp. and Vonage are just a few of the b-to-b marketers that have used online video ads.
"Intel uses both repurposed and unique content to enable us to maintain synergy with our overall campaigns and maximize the unique opportunities for video usage on the Web," said Sean Connolly, global advertising manager for Intel.
Intel has run Web extensions of its TV commercials on sites including ESPN and Yahoo! and has created unique online content, such as featuring Blue Man Group in video banners. It plans to continue executions in 2006 for both digital home and mobility products, Connolly said.
Measuring new media
Along with new media opportunities comes the need to measure the return on investment they are generating.
Some marketers have developed in-house systems to track performance of new media such as blogs, podcasts and search, while others are turning to third-party vendors to provide measurement.
"ROI is more difficult to measure for blogs and RSS," said Nathaniel Robinson, senior director of brand and creative at Oracle.
Oracle has developed its own system to measure ROI for blogs, podcasts and RSS, using metrics such as page views, frequency and user interactions.
Third-party vendors that measure blog performance include Buzzmetrics, Intelliseek and Umbria.
Vendors are also rolling out new analytics products to track search. Google last month introduced Google Analytics, a free search analytics service, and Web analytics companies such as Omniture, WebSideStory and WebTrends are rolling out search analytic products as well.
As more new media channels become available, marketers must make tough choices about how to reach increasingly fragmented audiences with their messages and marketing dollars.
"The mainstream media are not going away, but the emergence of new Web-based media requires marketers to spread their dollars around differently," said Paul Gillin, principal of Paul Gillin Communications, a marketing communications firm. Gillin was one of the founding editors of TechTarget.com.
The move to more online media is reflected in BtoB's "2006 Marketing Priorities and Plans" survey (see page 26). The survey of 366 b-to-b marketing executives found that 72% plan to increase online spending in 2006, while only 33% plan to increase print advertising and only 6% plan to increase broadcast spending.
The proliferation of new media also affectbrand messages that are being generated by a new breed of Web influencers, including bloggers and blog aggregators.
"You can have a crisis develop out of left field that begins with a blog entry," Gillin said, pointing to a recent story about Sony BMG Music Entertainment reportedly distributing spyware software on music CDs that broke on a blog and ended up in the mainstream media.
Increased CEO turnover
With increased pressure from shareholders and board members to show improvement to the company's bottom line, CEO turnover is on the rise.
According to a November report from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an executive placement firm, the number of CEO departures during the first 10 months of the year was 1,110, nearly double the 561 CEO departures during the same period in 2004.
Also, the number of CEO departures this year for the first time topped the number of CEO departures in 2000, when 1,106 CEOs left jobs during the dot-com bust, the executive placement firm reported.
John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said the main factors contributing to the increase in CEO departures this year include increased M&A activity, more scrutiny by boards and the need for a different breed of CEO. He said the trend is expected to continue in 2006.
"The economy has been strong now for two years, and some companies are shifting to new sorts of CEOs—away from operations and financial CEOs to more growth-oriented sales and marketing CEOs," he added.
Some b-to-b companies that replaced CEOs this year include HP, Intel and Nortel Networks.
Marketing operations management
A new job that will continue to take on increased importance in 2006 is that of marketing operations director or an equivalent position responsible for overseeing marketing operations.
"Marketing operations management was really, really hot in 2005 as a new title," said Rich Vancil, VP-CMO Advisory Research at research company IDC.
"For a lot of companies, it was getting that function into place. In 2006, marketing operations people will have to figure out where and how they will add value and how their function will be measured in terms of effectiveness," he said.
Some companies that have created marketing operations directors or equivalent positions in the past year include Adobe Systems, BEA Systems, Cisco Systems, HP, Sun Microsystems and Symantec Corp.
The responsibilities of marketing operations directors include overseeing budgeting, business processes, marketing infrastructure, metrics and reporting.
Direct marketing on the rise
Marketers will increase their spending on direct marketing in 2006, according to recent reports.
In 2006, sales driven by direct marketing will reach $1.962 trillion, up 6.0% over sales of $1.851 trillion in 2005, according to a report titled, "U.S. Direct Marketing Today: Economic Impact 2005," conducted for the Direct Marketing Association by Global Insight.
Also, sales driven by direct marketing are projected to grow by 6.4% compounded annually through 2009, the report found.
"The main factor for growth is that direct marketing is measurable," said Peter Johnson, senior economist at the DMA.
"In a time when chief marketing officers are looking for results they can take back to the board, or the CEO or the CFO, direct marketing solves that problem," he said.
BtoB's "2006 Marketing Priorities and Plans" survey, conducted this month, found that 52% of b-to-b marketers plan to increase their spending on direct mail this year.
With the Winter Olympics taking place in February, 2006 promises to be a big year for sports marketing.
"When you're trying to create mass awareness, it makes all the difference in the world to leverage sports marketing partnerships," said Karen Jones, VP-advertising, brand and promotions at shipping company DHL Express USA.
DHL is the official supplier of express delivery and logistics services for the U.S. Winter Olympic Team.
Other b-to-b marketers such as Bank of America, GE, Lenovo, Samsung and Visa International will participate as official sponsors or suppliers of the Winter Games.
In addition to the Olympics, sports venues including Major League Baseball, NASCAR, the NFL and the PGA will be big draws for sponsorship opportunities in 2006, marketers said.
Expanding into international markets is a priority for many b-to-b marketers in 2006 as they attempt to generate more revenue.
China is one of the hottest markets for growth, with marketers such as Emerson, Novell, Oracle and United Parcel Service of America actively expanding their marketing efforts there.
For Emerson, China represents more than $1 billion of the company's $15.6 billion annual sales, said VP-CMO Kathy Button Bell. The company has boosted its advertising and marketing in Asia and plans to continue to do so in 2006.
Publishers including CMP Media, IDG and Ziff Davis Media are also expanding into Asia.
Last month, Electronic Engineering Times-China, a joint venture between Global Sources and CMP, launched three specialized Web sites for China-based designers of automotive electronics, cell phones and media players.
Other regions including Latin America and Europe are being targeted for growth by U.S. marketers in 2006 as well.