Online Marketing Summit probes new technologies

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Marketers at last month's inaugural Online Marketing Summit debated how to use increasingly sophisticated technologies to reach customers while not losing sight of marketing fundamentals.

The Online Marketing Summit, hosted by the Business Marketing Association and Web site usability company BusinessOnLine, was held in San Diego. The "vendor-free" conference, designed to provide in-depth knowledge and best practices for online marketing, attracted more than 300 marketing executives.

Presenters from organizations including Cisco Systems, IBM Corp., JupiterResearch, the Search Engine Marketers Professional Organization (SEMPO) and the Web Analytics Association shared case studies and research to help marketers better reach their target audiences.

"The future is all about the user," said Aaron Kahlow, managing partner of BusinessOnLine and conference chairman, kicking off a panel on the future of online marketing.

When asked to describe the single most important development in online marketing this year, most of the keynote speakers described technology or issues related to technology.

Kevin Heisler, an analyst at JupiterResearch, said artificial intelligence will be the most important development this year. "Google was able to find a way to use a system that learned human behavior to create a system that is basically a cash machine that other software systems interact with," he said.

In response, BMA Chairman John Favalo, who is also managing partner of Eric Mower & Associates Group B2B, said, "Let's not forget that intelligence is not artificial. There are human beings we need to understand better and connect with better."

Favalo noted that all the emphasis on technology and analytics often takes the human connection out of the equation. "I become concerned when all I hear are the numbers," he said. "We don't pay enough attention to the human beings behind the numbers."

That noted, Favalo said b-to-b marketers will be able to use new technologies such as social networks and online video to better present products and build brands.

Dana Todd, president of SEMPO, said defining standards to deal with the issue of click fraud will be the most important development in online marketing this year, with organizations such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau and major search engines getting involved with a standardization process to measure click fraud.

Following this debate on some of the key issues facing marketers this year, speakers presented case studies on effective online marketing practices.

Michael Metz, senior director-Web marketing and strategy at Cisco, said his company is testing many Web 2.0 technologies, including virtual environments, blogs, online video and click-to-chat.

"A lot of this stuff you just have to try," Metz said. "We didn't have any research that showed Web 2.0 would increase sales. We didn't do an ROI. We started from the assumption that interacting with customers is a good thing. You have to have room to experiment and not be afraid to fail."

Cisco has experimented with Web 2.0 applications such as posting videos of its "Human Network" campaign on YouTube, holding analyst briefings in the virtual world of Second Life and using click-to-chat as an inside sales tool.

"The single biggest home run we've achieved in the last six months is click-to-chat," Metz said.

Last October, Cisco implemented a click-to-chat feature in the technical support area of its site. When users, particularly small-business customers, click on a button, they are connected to someone in a call center who helps them solve their problem.

In December, it added proactive chat, which communicates with users based on their online behavior. For example, if a user comes back to a product page several times to look at a particular item, a chat box comes up saying something like, "Can we help you with that XYZ product?"

"You have to be careful with it because it's intrusive," Metz said, adding that Cisco was able to improve its lead conversion rate by 50% in the first three weeks of using proactive chat.

Sandra Zoratti, director of marketing and strategy for IBM's Printing Systems division, discussed how IBM has used online marketing tools to develop relationships with small and midsize business customers.

"IBM's legacy is enterprise. A few years back, we realized SMB growth was critical to IBM's future," Zoratti said. "We needed some new approaches, and online marketing was perfect for us."

IBM uses search, e-mail, interactive landing pages, podcasts and mobile marketing to reach SMB customers. "The key to IBM's engaging and developing relationships with clients is based on the use of rich media," Zoratti said.

Internally, IBM developed a Web-based sales enablement tool that helps sales reps develop personal Web pages, set up online stores, send out personalized e-mail and take prospects all the way through the sales cycle.

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