Taking it to the next level

Published on .

Roundtable participants:
  • Jocelyne Attal, CMO, Avaya
  • Jim Davis, Senior VP-CMO, SAS
  • Thomas F. Haas, CMO, Siemens Corp.
  • Juanita James, Chief Communications Officer, Pitney Bowes
  • Chip Smith, Senior VP of Online Media, Monster

This virtual roundable was conducted via e-mail this month. Each participant was asked the same set of questions without a word limit. The responses were tehn compiled and edited for length,

BtoB: How has spending changed this year? Are you spending more on one type of interactive media? Why? What's behind this change?

Davis: Our spending remains consistent, with a slight increase toward online media and third-party relationships. We also continue to invest in fewer, more targeted channels versus the mass approach. Overall, more opportunities than ever are available to us through the Web.

Attal: We continue to increase global budgeting for search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO), including content networks. Our audiences spend a significant amount of time on the Web as part of their decision-making processes.

James: We are moving away from simple online advertising into a much richer mix of interactive experiences that includes online ads, search advertising and search optimization, affiliate Web site marketing, podcasts and even video. As the online world presents more and more channels through which to create and store content, we find we need to be present in more of these in order to reach our customers as effectively as possible. And we have barely scratched the surface as it is.

Smith: Spending on interactive media has increased year over year, but the type of interactive media we are buying has remained consistent. We've been very successful driving down our cost-per-acquisition with the media through constant testing and optimizing.

Haas: Spending on interactive media overall has increased for Siemens this year and will likely do so again next fiscal year. Next year, we would anticipate spending about 15% to 20% of our overall budget on interactive media.

BtoB: Search has come under fire recently with several prominent lawsuits and calls for more transparency. How important is search engine marketing to your company?

Attal: We have strong vendor partnerships supporting our search engine efforts, however it is equally important for marketers to constantly monitor search activity. We monitor our spending, keywords, conversion rate, conversion points and lead numbers on a real-time basis by country. This gives us the ability to not only manage to a defined spend level, but adjust spending based on real-time market activity around the globe.

Smith: SEM is critical to any online business and Monster is no exception. SEM is used to drive both consumer engagement and b-to-b ROI. Search is the foundation of Monster's online advertising program and we do not expect that to change in the near future. Monster has an internal team that is dedicated to our SEM effort to ensure we are maximizing the opportunity. We feel it is important to have internal expertise that understands the business and can interface effectively with search providers.

Davis: Search is a strategic component of SAS' overall marketing and branding strategy. We approach search not as a separate marketing silo, but as part of an integrated strategy that mirrors our target audiences' behavior. If you do all the standard marketing activities, and then don't do search, you're missing out on a big opportunity.

Keyword prices are rising, more competitors are entering the space and the options for delivering your ads are getting more robust and complex. All of this leads to a greater demand for knowledge, resources and an integrated strategy in order to capture the long tail of search and produce the biggest ROI.

Over the next 12 months, as we focus on globalization and optimizing our search marketing efforts, we'll be looking to maximize our investment in search.

Haas: Search works for us and we intend to consolidate, optimize and expand our investments in search across general interest and b-to-b search properties. Given the breadth and depth of Siemens product offerings, we noticed a couple of years ago that a number of our business units were competing with one another on keyword search buys, thus driving up costs. To get all of the business units working together, we instituted a corporate match—dollar-for-dollar—on all keyword search buys. This resulted in a 10% decrease in overall costs and a rapid adoption of keyword advertising among all business units.

James: We'll increase our spending in this area by healthy double-digit percentages this year.

We are broadening the range of search keywords we invest in, moving away from traditional product search into customer needs. For example, postal rates are changing again this year and that's causing new and existing customers to go online for more information. We want to be there not just when they are thinking specifically about our products, but also when they are thinking about problems we can help solve. Interestingly, click-through rates for the topical keywords are about ten times higher than for product search terms. That's where you want to be.

BtoB: Are social media placements worthwhile for b-to-b marketers? If so, in what context?

Haas: We don't know yet. The trend is "yes," but we want to make sure our clients and Siemens communicators understand social media well before we pursue it more aggressively. We have a lively and successful internal blog platform which is something like our Web 2.0 training camp for all of us. It helps us understand the medium and develop a feel for the right content and tone. Once we feel ready, we might go external with expert blogs at some point. One operating company, Energy and Automation, is already using external blogs.

Attal: We continue to optimize our Web sites to ensure they are easily connected with relevant online communities and community Web sites. Audiences access content in many ways and being visible in relevant places is critical. For example, we feature our video "Snapshots" on Google Video and YouTube and have seen solid view numbers. We also provide content syndication and RSS feeds when applicable for our partners and customers.

Smith: Monster has utilized social media placements for b-to-b, but we have found it limited in its ability to deliver the business audience. We have had success, however, using this medium to reach our consumer audience.

James: While social networks and virtual worlds are increasingly important in the b-to-c world, their role in b-to-b marketing is still taking shape. We are experimenting at Pitney Bowes, and will probably launch an internal social networking Web site for employees first. We'll learn from that experience and then see where we go.

Davis: Social media, or consumer-generated media (CGM), is like the Wild West: Out of control, a little dangerous, but it's where new, adventurous endeavors play out daily.

While the opportunities for consumer-targeted offerings are obvious, the b-to-b company that ignores this open range does so at its peril. CGM has become a natural extension to traditional media, a venue where journalists and thought leaders can exchange viewpoints and bring business leaders into open, candid conversations about important issues, trends and technologies. The company not participating in this form of networking will be left with no foothold.

BtoB: Spam filters are tighter than ever and people are being more selective about how and when they open e-mails.What does that mean for b-to-b marketers? Is it still a relevant source of marketing?

James: You have to distinguish between e-mail as a medium to reach prospects and new customers, and e-mail as one of the touch points in relationships with existing customers. For the former, e-mail is definitely a declining channel at Pitney Bowes. We have too many concerns about access and security, and we find it generates only a small percentage of our new business leads, so it is definitely becoming less attractive to us as marketers. However, as a customer relationship management tool, we think e-mail has many interesting properties. We're testing new programs, for example, to reach out via e-mail to customers who visit our online supplies store but don't make a purchase. The results so far are encouraging.

Davis: Even with tighter spam filters and regulations in place, e-mail continues to be a critical piece to our overall campaigns. It is still the fastest way to measure the ROI of a campaign. We stay abreast of industry best practices and deliverability issues and pursue permission-based and white-listing opportunities. We are moving more and more in the direction of personalized content to optimize relationship-building by providing the most relevant information to our partners and customers. A constant monitoring of all relevant variables helps us to keep our open rates high and our undeliverables low.

Haas: It is still very relevant, only that we are moving more toward nurturing house lists instead of using external lists. Our goal is to promote the use of [house] e-mail campaigns. First of all, we know that e-mail marketing works well in b-to-b. Second, it motivates Siemens to offer compelling content that enables us to collect e-mail addresses in return for great service or valuable documents. Finally, it makes us think about the right online relationship: What type of e-mail newsletter works, which type of content, frequency, etc.

Attal: E-mail is still a relevant, cost-effective way to reach customers as part of an integrated marketing program. It is important, however, to take a targeted approach that focuses on bringing information that the customer acknowledges as being valuable. A "blast e-mail" approach is not productive and can, in fact, be destructive to relationships.

BtoB: Video-based marketing is at an all-time high as more end users have the technological capabilities to view such messages. How are you using video in your overall marketing program?

Smith: Video is predominantly being used by brand marketers messaging to consumers. Monster continues to test video marketing. But to date, video advertising's ability to drive additional click volume has not been greater than the incremental costs associated with video placements. We continue to explore new ways to integrate video into advertising and content.

Haas: We are testing streaming video right now and have high ROI expectations. Siemens has a lot of great video assets, which we typically use for advertising and PR. Although online video downloads on our site had been flat, we feel it's a critical asset that can bring the Siemens experience to life. We decided to pilot a new technology with a company called Vidavee for interactive, streaming video where customers can view and share the video as well as navigate within the stream—for example, contact us or view a Google map of the project location. Tests are going on around the theme of renewable energy, CO2 reduction and energy savings.

James: Online video is great, and I don't think we at Pitney Bowes have fully exploited its potential. We started, as so many companies do, with product videos so that we could demonstrate features and capabilities 24/7, and we still provide this service because it's easy and customers value the ability to get this information on demand. But the emerging area for us is with thought leadership—taking our executives and packaging their insights for the benefit of customers who want to stay on the leading edge.

Davis: SAS, with self contained in-house video and new media facilities for more than 25 years, has led the way. We produce commercials—broadcast and online—webcasts, Web seminars, interactive tours (rich media microsites), rich media demos, podcasts, rich media e-mails and more. Lead development and lead generation are all possible through online new media, which makes ROI much easier to track.

Attal: Avaya uses video widely in our global integrated marketing programs. For instance, we create video 30- to 60- second "Snaphots" that illustrate the functionality of various Avaya applications through focused, somewhat humorous scenarios. "Snapshots" are translated into local languages and serve as regular features on our Web sites around the world. We embed "Snapshots" into video e-mail campaigns and load them onto memory sticks for customer giveaways at events. These videos are also used in customer presentations and event kiosks.

BtoB: Are podcasts and RSS marketing on your radar yet? How do you think they will fit into your long-term strategy?

Davis: Yes. They work particularly well for series programs. We distribute our monthly, thought- leadership news program (BetterManagementToday) as podcasts with RSS feeds through iTunes.

Internally, within SAS, we are producing upwards of 20 podcasts per quarter. Last year, we did fewer than 20 total for the year. Several groups have done iPod giveaways at executive events. The iPods are pre-loaded with relevant content. This is similar to the old model of providing jump-drive memory sticks.

James: We definitely believe in podcasts and RSS marketing and they are going to become a permanent part of our marketing mix. For Pitney Bowes, these technologies will help us deliver those high-value thought leadership messages to customers who want to know what's next in the mainstream, and what comes after what's next.

Attal: We use podcasts for solution marketing as well as investor relations and outreach to industry analysts. RSS on its own has been experiencing a slow adoption rate by our audiences; however, when we create relevant RSS content tailored to specific audiences, we see an increased take rate.

Haas: Yes, we are testing it internally and externally. They are like blogs or social media: Return and time investment must justify the cost, though.

Smith: We are always looking for and testing new opportunities and ways to reach the b-to-b audience. So yes, they are on our radar screen.

BtoB: What are the biggest issues facing b-to-b marketers today?

Haas: Act on what we know works for us; create quality interactions with target groups; make sure leads get accepted and followed through by the business units.

Smith: The ability of targeted business media to deliver scale. B-to-b targeted online media opportunities can provide great targeting, but they often are very limited in the volume they deliver, and can be costly when compared to consumer advertising. The challenge of using online media to market to the b-to-b audience is finding truly targeted media that can deliver a large audience, at the right place and time.

Davis: Too much noise in the market. Marketing to a very sophisticated audience. How do we not look and sound like everyone else?

Everyone is under pressure to lower costs and increase profits. Growing market share—delivering the right offer to the right customer at the right time—is the answer, and the data exists to make that possible. The challenge is in collecting, organizing and analyzing that data, and enabling decision makers—which these days means practically anyone—to access it when they need it.

Attal: Reaching the target audience consistently and effectively in a way that breaks through the clutter and delivers clear business value is a constant challenge for marketers, regardless of changes in the media environment. Attention spans continue to shorten, the volume of messages and the noise-level continues to intensify, and the line between professional and personal lives of b-to-b decision makers continues to blur.

As a result, we have to find ways to have a pervasive, but not intrusive, conversation with decision makers that spans multiple communication channels.

James: What isn't a big issue? Nobody likes to talk about online fraud, but it's definitely a problem for anyone trying to transact business over the Internet. It's manageable, but we can't ignore it either. Rapid changes in online technology have really obliterated all the marketing models that seemed relevant even just a few years ago. We're in a new world, and that's an enormous issue for all of us. It affects everything: How to manage agencies, how to develop and grow your in-house team, how to know what skills you need and how to understand customer behavior when customer behavior is changing by the day. It's as uncertain a time for marketers today as I have ever seen in my career.

BtoB: With so much confusion over metrics out there, what metrics are you using to calculate ROI and are they different than those you used in the past? Are metrics helping or hurting your marketing program?

James: Keep in mind that we approach the Web for two very different marketing purposes: To sell our products and services and to position Pitney Bowes as an industry leader and solutions provider. When it comes to selling our products and services, cost-per-sale is the ultimate metric and we are finding the Web to be more than holding its own, especially in the small business segment. For the broader objective of positioning Pitney Bowes as an industry leader, we look at our online and interactive investments as a fundamental part of our total marketing: Print advertisements, out of home, events, sponsorships, direct mail, the whole bundle. We know we have to invest in the Web because that's where our target audience spends a lot of time, and we don't worry too much about parsing the ROI of Web. We have to be there, period.

Attal: The clearest path to demonstrating ROI from demand generation-specific investments is tracking and managing the sales funnel, in partnership with the sales organization. Tracking metrics around exposures/impressions, qualified leads generated, average lead constructs, sales funnel coverage ratios and direct revenue contribution from marketing campaigns are at the center of our integrated marketing activities.

Another equally important area is tracking brand awareness and consideration—both at the top level of the brand hierarchy, as well as at the portfolio/category level. Building awareness and driving higher consideration and preference is the most basic and fundamental branding-related linkage that we track, and we manage this process very aggressively.

Finally, other important marketing mix investments are mapped against clear and concise metrics, including thought leadership through measurement of public relations activities and sales enablement, which tracks metrics such as sales team readiness and utilization of sales tools.

Haas: I would tend to disagree about the confusion. Metrics are critical in understanding performance. We use only a few basic metrics that are simple and have business impact.

Davis: For us, metrics for 2007 combine both quantity- and quality-focused tracking. We are strong at tracking the numbers, but we also needed to get deeper into the data to identify trends, segmentation and the ability to predict behaviors. Through business intelligence and analytics (with SAS software), we track response, interest, performance by deliverable, costs, etc. We always evaluate based on revenue impact, both closed and pipeline. Metrics help marketing quantify value and increase our efficiency as an organization. We use measures and tracking to make decisions. ROI calculations utilize a combination of these measures and make for smarter marketing.

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