Technology marketing

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Technology companies have been leaders in Internet marketing from the very beginning. The first banner ads appeared in October 1994 and, since then, Internet marketing has grown up fast. The advertising component has diversified into a dizzying array of ad types, and marketers can now also reach customers online via newsletters, microsites, Webcasting and Weblogs. Equally important, these marketers have learned the best ways to use their online marketing campaigns to complement and strengthen their offline marketing efforts.

BtoB interviewed executives with six technology companies. Four of them are established players: Dell Computer Corp., IBM Corp., Oracle Corp. and EMC Corp. One is a midsize adolescent company, Macromedia Inc., which makes development tools, including the online animation tool, Flash. The last is an emerging company, Groove Networks Inc., which makes peer-to-peer collaboration software.

The executives agreed that online marketing must be coordinated with traditional marketing efforts, including trade shows, advertising and direct mail. Not every customer is entirely comfortable on the Internet. For instance, Oracle’s customer relationship management software is sold both to technology managers and business managers, and the company has found that technology managers respond to online marketing much better than business managers do, according to Kevin Rickson, senior director of marketing for CRM software at Oracle.

Business managers need more of a human touch, he noted. Oracle might be successful driving technology managers to visit a microsite by sending a direct-mail postcard that warns, "You’re falling behind!" But the company has found that business managers want images of people at work, with a promise of how Oracle products can help improve the business’ value.

Online advertising can be useful for building brand awareness and for driving demand for particular products, said Eric Siebert, director of worldwide interactive marketing communications at IBM.

But the key to successfully harnessing the power of online advertising is to measure results, Siebert said. Initially, marketers measured results in click-throughs, but that failed to measure the value that companies achieved from simply having their ads seen. "You measure the impact of online advertising the same way as offline: You use basic survey methodology to measure the customer’s ability to comprehend and understand what you are trying to communicate," Siebert said.

E-mail newsletters are another powerful marketing tool, but the key to their success is to make the content relevant, Oracle’s Rickson said. As Internet users are inundated by spam, they’re becoming less tolerant of advertising in e-mail. But a technical audience is likely to be more receptive of newsletters than business managers, Rickson said. Tech users are happy to get newsletters that are rich in technology tips and details. Business managers are harder to win over with newsletters.

"If newsletters are seen as something that serves the vendor, they are less effective," Rickson said. "You’ve got to have a high level of content, or people will see right through it."

Putting out a readable newsletter is so tricky that Oracle increasingly is buying space on existing newsletters, such as the American Marketing Association’s newsletter, or placing the e-mail version of an advertorial into newsletters people are already receiving.

The technology marketers pointed to another online marketing principle: Go where your customers already are, such as on targeted newsletters and Web sites. For example, in addition to marketing on its own Web site, Dell computer has a microsite on CNet Networks’ Web site (which combines news, reviews and feature articles about computers and the Internet). Dell’s microsite contains a large table of its products, specifications, pricing, tiny product photos, plus CNet reviews of the products, said Tom West, director of the SMB e-business division at Dell.

"Customers going to technology sites like CNet’s are in a buying frame of mind, and they have a specific product they are thinking about," West said. "That’s exactly the time we want to intercept buyers and show them what Dell has to offer."

Webcasting is another effective marketing tool, especially when used to communicate excitement, the experts said. Webcasting can help put potential customers virtually on the scene at a product launch or other event.

"The great part of the Webcast is you are able to show the energy and excitement that happens at a live event," said Daniel Kuperstein, director of online marketing and globalization for EMC Corp., a provider of information storage systems, software and services.

EMC produces about 15 special-event Webcasts annually (see case study, above) for major product launches and quarterly earnings events, along with smaller, more specialized Webcasts that provide content such as customer testimonials. Each Webcast attracts 3,000 to 5,000 viewers, Kuperstein said.

Like newsletters and microsites, Webcasts allow a vendor to collect information about potential customers, since they must register and give data about themselves to see the Webcast, said Richard Eckel, VP-marketing communications for Groove Networks.

In addition, Weblogs have emerged as a marketing tool in the past year or so. A Weblog is an online journal, usually written by a single expert, with a personal voice. Groove and Macromedia both have officially sanctioned Weblogs, written by trusted software developers with guidance from the company’s marketing department.

Blogs help companies become part of the communities formed by their customers, said Tom Hale, Macromedia’s senior VP-business strategy. "Communities evolve around products," Hale said. "People who really care about a product have opinions about it, and they like to talk to other people about it," Hale said.

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