May 23, 2013

Has Digital Changed the Message for B2B Marketers?

Digital Growth Insights is pleased to publish the following piece from Bob Ragsdale, Vice President of Marketing at MicroPact, Inc. Bob is responsible for Micropact’s marketing and social media activities, and most importantly responsible for ensuring that the company’s products continue to meet the operational needs of customers.

When I began my career, before Al Gore had invented the Internet, there were three basic levels of outreach for marketers. These were known as Above, Through and Below the Line:

  • Above the Line (ATL) – TV, Radio, Print, Outdoor
  • Through the Line (TTL) – PR
  • Below the Line (BTL) – Tradeshows, Events, Promotions, Direct Mail, Call-out Campaigns

As a brand manager you would plan your outreach according to what each of these channels could deliver in terms of engagement:

  • Above the Line to create awareness and interest.
  • Through the Line to deliver a more detailed message and third-party endorsements.
  • Below the Line to build lasting relationships, two-way exchanges and promote point-of-sale purchases.

Of course each of these were outbound channels – from the marketer to the prospect. Back then, I used to tell people that I loved outdoor advertising. Then and now, outdoor advertising is arguably one of the hardest mediums to do well. When your prospect is traveling down the freeway at 65+ miles per hour you have only a split second to get your message across. If that message isn’t razor sharp, boiled down to a compelling image and 6 words or less – it is probably going to fail. As most of the outdoor was and is done badly, I would say “I loved it” because it was easy to see which advertisers had a great grasp of their brand (and could execute against it) and which ones didn’t.

Today the landscape is quite different. The above mediums still exist but most prospects get the bulk of their information through the Internet. Does that make a marketer’s job harder or easier, or just different?

A Marketer’s Life is Easier in the Digital Age

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

This quote, attributed to John Wanamaker, is one that I imagine every client heard 50 times over as their agency tried to dodge the question as to whether they were delivering value for the advertiser. In truth it was hard to measure who was seeing your ads and what impact they were having.

Nowadays, however, with digital communications we can easily track impressions, clicks and downloads to see precisely how a prospect reacts to a particular communication. This applies to both outbound and inbound campaigns.

Assuming you are selling something that someone can just hit a “Buy” button for, it is a straightforward calculation to measure a campaign’s ROI from point-of-initiation to point-of-sale. However, if you are selling a more complicated B2B solution then your conversion point may not be a “Buy” but something short of it. It may be a level of interest, a download or attendance at a webinar. In this case (and it is for most B2B marketers), you will have metrics that give you an indication of “intent to buy.” We always had access to this measurement but in the past we generally unearthed it through surveys or focus groups. Brand sentiment too was a measure that one had to conduct surveys and focus groups to measure. But today, assuming your brand has the critical mass in social media, you can get a good idea of brand sentiment from online sources.

A Marketer’s Life is Harder in the Digital Age

Most marketers would agree that the prospects of the greatest value are “inbound.” They have come to you because they believe you may have some content that provides the answer to a question they need to answer or a challenge they are facing. Of course to get prospects to come to you, your company’s website must be more visible than your competitor’s.

Recently I spoke as part of a panel at the Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit where as part of our presentation we asked the audience what their greatest marketing challenges are today. The development of a sufficient quantity of quality content to drive search engines and visibility was cited as the No. 1 challenge attendees were faced with.

Creating compelling content that speaks to the needs and interests of our prospects, rises above that of our competitors, and is of sufficient relevancy and quantity to get noticed on search engines is hard work in a competitive market. It is not an easy or inexpensive to create this type of material.

The most effective content is that which most closely meets the needs of your prospect. Its relevancy, keywords, and popularity will lift it to the top of search engines. This means that we have to craft content that is tailored to our target audience, which brings us right back to the message.

The Message Still Matters in the Digital Age

Our brand’s message must stand out and be relevant in order to be effective. This prerequisite is no different today than it was in the past.

Like billboards, in order to rise above the rest, the clarity of our brand’s message should be wall-to-wall and tree-top-tall. To make that happen we still have to understand our competition, evaluate the changing landscape, take in to account what the analysts are saying, and get into the minds of our prospects and plot our objectives based on their needs and insights.

We have new tools at our disposal but no computer algorithm is able to craft our brand essence or product tagline – it’s still hard work, it’s still an art.