The Day-to-Day Things Bothering B-to-B Marketers

Marketing Executives Group (LinkedIn)The discussion boards on LinkedIn are often good places to capture the pulse of what’s happening “on the ground” in the marketing field.

A case in point is a discussion started recently on the Marketing Executives Group on LinkedIn by Carson Honeycutt, an account executive at marketing research firm Mintel.

Honeycutt’s question was, “What are the biggest day-to-day issues for marketing execs?”

He was interested in getting input to help him speak to needs and offer solutions when interfacing with his customers and prospects – even if those solutions meant referring them to other vendors.

According to Honeycutt, he often hears responses like, “Too busy to talk. I’m swamped and we have no budget anyway.”

His query generated some interesting feedback. Comments ranged from the succinct (“sounds like you’re getting the brush-off”) to ones that were more helpful and useful.

The OfficeOne response I liked particularly well came from Brent Parker David, a marketing strategist at CRE8EGY. His listing of the day-to-day issues for marketing execs were to-the-point:

  • Too many meetings;
  • Lack of experienced creative thinking;
  • Personal and political agendas overshadowing the mission and the marketing objectives;
  • Too many “experts” who have never truly accomplished anything — but are very comfortable telling others what to do or how to behave.

I think most of us involved the marketing field for any length of time will be nodding knowingly at the above points …

Another response — more nuanced — came from Matt Smith, a marketing strategist in the consumer packaged goods  field. Here’s what he contributed:

“When Marketing doesn’t provide deep insights and a strategy to leverage them, price discounting takes over. This gives Sales the lead, as they are the executors. Growing sales, no matter how it’s done, is taken as progress. Sales is the hero, even though margins [may] have eroded.

“The byproduct of this is increasing their trade spend budgets — and by extension, their political clout. Conversely, Marketing loses clout as they don’t have an answer that drives sales AND margins. In the zero-sum budget game, the increased trade spend comes out of the advertising/promotion/innovation budget.”

Smith went on to add that “marketing is only stifled by bean-counters if they don’t know their customers and [can’t] devise a creative strategy to get them to buy more at higher margins.”

What are your own thoughts about the biggest day-to-day challenges facing marketing execs? Please share your thoughts with other readers here.

 

If the Purchase Funnel is Dead, it’s been Replaced by … What?

For most marketing professionals over the age of 30, the purchase funnel was one of the fundamental staples of their business training.

AIDA purchase funnelIn fact, the famous “AIDA” model – which stands for awareness, interest, desire and action – was first posited as far back as 1898 by Elias St. Elmo Lewis, an American sales and advertising professional and business writer.

“AIDA” was also the inspiration behind the classic purchase funnel – an orderly, simple path consumers take on the way to selecting and purchasing a product or service.

AIDA has had a good run, because for more than a century, the AIDA purchase funnel has meshed neatly with the various advertising and MarComm tactics that have come along the pike – print advertising, direct mail marketing, radio, television – and even the Internet.

While some people might contend that the advent of the Internet disrupted traditional buying processes, the greater reality is that it brought certain aspects of the buying process into sharper relief. Search engine optimization and search engine marketing stepped in to play nicely within the “interest, desire and action” steps.

Even better, Internet marketing made ineffective “soft” attitudinal metrics less important; all of a sudden, it became much easier to make educated decisions about sales and marketing programs based on hard evidence.

But with social media taking center stage, everything is now scrambled. The tidy “linear” purchase process just doesn’t reflect what’s happening now that “interactivity all over the place” is the thing.

But what exactly is the new “thing” when it comes to the purchase process? There’s a lot of discussion … lots of thinking … but not much in the way of conclusions.

Perhaps the most well-known attempt at replacing AIDA with a new model has been made by consulting firm McKinsey. In 2009, it came up with the “modern” version of the purchase funnel which it dubbed “the consumer decision journey.”

McKinsey purchase funnel

McKinsey’s new model has been described as a “purchase cycle,” a “customer journey,” and various other alternative explanations — you can take your pick.

But what exactly is that? When you look at how McKinsey attempts to graph it … it may be the proverbial “big ol’ mess.”  I’ve pictured it here so you can try and have some fun with it.

The “McKinsey Whatever” may be hard to grasp pictorially, but there’s one thing’s about it: it’s surely not linear.

There are two circles (kind of). Consumers can go around within the circles forwards or backwards. They can also go sideways between the two (sort of).

Truth be told, the “McKinsey Thingamabob” is fairly difficult to untangle. At least that’s the claim of some business observers such as Jon Bond, a marketing specialist and cofounder of branding agency Kirschenbaum Bond Senecal. He writes this:

“I’ve been in 20 meetings where the ‘McKinsey Frankenfunnel’ has come up , and not once has anyone had the courage to admit that they didn’t have a clue what to do with it.”

Bond goes on to posit that introducing this new model was a masterstroke on the part of McKinsey (wittingly or unwittingly) because it’s become a boon to its consulting business: Companies have to hire McKinsey so the consulting firm can explain it, he notes wryly.

Whether it’s the McKinsey diagram or any other one that’s been proffered recently in an attempt to illustrate the new purchasing paradigm (one being a Google model with the eyebrow-raising acronym “ACID”) – what’s clear is that the purchase process is more complex then ever before. And in that process, the number of touchpoints has also grown dramatically.

Perhaps the best thing to do is to jump out of the funnel (or box, or circles, or whatever the purchase cycle is today). Instead of focusing on impressions or touchpoints, let’s remember the big thing that interactivity has placed in the hands of purchasers: far more opportunity to see and hear what trusted influencers are saying about products, services and brands.

It’s like going back to traditional, pre-1900 word-of-mouth advertising — and putting it on steriods.

Jon Bond contends that this new riff on WOM may be the smarter way of looking at the purchase journey a customer takes today. Instead of the “old AIDA” or the “new interactivity,” he suggests focusing more on three degrees of “trust“:

  • Before trust: Even if the brand is known, it’s not yet trusted because no credible third party has validated the brand in the eyes of the buyer.
  • Trust exists: An interaction happens with a trusted influencer who recommends the brand or has positive things to say about it.
  • Advocacy: Nirvana for companies, wherein a highly satisfied customer also becomes a brand advocate, providing third-party validation and attracting additional new customers because of the resulting brand credibility.

Incidentally, the above scenario is particularly effective in the B-to-B world, where credibility and the “CYA” impulse have always played big roles in guiding business buyers to make purchase decisions they won’t regret later.

Consider it the IBM principle, writ large:  You’ve probably heard the adage that “nobody ever got fired for recommending IBM.”  Now, in the “Age of Interactivity,” that principle can apply across the board.

Optify Measures Social Media Activity in the B-to-B Market

Optify logoThis is my fourth and final post about the findings of Optify’s recently published business-to-business online marketing analysis.  The focus of this post is on what Optify found about social media usage.  (You can read my other posts on B-to-B web traffic and advertising here, here and here.)

Optify, which is a developer of digital marketing software for B-to-B marketing professionals, analyzes web behaviors and releases a report each year.  This annual “benchmark” report is particularly important in that the findings are reported from actual web activity, not from surveys.

The key takeaway findings on the social media front are these:

  • Despite all of the continuing hype, social media remains a very small fraction of traffic and leads to B-to-B websites.  In fact, social media has contributed to less than 5% of B-to-B web traffic and leads.
  • Facebook drives the more than half of the social media-generated web traffic to B-to-B websites, versus about one-third from Twitter and most of the remaining traffic from LinkedIn.
  • Visitors who arrive at B-to-B sites from LinkedIn are more likely to view more pages per visit (~2.5 page views on average) than visitors who come from Facebook (~1.9 page views) or Twitter (~1.5 page views).
  • Despite generating more traffic Facebook drives fewer actual B-to-B leads than either Twitter or LinkedIn.
  • At this time, Twitter appears to be the most lucrative social media source for leads, with a higher-than-average conversion rate of ~2.1% (defined as a visitor taking an action such as submitting a form).

Because of this last data point, Optify posits that companies should not shy away from considering social media‘s potential as a source for leads as opposed to being just an  awareness tool.

I’m sure Optify’s figures don’t lie.  But I for one remain unconvinced about social media’s lead generation potential in the B-to-B realm.

Optify takes the pulse of B-to-B paid search programs.

Optify logoI’ve been highlighting the key findings of Optify’s annual benchmark report charting the state of B-to-B online marketing. You can read my earlier posts on major findings from Optify’s most recent benchmarking here and here.

In this post, I focus on the paid search activities of business-to-business firms.

Interestingly, Optify finds that pay-per-click programs have been undertaken by fewer firms in 2012 compared to the previous year.

And the decline isn’t tiny, either:  Some 13% fewer companies ran paid search programs in 2012 compared to 2011, based on the aggregate data Optify studied from 600+ small and medium-sized B-to-B websites.

However, those companies who did elect to run pay-per-click advertising programs in 2012 achieved decent results for their efforts.

The median company included in the Optify evaluation attracted nearly 550 visits per month via paid search, with a conversion rate just shy of 2%, or ~45 leads per month.

[For purposes of the Optify analysis, a lead is defined as the visitor taking an action such as filling out a query form.]

Leads from paid search programs represented an important segment of all leads, too – between 10% and 15% each month.

The above figures represent the median statistics compiled by Optify. It also published results for the lower 25th percentile of B-to-B firms in its study. Among these, the results aren’t nearly so robust: only around ~60 visits per month from paid search that translated into 6 leads.

Since the Optify report covers only statistics generated from visitor and lead tracking activity, it doesn’t attempt to explain the reasons behind the decrease in the proportion of B-to-B firms that are engaged in paid search programs.

But I think one plausible explanation is the steadily rising cost of clicks. They broke the $2 barrier a long time ago and see no signs of letting up. For some companies, those kinds of costs are a bridge too far.

I’ll address one final topic from the Optify report in a subsequent blog post: B-to-B social media activities. Stay tuned to see if your preconceptions about engagement levels with social media are confirmed – or not!

More B-to-B Web Behavior Findings from Optify

Optify logoThis is my second post on the very interesting findings from Optify’s analysis of the behavior of visitors to business-to-business websites during 2012.

[Refer to my earlier post for a quick overview of salient "top-line" results.]

As part of its analysis, Optify uncovered some interesting factors pertaining to “organic” web searches, which represent ~41% of all visits to B-to-B websites.  Here’s what stands out in particular:

  • Forget all of the talk about Bing/Yahoo taking a bite out of Google on the search front. Optify found that Google is responsible for nearly 90% of all organic search activity in the B-to-B realm, making it the #1 referring source of traffic – and it isn’t even close.  (Bing’s coming in at a whopping ~6% of the search traffic.)
  • Organic search visits from Bing do show slightly better engagement rates in the form of more page views per visit, as well as better conversion rates (e.g., filling out a form). But with such low referring traffic to begin with, it’s fair to say that Google was — and remains — the cat’s meow when it comes to organic search.
  • “Branded” searches – ones that include the name of the company – account for nearly one-third of all visits from organic search. Plus, they show the highest engagement levels as well: ~3.7 page views per visit on average.

Optify notes a few clouds on the horizon when it comes to evaluating the success of a company’s organic search program. Ever since Google introduced its “blocked search data” securred socket layer (SSL) option (https://google.com), the incidence of blocked referring keyword data has increased rapidly:

  • Block referring keyword data now represents over 40% of all search queries.
  • Non-branded keywords that are known (and thus available for analysis) have dropped to just 35% of all organic searches.

Here’s the bad news:  As blocked keyword searches continue to grow in popularity – and who wouldn’t choose this option when it’s so easy and readily available – it’s creating a veritable “data oblivion” confronting marketers in their attempts to analyze and improve their SEO performance.

In a subsequent blog post, I’ll summarize key findings from Optify pertaining to paid search (SEM) and social media in the B-to-B realm.

Optify Measures the Current State of B-to-B Online Marketing

Optify logoEach year Optify, a developer of digital marketing software for business-to-business marketing professionals, analyzes web behaviors to develop a “benchmark” report on B-to-B marketing.

The annual Optify benchmark report is interesting in that the findings are developed not from surveys, but from actual web activity. 

Optify’s most recent report, released in early 2013, was produced using data gleaned from more than 62 million web visits, ~215 million page views and ~350,000 leads from more than 600 small and medium-sized websites of B-to-B firms.

Optify used its proprietary visitor and lead tracking technology to collect and aggregate the data.  U.S.-based B-to-B sites that garnered between 100 to 100,000 monthly visits were included in the research.

There are many interesting findings – enough to chew on so that I will cover them in several blog posts.  In all likelihood, some of the findings will confirm your perceptions … while others may be a tad surprising.

Web Traffic

As in business-to-consumer web marketing, there is cyclicality in web traffic in the B-to-B world.  But according to Optify, it’s almost the polar opposite:

  • Higher traffic:  January through March + September and October
  • Lower traffic:  Summer months + end of year

Source of Web Traffic

Optify found that the overwhelming amount of B-to-B web traffic comes from two main sources — organic search and direct traffic.  Other sources – particularly social media – are a good deal more peripheral:

  • Organic search:  ~41% of web traffic
  • Direct traffic:  ~40%
  • Referral links:  ~12%
  • Paid search:  ~5%
  • Social media:  ~2%

Lead Conversion Rate

Optify defines the “conversion rate” as the percent of web visitors who submitted a query or filled out some other type of form during a single visit.  Using this definition, Optify found that the average conversion rate was around 1.6%. 

But the best sources for lead conversions differ from the most prevalent sources of web traffic:

  • E-mail source:  ~2.9% conversion rate
  • Other referral links:  ~2.0%
  • Paid search:  ~2.0%
  • Direct traffic:  ~1.7%
  • Organic search:  ~1.5%
  • Social media:  ~1.2%

Page Views per Web Visit

Optify found that the average visitor viewed three pages on the website during their visit.

… But Big Variations

Optify found a good deal of variability in web activity.  To illustrate this, it has published findings broken out by medians and for percentile groups as follows:

  • Median visits per month per website:  1,784
  • 75th percentile of websites:  4,477
  • 25th percentile of websites:  339
  • Median page views per website visit (monthly average):  3.03
  • 75th percentile median page views:  4.04
  • 25th percentile media page views:  1.80
  • Median lead conversion rate (monthly average):  1.6%
  • 75th percentile median conversion rate:  3.3%
  • 25th percentile median conversion rate:  0.5%

There’s much more in the Optify report that’s worth reviewing … which I’ll share ina follow-up blog post.

The Confluence of “Mature Marketing” and B-to-B MarComm

Conference attendees, mature marketing and B-to-B buyersIn recent years, a seemingly endless stream MarComm literature has been published focusing on how to communicate effectively with different target groups. 

Whether it’s seniors … baby boomers … Gen-X or Gen-Yers … minority populations … B-to-B or technical audiences, marketers have all sorts of helpful advice coming in from all sides.

The more I’ve been reading this material, the more I’m seeing confluence rather than divergence. 

For example, there’s a high degree of commonality between marketing to “mature” consumers and B-to-B audiences.  The overlap is huge, actually.

Consider these aspects of crafting strong MarComm messages that make good sense for both B-to-B and mature audiences:

  • Sticking to the facts about products or services.  Both audiences tend to make judgments and decisions based on “information and intelligence” rather than “emotions or peer pressure.”
  • Providing lots of content.  “More is more” with these audiences, which tend to be far more voracious in their reading habits and appreciate the availability of copious information.
  • Avoiding “hype” in MarComm messages.  These audiences have “seen it all” and aren’t easily bamboozled.
  • Avoiding “talking down” to these audiences.  They are experienced people (and experience is the best educator); they have good instincts, too.
  • Designing communications so that these audiences will stick around and absorb what marketers have to say.  This means avoiding small type, garish colors and gratuitous design elements … not to mention the slow-loading graphics or animated visual hi-jinks that pepper too many websites.

None of this is to contend that emotions don’t play a role in driving purchase decisions.  But the reasoning processes that mature audiences and B-to-B buyers use to filter and evaluate MarComm messages are far more consequential than any “creative” aspects of the message platform could possibly deliver.

It would be nice if more marketers would remember this when crafting campaigns that target the “thinking” audiences out there.

What’s the Latest in Content Creation for B-to-B Marketers?

Content creationThere’s an interesting new study just published that gives us interesting clues about what B-to-B marketers are doing in content creation.

The B2B Content Marketing: 2012 Benchmarks, Budgets & Trends study is a joint research effort of the Content Marketing Institute and marketing information resources firm MarketingProfs. The survey found that nine out of ten B-to-B marketers are using some form of content marketing activities to achieve their business goals.

[For this survey, content marketing (also known as custom publishing or branded content) is defined as “the creation and distribution of educational and/or compelling content in multiple formats to attract and/or retain customers.”]

The research found that usage of several content tactics is now quite widespread:

 News articles: ~79% of respondents are using
 Social media (excluding blogs): ~74%
 Blogs: ~65%
 e-Newsletters: ~63%
 Case studies: ~58%
 In-person events: ~56%
 Videos: ~52%
 White papers: ~51%
 Webinars or webcasts: ~46%

When queried as to how effective marketers believe these tactics to be, a combination of traditional and “new” ones were cited with high effectiveness scores:

 In-person events: ~78% view as an “effective” tactic
 Case studies: ~70
 Webinars or webcasts: ~70%
 e-Newsletters: ~60%
 White papers: ~60%
 Blogs: ~58%
 Web microsites: ~56%
 Articles: ~51%
 Social media: ~51%
 Videos: ~51%

The survey also investigated how content tactics are being measured for success. Tracking web traffic stats is the most popular measurement tool:

 Web traffic: ~58% use to measure success
 Sales lead quality: ~49% use
 Direct sales figures: ~41% use
 Sales lead quantity: ~41% use
 Qualitative feedback from customers: ~40% use
 Search engine rankings: ~40% use
 Inbound weblinks: ~30% use

And what is the biggest challenge these marketers see in content creation? It’s the age-old problem of coming up with interesting topics to write about.

More than four in ten respondents cited “producing the kind of content that engages prospects and customers” as their biggest challenge.

Some of the comments heard from survey respondents on this topic sound all-too-familiar:

 “Finding people within my organization to contribute their expertise … nobody outside of marketing seems to see the value in sharing our expertise with the market via content.”

 “Having the discipline and being able to assign sufficient resources to create and manage the right content for the target audience, in a sustainable manner.”

 “The ideas are all there; it’s just a matter of finding time to create and write copy.”

 “Management patience: Management needs to understand that in today’s B-to-B environment, it takes time to engage prospects.”

What about your situation? Are your content management issues the same ones as reported in this study … or are you facing different challenges?

Online Display Ad Effectiveness: Skepticism Persists

Online Display AdvertisingAs the variety of options for online advertising have steadily increased over the years, the reputation of display advertising effectiveness has suffered. Part of this is in the statistics: abysmal clickthrough rates on many online display ads with percentages that trend toward the microscopic.

But another part is just plain intuition. People understand that when folks go online, they’re usually on a mission – whether it’s information-seeking, looking for products to purchase, or avocational pursuits.

Simply put, the “dynamic” is different than magazines, television or radio — although any advertiser will tell you that those media options also have their share of challenges in getting people to take notice and then to take action.

The perception that online display advertising is a “bad” investment when compared to search engine marketing is what’s given Google its stratospheric revenue growth and profits in recent years. And that makes sense; what better time to pop up on the screen than when someone has punched in a search term that relates to your product or service?

In the B-to-B field, the knock against display advertising is even stronger than in the consumer realm. In the business world, people have even less time or inclination to be distracted by advertising that could take them away from their mission at hand.

It doesn’t take a swath of eye-tracking studies to prove that most B-to-B practitioners have their blinders on to filter out extraneous “noise” when they’re in information-seeking mode.

This isn’t to say that B-to-B online display advertising isn’t occurring. In fact, in a new study titled Making Online Display Marketing Work for B2B, marketing research and consulting firm Forrester Research, Inc. reports that about seven in ten B-to-B interactive marketers employ online display advertising to some degree in their promotional programs.

And they do so for the same reasons that compelled these comparnies to advertise in print trade magazines in the past. According to the Forrester report, the primary objectives for online display advertising include:

 Increase brand awareness: ~49% of respondents
 Lead generation: ~46%
 Reaching key target audiences: ~46%
 Driving direct sales: ~41%

But here’s a major rub: Attitudes toward B-to-B online display advertising are pretty negative — and that definitely extends to the ad exchanges and ad networks serving the ads. Moreover, most don’t foresee any increased effectiveness in the coming years.

That may explain why Forrester found that fewer than 15% of the participants in its study reported that they have increased their online display advertising budgets in 2011 compared to 2010 – even as advertising budgets have trended upward overall.

When you look closer at display, there’s actually some interesting movement. Google has committed to a ~$390 million acquisition of display ad company Admeld. And regardless of the negative perceptions that may be out there, Google’s Ad Exchange and Yahoo’s Right Media platforms have created the ability for advertisers to bid on ad inventories based on their value to them.

Moreover, new capabilities make it easier to measure and attribute the impact of various media touchpoints — online display as well as others — that ultimately lead to conversion or sales.

But the negative perceptions about online display advertising continue, proving again that attitudes are hard to change — even in the quickly evolving world of digital advertising.

E-mail early birds? The worm may be turning differently.

Best time to deploy marketing e-mail messages.One of the great benefits of the “online everything” world in which we now live is the ability to evaluate nearly anything about marketing not with hunches or speculation, but with hard data.

A perennial question is what time of day is best to deploy marketing e-mails to customers and prospects. The higher the propensity to open and read these messages, you’re closer to the goal of converting eyeballs to clickthroughs … and to sales.

ReachMail, a Chicago-based e-mail service provider, recently studied a large sampling (~650,000) of the millions of consumer and business marketing e-mail messages it sends out for clients daily in order to determine open rate differences based on the time of day. It normalized the data to account for different time zones.

What ReachMail found was that there are differing peak open rate times on weekends versus on weekdays:

 Weekdays: Peak e-mail open rates are between ~11:30 am and ~2:00 pm.

 Weekends: E-mail open rates begin trending upward at ~11:30 am, but don’t peak until ~4:00 pm.

John Murphy, ReachMail’s president, had this to say about people’s weekday e-mail open rate behaviors: “You would think it would spike in the morning, but they’re looking at work e-mails in the morning. Once they’ve cleared out their inbox, they’re looking at marketing e-mails in the afternoon.”

ReachMail’s conclusion: It’s best to deploy weekday e-mails between 10:00 am and Noon. For weekend e-mails, deploy them between Noon and 3:00 pm.

And this additional tidbit also: Don’t assume e-mails sent during the week will perform better than those deployed over the weekend. “People’s engagement rates are up there on the weekend,” Murphy maintains. “It’s our habit of checking e-mail all the time.”

He’s sure right about that.

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