This is Part 5, and the final installment, of my interview with Dr. Ben Hanna, VP of Marketing for Business.com.
 
Ben, with your previous leadership experience with eBay and Iron Planet, you’ve been a true pioneer in online marketing. What parallels do you make between social media and other marketing revolutions you’ve experienced? What’s next for B2B marketing?

Well thank you, that’s very flattering. I may be biased toward the present, but I think the most interesting online marketing development is a trend we’re starting to see among the largest brands and agencies, both B2C and B2B – the re-integration of marketing channels.

We currently live in a world where B2B marketers largely trade off their budget between online marketing channels, or between online and offline channels — an ebb and flow we have seen in other historical contexts. Choices are made based on the individual ROI of each channel, historic or competitive precedent (e.g., “we’ve always run print ads in that publication, so we’ll continue to do so”), or some combination of the two. The strategy/budget discussion largely occurs around which channel performs best, rather than how multiple channels work TOGETHER to deliver results. This occurs because 1) the online channels are developing quickly, making it hard to keep up with changes, even with a staff dedicated to a single channel, and 2) solid cross-channel metrics are so hard to come by for the vast majority of B2B marketers.

This “either-or” approach to marketing channels makes little sense in B2C and even less sense in B2B where most purchases involve multiple decision-makers and longer sales cycles. Think paid search marketing on one of the “big three” general search engines performs vastly better than banner advertising? Research suggests they serve different roles in the buying process: general search engines getting undue credit for being the major online portals from which people navigate just prior to purchase (e.g., 71% of paid search clicks are navigational) and banner ads exposure – simple exposure, not a click – driving a hidden 22% increase in search marketing conversion rate.

Unfortunately, B2B marketers are largely blind to these types of interactions. A study we recently conducted of over 27,000 B2B websites found that only 6 percent used a web analytics solution that allowed them to see the influence of more than one campaign on conversion.

Thankfully, online marketing tools and techniques are catching up and enabling the discussion B2B marketers should be having – how different channels work together to deliver results, and what the optimal channel mix should be, based on these interactions and business goals.

It’s possible to see the impact of TV ads on web site traffic, or how banner ads increase the volume of branded searches on general search engines or how site visitors coming from branded vs. unbranded searches perform during later email-driven lead nurturing programs. As Craig Macdonald of Covario, one of my co-panelists on the search attribution panel during the recent Search Insider Summit, put it, measuring cross-channel impact is no longer a technology issue, it’s a “governance” issue involving people defending their specialties – those specialties they’ve worked so hard to build in a single channel.

This evolution – the re-integration of marketing channels as we remove technology barriers – is critically important for improving overall B2B marketing efficiency and should lead to a number of fascinating, useful insights in the coming years. Change is never easy, but shedding our “either-or” mentality for a more informed, integrated approach is a change worth making.

Next week in {grow}: Fanatic-focused marketing, a new series examining the ROI of social media marketing, and more.
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