In times of financial uncertainty, marketing budgets are so often the first to get cut, with longer term brand building being viewed as a disposable cost rather than a longer term investment. Over the last five years, B2B Marketing has come under continued pressure with marketing professionals being challenged to justify their budgets and spend in terms of providing a directly quantifiable and short term ROI (return on investment). So often activity that cannot be proven to deliver immediate sales ends up being categorised as a luxury budget line.
Before the crash, even in the B2B world brand investment could be easily justified in an atmosphere of expanding markets and optimistic futures. Anxious to make an impact, B2B brands were happy to expand into traditionally B2C arenas such as TV advertising or sports sponsorship with sales teams eager to jump onto the hospitality and wining and dining opportunities that opened up. After the squeeze proposals for activity in these areas will soon attract the attention of the Finance Director’s red pen leaving the B2B Marketing professional the challenge of looking to build a company’s brand, generate new business and ensure continued customer engagement while still showing short term return.
However, this very environment has coincided with the continued coming of age of online communications meaning that the B2B Marketer has a new best friend. The online world opens up the opportunity to businesses use technology to strengthen their position in the market, compliment offline campaigns, and also reach out to existing and potential customers by creating engaging content that uses the ‘soft sell’ approach over the traditional sales methods and heavy promotion. 89% of purchases are researched online before being made, so it’s about tapping into that research opportunity to engage with potential new customers.
Whilst some of the more subtle online communications might not seem an obvious path to revenue generating marketing professionals now have a number of tools that they can utilise to ease the pressure of bringing a return into the business. This includes Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) which could be considered the ‘bread and butter’ of online B2B communications, as marketers can use content via meta-tags within blogs and the company website, as well as using links to drive traffic from social media and partner organisations’ (including customers) websites. All to ensure that the company’s brand is positioned front and centre in the all-important search engine rankings. This is only further strengthened by its advertising sibling, Search Engine Marketing. By carefully crafting keywords and pay-per-click (PPC) adverts, you can be seen by the right people during their Google, Bing or Yahoo searches, but also across online advertising spaces on websites visited by key audiences. Yet, even with the best PPC or SEO numbers, how do you get that prospective customer to click on your advert or website link? No matter how tempting the offer; if you’ve never heard of the company do you go ahead and trust them? So the circle is turned – to a degree – and we once again return to the brand and the brand that a prospect chooses to click on.
Which of course then re-opens the debate around other areas of marketing activity and how the return is justified – or not. However once again the modern communications world has opened up a wealth of avenues for businesses to develop their brand messages and positioning alongside the more traditional (and more costly) that were favoured previously. Traditional PR still plays its part, but there’s a growing emphasis on on-line coverage, social media, and blogs such as the one you’re reading now to help develop the all-important trust and recognition even B2B brands need to succeed.
As a marketer, think about a brand you admire – no matter whether it’s B2B or B2C – and then consider what that brand does to make you feel that way? Is there any way that you could potentially replicate those approaches what they do for the business you work for? It could be simply how they manage their social media, but sometimes the simple things can make a big difference to a brand.
The financial crisis and the continued economic uncertainty means that B2B Marketing has changed for the forseeable future, so you need to show how the investment in brand building helps pay off in the more tactical arena of the search engine marketplace. As good marketers have always done, you should be looking to balance a strong ROI on short term revenue generation alongside that longer term investment in your brand. It may be easier said than done, but as we all know, marketing never sits still for long and we must all continue to adopt and adapt to the new tools and resources at our fingertips with which to build and maintain a company’s brand and reputation; both on and offline.