Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Integrated Media Planning for B-to-B Marketing

Blogger's Note:

Occasionally, I come across other professionals sharing a similar interactive perspective of web marketing. Ruth Stevens is one such individual. A brief bio of Ruth's professional background follows.

Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, and teaches marketing at Columbia Business School. She is past chair of the DMA Business-to-Business Council, and immediate past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Crain’s BtoB magazine named Ruth one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing in 2002. She is the author of The DMA Lead Generation Handbook, and Trade Show and Event Marketing. Ruth serves as a director of Edmund Optics, Inc. and NetFactor Corporation. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis, and IBM and holds an MBA from Columbia University.

I invited Ruth to contribute an article in the editorial content of my blog. The article is reprinted with permission. It first appeared in DMNews (March 2008). Ruth can be reached by emailing her at

Integrated marketing has become a very hot topic in recent years, as media outlets proliferate and marketers struggle to be heard over the din.

In B-to-B, it’s particularly important, because the products and the buying process are so complex, that a series of touches is essential to success. So marketers grapple with a zillion challenges, among them:

  • What is the optimal number of touches?
  • Which media are most effective at each stage of the process?
  • How do the media work together to best effect?
  • How can we measure the effectiveness of each touch, and of the program as a whole?

Regrettably, there are few reliable answers to these questions today. But some principles are beginning to emerge about what works best for business marketers.

The business case for integration is compelling. First, multiple media working together generate better results than single media. Second, if communications are not delivering a consistent message, they can cancel each other out. Customers expect a consistent message from their vendors, and an inconsistent customer experience causes confusion and erodes the value of the brand.

But pulling this off is not easy, especially in medium to large companies. Functional silos in marketing communications have arisen, all with their own vocabularies, cultures, budgets and objectives. Getting them coordinated requires tenacity, a maniacal focus on the customer experience, and support from senior management.

But the payoff can be huge, in terms of the power of a well-oiled machine. And the kicker is the bonus that lead generators reap from brand communications. All outbound contacts with customers, whether they be customer service messages, or even billing-related messages, can potentially be harnessed for the lead effort.

Taking advantage of every touch point

The simplest way to gain this kind of leverage is to put the company website URL, which has a registration offer prominently placed on the home page, on all messages received by the customer. The same principle applies to customer touch points that are less obviously part of marketing communications, such as packaging, point of purchase displays, billing statements—any point where the customer comes in contact with the product or service.

Similarly, with a little effort, some marketing communications can do even more to support lead generation. To stimulate your thinking:

· Include a white paper offer, with response instructions such as an 800 number or a web response URL, in every press release.

· Ensure that all brand awareness advertising includes an offer, a call to action and a response device.

· When executives give speeches, invite your customers and prospects to attend.

If you put your mind to it, you will come up with an endless stream of good ideas for integrating the marketing communications function. The best way to approach this effort is systematically to review everything in your company that touches customers and prospects, and consider ways to convert the touch point into an actionable inquiry that can be nudged along toward a completed sale.

How multiple media work together

Ideally, business marketers seek to leverage the power of various media channels working together. The whole being greater than the sum of its parts, as they say.

Here are some examples of how multiple media work well together.

  • Telephone follow-up to direct mail. This tried-and-true approach combines the deep penetration of the telephone with the persuasive power of the mail. Together, they can build on each other to deliver a lower cost per action than could each element working on its own. Just make sure the follow-up call is a substantive part of moving the prospect along the buying process, and not simply an empty confirmation that the mailing piece arrived. In fact, telemarketing experts recommend that you avoid mentioning the mail piece during the phone call, since it diverts the discussion from the objective at hand.

  • Direct mail follow-up to phone. Some business marketers reverse the process, by telephoning first, and following up with mail later. This approach works well when asking for a specific action, like attendance at a seminar. Calling is also a good way to qualify inquirers from trade shows, where many people may stop by your booth but only a portion of them will ever become qualified buyers. Rather than invest further in the inquirer by sending an expensive fulfillment package, a phone call can be used to screen out the duds.

  • Email pre and post direct mail. As long as you already have some kind of business relationship with the target, email enhances the communications mix due to its low cost. Email is proving unusable for cold prospecting, but for inquirers and current customers, it combines nicely with other communications to reinforce key messages and provide an additional touch.

  • Postcards as support to other media. Some marketers find that varying the mail format is helpful. Begin with a series of postcards, follow up with a letter and a phone call or email. Because the phone is so powerful and intrusive, you may find that a simple postcard in advance is enough to grab attention.

  • Print ads mailed as reprints. It’s wise to make your advertising work harder by redeploying it as part of an ongoing program for keeping in touch. Accompanied by a letter saying “In case you missed our recent ad in such-and-such a magazine…”, this technique can provide a good excuse to contact your house file directly.

  • Using corporate communications as “air cover.” Mass media awareness campaigns, in such channels as television and print, provide excellent support for a lead generation program. If you can time your campaigns to coincide with, or follow shortly after, a branding campaign, your response rates will be stronger than usual.

How to select the right media mix

The media mix is a function of several variables, which you need to examine:

  • The cost of each medium. As a rule of thumb, it makes sense to use lower-cost media at the early stages of the process, and the more expensive media later, as and the likelihood of closing increases.
  • The medium’s availability. When are the industry trade shows scheduled throughout the year? Profitable banner ad media may exist, but can you get enough of them to satisfy your needs for leads?
  • The campaign’s time horizon. Print is faster to create and place than direct mail, for example.
  • The business objectives. Your sales team may need more leads in the first and fourth quarters, for example.

To manage all these variables, a spreadsheet makes an excellent iterative planning tool. Lay out the media options on a spreadsheet and start tweaking. Conduct pro forma scenarios and seek to optimize the communications stream.

Here is a simple example of how this can work. Click on the image below Performance Campaign Planning Tool to enlarge the image of the chart. (Please note: these numbers are hypothetical and not intended necessarily to represent current average costs or response rates.)

You can expand this spreadsheet to include other key variables, like timing and geographic territory requirements. Click on the thumbnail Outbound Campaign Media Types below to expand the chart.

Notice that this spreadsheet breaks out the expected qualification rate by inquiry source, a refinement that will assist in your making the best media mix decisions. You are likely to end up with some very inexpensive leads in your mix. The unfortunate thing is that, typically, these leads will not be enough to meet your growth needs or support your sales force’s quota. So you’ll need to select several options, ranking them by ROI, availability and your lead flow criteria, to come up with the optimal mix.

1 comment:

Louis said...

It's important to have a plan if you want to start B2B marketing. Thanks for sharing your insights.

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