BTB Branding Is Not Always the Answer

In a slowing economy, business-to-business marketers must focus on activities that generate the highest return. Branding is a proven marketing concept, but sales lead generation is more important because it keeps companies going, both when buying is down and when branding is not the best alternative.

The following reasons demonstrate why:

• Buyers are more cautious in a slow economy. Decision cycles, especially for high-ticket items, are longer than normal. For a company to maintain its normal sales levels, the number of prospects in the sales pipeline must increase. Branding is nice, but direct response e-mail, e-newsletter sponsorships, banner advertisements, direct mail and telemarketing help a company cast a wide net across a buying population and haul in sales opportunities of all sizes.

• Web-based lead-capture strategies allow a company to reduce the cost of lead handling while collecting insights on a prospect’s business pains and needs. A well-designed, value-added, lead-capture site permits campaign tracking to optimize effectiveness and, through click-stream and behavior tracking, identifies where prospects are in the buy cycle, what issues they are struggling with and how they plan to solve these issues.

• E-relationship communications or e-cultivation helps companies work a large number of prospects cost-effectively. Using the data collected from the lead-capture engine, an e-cultivation program delivers personal and relevant information en masse, one on one, to prospects over an extended time. When sales decisions slow, the worst thing a marketer can do is drop out of sight. The pendulum swings back eventually and the win goes to the company that stays in touch with prospects. And e-based contact strategies are one of the best ways for a company to stay in touch with prospects.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration spends more than $1 billion each year in advanced research and development. The space agency recently launched a campaign to bring that technology down to earth and make it available to U.S. companies to spur new product development.

NASA’s latest marketing effort into the private business sector is through its Commercial Technology Program and its partner, the National Technology Transfer Center, Wheeling, WV.

By combining its well-known name with a valuable free offer, NASA puts its technology resource, and the possibility of immediate pain relief and solution possibilities, into the hands of business-to-business product developers and marketers.

In a recent $100,000 campaign segment, NASA combined three elements: a print ad with a business reply card, a direct mailer and an e-mail blast, to offer a free, 100-page guide detailing real-world new product development examples and successes for businesses “just like yours.”

NASA is starting the second phase of the program, but in the just-completed first phase, the print ad pulled 0.05 percent, the direct mailer 2.5 percent and the e-mail blast a whopping 9 percent response.

“We’re basically showing our prospects how their company can make money off of our technology and our previous investments,” said Michael Weingarten, director of marketing for the Commercial Technology Program. “And we’re creating partnerships with business while these technologies are still in their emerging phases, making NASA a true resource to business.”

In a slow economy, it is natural to want to pull back and hold off making marketing investments. However, it takes time and a commitment to put lead-generation campaigns in place, to do the appropriate research, develop strategies and plan and write the content for Web-based prospect nurturing programs.

So where would you rather spend limited marketing dollars?

Placing ads hoping to build an awareness level that might generate interest, or running response-oriented campaigns generating a measurable return and qualified sales leads to fill your sales pipeline now and in the future?

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