Online Marketing in the New Technology Era

Online marketing is very big business — and getting bigger. Forrester Research estimates that global ad spending online will reach $33 billion this year. And those who hate spam won't like this number, but e-mail marketing alone is expected to rise from $2.1 billion in 2003 to $6.1 billion by 2008.

And if you think technology companies are particularly aggressive in marketing that makes use of online technology, you're right. Up to 45 percent of technology marketing budgets in 2004 will be spent online, according to a new IT Marketing Trends survey. And there's more to it than just cold, hard numbers. Look at the large-scale campaigns that drive millions of Internet users to branded sites where they compete in contests, download games and sample new products in rich-media environments.

If you think those numbers are impressive, try these: According to a new study commissioned by the Chief Marketing Officer Council, more than 80 percent of the respondents don't have formal marketing performance measurement systems in place. This is even true with companies that spend up to one-quarter of their entire revenue on marketing.

A staggering 80 percent of the senior marketing executives polled expressed unhappiness with their ability to demonstrate their marketing programs' business impact and value.

Ironically, just as technology marketing budgets finally inch upward, corporate number crunchers are pushing marketing divisions to explain and justify their spending, ideally with formal marketing performance measurement systems. This, apparently, is hard to do. It's one thing to launch e-mail marketing campaigns, white paper downloads, banner ads, Webcasts and exclusive sponsorships; it's quite another to develop metrics that show why and how it all delivers business value.

The general discontentment also seems to be spreading upward: According to the monthly CEO Confidence Index conducted by Chief Executive Magazine, only 18 percent of the CEOs polled said they were “very satisfied” with the work done by their marketing department while more than one-third said their marketing departments need improvement.

Isn't this what the Internet was meant to transform? Weren't we supposed to be able to track every dollar spent on online marketing activities?

According to CMO Council research, many marketing executives tend to focus their efforts on more quantifiable campaigns like direct marketing. In other words, despite the perceived efficiency and ROI of online campaigns, companies are reverting to tactics used in the past not because they're necessarily more productive, but simply because the results are easier to measure.

To be blunt, this kind of regression not only will stunt marketing initiatives that have enormous promise, but even hamper the development of technologies that support them. It's bad news for every party involved.

There is no silver-bullet answer. But the goal should be to integrate every marketing department into field and channel sales, as well as business development groups. Remember, the Internet itself was long perceived as a vertical industry before being seen for what it is: an amazingly flexible communications platform that enables marketing needs to support the corporate mission every step of the way, and do it in a transparent manner.

With nearly 1,000 members, the CMO Council will continue to accumulate research, develop and disseminate intellectual capital. We've come up with many ideas, and we think there's room for more.

Ultimately, the Internet is just a medium: one with unprecedented reach, access and influence, but still only as valuable as our use of it. Marketers need to apply their technology to business needs and market requirements, across vertical markets and horizontal functions, and draw a straight line to the bottom line. Otherwise, the promise of online marketing will remain unfulfilled.

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