SMBs, marketers differ over direct mail, digital

Cisco Systems is one of many marketers targeting small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) that sees a benefit in continuing to embrace digital marketing, especially as budgets get squeezed in the down economy. However, many busi­ness owners would still prefer to get production information via print and direct mail, according to a new survey from Bredin Business Information.

BBI surveyed 50 marketers about their marketing plans for 2009 and 741 SMBs about their media preferences at the begin­ning of the year. When marketers were asked about their offline and online marketing tactics, offline showed an overall decline, receiv­ing an average rating of 2.6, using a scale on which 1 means “signifi­cantly decrease,” 3 is “no change” and 5 is “significantly increase.”

However, marketers are plan­ning to increase their online mar­keting, which received an average rating of 3.5.

When discussing preferred sources of information about products and services, 43.6% of SMBs said they rely most on newspaper and magazine articles, while 43.5% prefer direct mail.

Online, 71.9% ranked referrals from friends and peers first, followed by 57% who cited search engine marketing, 44.5% pointed to educational Web sites and 38.2% opted for e-mail newsletters. Only 19.2% preferred videos or podcasts, while 27.8% like social networking.

“There is a disconnect between marketers cutting back on direct mail – which makes sense because postage is going up – and SMBs saying it is a format that they like,” said Stu Richards, CEO at BBI.

The preference for direct mail is strongest in the retail sector, as well as finance and insurance industries.

While Cisco Systems still uses print mar­keting when looking to reach SMBs, digital has become the main focus of its efforts, says Rick Moran, the company’s VP of solutions marketing. The high-tech firm launched a new site for SMBs last year.

Moran said that digital marketing is attractive to Cisco because it allows the company “to dynamically see where [SMB owners] go on our Web site, what attracts and what doesn’t, as well as change and randomize content.

“This means we can do more targeted marketing,” he added.

A new feature introduced in the fall and currently being rolled out internationally takes the click-to-chat feature enabling visitors to chat online with an agent and integrates it with Cisco’s WebEx Web con­ferencing technology. Now, a click-to-chat agent can introduce a Cisco reseller to a chat with a small or midsize business owner in real time. That reseller can then turn the chat into an audio or Web conference and go straight into a sale.

“SMBs don’t shop to shop, they only shop to buy,” said Moran, who calls the new service “the next wave of click-to-chat.” This means that when SMBs are searching for a product online “they probably have an immediate need, and they would love to do something with it right now,” he said.

Cisco has done some experimenting with social networking in the SMB space, but hasn’t found it to be a good fit yet.

“Customers are not so much into chat­ting,” said Moran. “Where social media is turning out to be a really good fit is with our resellers and giving them the ability to exchange information with one another,” he continued.

Cisco currently has a Web community, blog and wiki for its resellers.

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