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The buzz on b-to-b

Today’s b-to-b marketers face big challenges. We asked four b-to-b agency executives what their clients need and expect.

The recession has hit the US workplace hard. Employees in companies around the country are dealing with layoffs and service reductions, all while trying to pick up the slack and make sure the job still gets done. As a result, business-to-business marketers are finding it much harder to break through and get their messaging noticed in 2009, unless what they have to say is immediately relevant to their audience. Some find this the perfect environment to jump in and try something new, while others are sticking with the tried and true. Either way, market­ers are working closer with their agencies, hoping to make every dollar work harder.

Communication is a big key to opportunity
Carl Anderson, CEO, Doremus
Key clients: Cigna Capital Group, Russell Investments

In light of slashed budgets, what is Doremus doing to help b-to-b marketers?
We really looked at the recession through the lens of opportunity. We’ve geared Doremus to be a communications marketing partner. So we’re in a better position than traditional ad shops, because we get involved in strategy and real communications expressions across all channels.

How have clients’ goals and needs changed in 2009?
There is a migration a way from broad-based brand communications to some­thing closer to the point of transaction. Certainly digital is a growing part of b-to-b communications. We’ve seen greater use of the Web — we use every­thing from social media to paid search to banner advertising to webinars — as a vehicle for gaining information and helping them make purchase decisions.

What are the must-do strategies for b-to-b marketers in 2009?
To continue to communicate to all internal stakeholders, employees and external stakeholders, customers and investors. Companies who remain dark in this period only increase the amount of skepticism, raise questions in terms of their viability, depending on the corporation and the industry.

Who do you think will be the winners and losers in 2009?
I think companies that stay close to their customers and continue to find ways to add value will be the winners. Helping customers navigate through this economic turmoil is the key. In term of verticals, we’re looking at industries that will benefit from the stimulus package. Companies that work in the alternative energy space, technology space, infra­structure space, or any organizations that work in conjunction with companies in those industries should be in a better position than others.

Fewer frills, more emphasis on ROI
Chris Kelly, Managing director, G2 Direct & Digital
Key clients: Adobe, Guidance Software

How is G2 helping b-to-b marketers accomplish their goals, considering slashed marketing budgets?
Right now, it’s all about creating rele­vance, so we’re very focused on customer experiences. All dollars have to work harder, so we are focused on programs which are trackable and measurable, tied to an ROI or sales numbers. There was maybe more experimentation in the past, when people had budgets they could experiment with. Today, we’re seeing less and less of that.

How have b-to-b marketers’ goals and needs changed in 2009?
Clients are now focused very much on day-to-day, month-to-month, or week-to-week performance numbers. Prior to this, we would report numbers up to senior management on a quarterly basis. Now we’re seeing far more detailed reporting required at the senior level.

What are the must-do strategies for mar­keters in this environment?
Because there is so much noise in the marketplace, the need to be relevant is even more important. The amount of pressure on the existing dollars is a great deal more, so it’s about insuring that you are extremely relevant to the client. Internal staffs facing pressure to perform are putting more pressure on agencies to do more.

If you have to break through the clutter, but clients are not willing to try new things, how do you do that?
It really is about focusing on the rel­evance of the offer and the engagement. The old adage about right time, right place, is even more important today. There are fewer frills and less emphasis on things like the next conference that they plan to go to because travel budgets have been slashed.

What kind of questions are b-to-b marketers asking you?
They’re mostly around that awful topic of getting more for less. We’re seeing a lot of pressure put on all budgets right now. There’s a greater emphasis on looking at paid-per-performance models, especially in online marketing, so people are trying to hedge their bets as best they can.

Leverage online presence
Tom Bertels
, Managing partner, Sullivan, Higdon & Sink
Key clients: Pratt & Whitney, ITT Defense

What is your agency doing in this economy to help b-to-b marketers?
When times get tough, the more we understand what our clients are really trying to do, the better we’re able tohelp our clients focus their dollars inthe places where they are going to make the biggest difference.

Are they asking you to do more with less?
We’ve always been asked to do as much as we can with budgets. Now, there’sjust more pressure to do that. Clientsare focusing on the parts of the business that they know they can get the best returns on. It’s not that they are ignoring the other key areas, but clearly theyare putting their marketing resources against the ones they know will make a difference. The longer cycle stuff becomes less important.

What kinds of questions are you getting from clients these days?
One question is, “How do we maximize our presence at trade shows?” Unlike media, it has become almost a fixed cost to attend these major things, so they’re asking how they maximize what they do at those shows. Clients are also asking how they can leverage their presence in digital and online, saying they just don’t have the budget that it typically takes to do a piece of direct mail. We also are spending more time talking about search engine optimization and search engine marketing, and we’ve helped some clients get up to speed on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Who are going to be the winners and the losers this year?
Anybody who is healthy right now is going to take a hit, but they are going to come out of this hitting the ground running. The companies that are focused, weren’t out there with acquisitions or business ventures that weren’t key to what they do, I think they are the ones that are going to come through this thing the best.

Value messages are critical
Dasher Lowe, SVP, group management director, Draftfcb
Key clients: Boeing, Hewlett-Packard

What is Draftfcb doing in light of slashed budgets to help b-to-b marketers?
Getting out a value message is critical right now. For instance, loyalty programs are resonating well now with our clients’ customers. They enable the marketer to tie the company’s messaging back to the loyalty programs already in place.

How have marketers goals and needs changed in 2009?
Everything went out with the bath water as far as trying to hold up to previous benchmarks and increases. It’s about taking a good hard look at things, taking a good reality stance. There’s a general openness — all gloves are off, we need to rethink how we go to market.

We hear that people are reluctant to try new things. Do you agree?
Yes, they are sticking with the basics when it comes to technology, but they are really rethinking how they go to market with their marketing. Should you be going after specific customer segments, or prospects, or do you focus on your key customers? It’s that remak­ing idea — not being afraid to redirect investments to what is working.

What are the must-do strategies?
They must focus on ROI and must be able to be quick and nimble in order to reallocate efforts to where they can be successful and being flexible.

What’s your biggest day-to-day challenge?
Keeping clients focused. There’s a lot of negative news out there. Being able to show them what’s working, keeping the motivation high, that we can be effective during these times. People are just being smarter about what they’re buying. I think the opportunities are still there.

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