Anyone wishing for 2008 to return? For most companies, 2008 was a year of strong performance, and many of us are anxious for those marketing patterns and programs to return.
But they won’t. The financial collapse and global recession hasn’t been just a momentary pause in the way we do business – it’s led to a significant change in how companies operate. It’s certainly led to a change in how they go to market. The way we built marketing campaigns for business-to-business companies has changed structurally and permanently. Things will not get “back to normal.”
In response, companies are working to navigate through these “new-normal” times (aren’t you already tired of that phrase?). We think there are three themes that will shape marketing in 2011: Time, velocity, or the speed of marketing, and the role of math.
1. It’s common for companies to migrate much if not all of their marketing spend to an online-only world. While we agree with the importance of the web and online marketing, we think an online-only approach is a mistake. Companies need a balanced program, and the role of print in branding is still important.
It’s certainly true that the structure of trade media that has existed for 60+ years is irrevocably splintering. Once the dominant path to customer communications, it has now been replaced by more than a dozen other new avenues. The few media outlets that survive will be stronger, not weaker, and they will remain a viable partner for gaining access to customers and prospects, although in new ways.
In fact, the explosion of so many new online environments, in particular “user-generated” content ranging from Facebook to Wikipedia to blogs, is actually revealing a need for filtered content that only a good editor can provide. Here’s what we mean.
What is the engineer’s most precious commodity? I think we can all agree that it’s time. In light of that, engineers must turn to sources of information that will tell them what they need to know to do their jobs better, and to do so while consuming as little time as possible.
So while it’s great to rely on search and participate in user-driven forums, I think we all can also agree that much of what we find user forums, blog comments and other social media outlets is, politely, noise that’s not really worth our time. Engineers are coming to the conclusion that what they need is an answer to a question now, and they don’t have time to sort through noise to find it.
The job of a magazine editor is once again becoming more critical. Magazine editors are trained to sift, evaluate and organize. A good editor can determine what’s critical for a reader to know, and present it in ways that are accessible, clear and convenient. It doesn’t matter whether it’s online, in print, face-to-face, and perhaps even in new user-generated forums that have some editing filter in front of it.
2. The velocity of marketing will increase. It will be faster to build a brand, as well as easier to harm it. The risks in marketing for b-to-b companies have increased along with the greater transparency inside companies that new social media networks have created. Consider two examples: Recently I saw a Twitter post from a former employee of a well-known electronics giant: “Woohoo no longer an Acme employee.” That’s the tip of the iceberg in what’s being said about companies online today, with no filter, no fact-checking. Second, I met with a high level marketing executive at another multi-billion company who’s carefully rolling out social media to his firm’s 50,000 employees. They live in fear that without proper training, valuable information and insider financial information will begin to leak into posts and forums. These stray conversations and thoughts, even unintentionally, can do irreparable harm. It’s not practical in companies of that size to run posts through filters and approval cycles in advance, of course.
3. Marketing is math. Finally, we have the tools and tracking to measure the impact of the programs we create! The role of analytics and ROI performance tracking will assume a greater priority for the successful b-to-b marketer, and anything created will have metrics and analytics attached to it that measure its impact. Google is driving this movement, as the adoption of Google Analytics takes hold and spreads to dozens of other marketing automation and analysis platforms.
We’re working to harness these factors to benefit marketing initiatives. Particularly for engineering companies, the lack of time, the speed of information flow, and the role of math will prove to be critical components as we make decisions for how we go to marketing in 2011.