Q: Lately, we seem to be in no man's land when it comes to marketing. Many of our tactics targeting business customers are producing lackluster results, and some that we've used for years have stopped working entirely. Any advice on what works best right now?
A: You can take some comfort in knowing that you're not alone. Entrepreneurs nationwide are struggling with the same challenge. Tactics that should work well and have proved themselves in the past are garnering low returns as B2B customers have either adopted a wait-and-see attitude for purchasing or are simply tuning out many marketing messages. In fact, according to a survey of more than 700 marketing professionals by MarketingSherpa , of the 15 most common B2B marketing tactics used today, not one is reported to be generating great results for the majority.
What works best now? While no single tactic is delivering a knockout performance, the good news is, this study and several others do report positive results from at least three tactics: e-mail and postal mail to in-house lists, public relations, and activities that build word-of-mouth.
Focus on In-House Lists
It may be bad news for list rental firms, but while campaigns to rented lists are reportedly producing unsatisfactory results, both off-line and online mailings to in-house files are working well. This is particularly welcome news if you've been compiling a prospect and customer database. If not, now is the time to add a registration form to the main page of your Web site to create your own opt-in e-mail list and bring your in-house mailing list up-to-date for postal campaigns.
If you want to move ahead quickly with an e-mail campaign but don't have your own opt-in list, consider advertising in e-newsletters that go to the house lists of organizations that reach your target audience. Then, offer respondents who click through to your Web site an incentive to register to receive e-mail solicitations directly from you.
Add PR Programs
Public relations may take many forms--from print articles placed in consumer and trade press to cause-related marketing--and virtually all are effective ways of building awareness, thanks to the credibility PR carries. In fact, if you're not presently involved in cause-related marketing, now may be the time to start. Whether you're marketing to businesses or consumers, linking your company and its efforts to a worthy cause is an effective way to communicate brand values while doing the right thing. According to a report from MediaPost, a new trade group called the Cause Marketing Forum predicts cause marketing spending will top $1 billion by the end of 2004, as more and more businesses make it an integral part of their PR programs.
Fuel Positive Word-of-Mouth
If you're wondering how important customer satisfaction is to your bottom line, consider this--in a recent SIMM survey published by BIGresearch, more than 80 percent of small-business owners ranked word-of-mouth as either "very important" or "important" in influencing their purchasing decisions. And nearly 90 percent responded by saying they sought advice from others before buying "regularly" or "occasionally." This underscores the tremendous importance of B2B marketing programs that effectively build two-way communication with your current customer base as well as ongoing programs designed to fuel buzz.
Right now, tactics that build word-of-mouth, as well as public relations efforts and communication with in-house lists, are producing the best results for marketers. But this could change at any moment. The majority of the B2B marketers surveyed by MarketingSherpa said they are ready to change tactics on a dime--which is great advice even in the best economic times.