Traditional communication methods—print and television advertising, brochures, case studies, and direct mail campaigns—have long held a dominant place in the professional marketer’s toolkit. Yet with the rapid evolution of interactive Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, and social networks, corporate marketing departments are faced with challenges and opportunities. The challenges come from selecting the right tools for the intended audience and figuring out how to mesh the new technologies with traditional approaches. Opportunity derives from the inherent democratization of online marketing—small companies can beat their larger, resource-rich competitors in the contest for online relevance simply by optimizing their interactive presence.
David Meerman Scott, author of The New Rules of Marketing and PR and EContent magazine contributing editor, has observed a sea change in the way that successful businesses communicate with their customers and prospects. "In the old days, marketing was about buying, via advertisements, or begging, via media relations, your way into the public eye. Marketers talked about their product or company, and the focus was on the sales cycle," says Scott.
However, the buying habits of consumers and business customers alike have changed. In a 2007 study by Forrester Research in association with American Business Media titled "The Digital Transformation," Forrester analyst Laura Ramos found that business decision makers are shifting to digital media use at a rate faster than B2B marketers are adopting those media. Says Ramos, "The numbers show a general trend of decision makers moving to digital media ahead of marketers. The best evidence of this is that 55% of decision makers said they use industry-specific websites on the job today while only 39% of the marketers said they sponsored those sites in the past 12 months. Similarly, 35% of decision makers listed blogs among the ‘top 3’ digital media they rely on when on the job, while only 24% of marketers said they have started or sponsored a blog for customers in the past 12 months."
Scott believes that marketers who shy away from emerging interactive technologies are making a mistake. "Buyers go first to the internet to do their research, via search engines and recommendations from friends and peers. If you’re not there as a company, you simply don’t exist." In its "Business to Business 2007" survey of 1,000 B2B buyers, Enquiro Research found that 65.3% of B2B buyers commence their research process with a general search engine, progressing to B2B vertical search engines such as Business.com and company websites as they move into the negotiation and decision-making stage. This ties into another of Scott’s observations: "Online marketing is not about marketers talking about their product; it’s about your buyers’ need to solve a specific problem, they are searching for solutions in their own language. It’s about the buying cycle, not the sales cycle."
For those companies that have embraced interactive marketing techniques, three common steps to success emerge: focus, optimize, and experiment.