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The 2009-10 State of Social Marketing

By Oct 01, 2009

Firms that aren't tweeting, blogging, integrating or search-engine-optimizing aren't completely behind the times — yet. A new survey of Chief Marketer, Direct and Promo readers offers a benchmark of marketers' activities in the social arena, as well as a yardstick for measuring their attempts to merge online and offline efforts.

To begin on an encouraging note, the constant cries of “integrate your campaigns” are being heard. Marketers who focus on consumers, as opposed to businesses, are paying special attention: Sixty-eight percent coordinate digital and traditional outreach, compared with 58% of business-to-business marketers.

The main reason cited by those who aren't integrating is a lack of budget, followed by a lack of in-house expertise. These results cut evenly across B-to-B and consumer respondents. Several say their efforts are entirely online, and therefore there isn't anything to integrate.

BEWARE THE BLEND

Some respondents report making a conscious decision not to blend online and offline campaigns. “It's best to keep them separate,” one respondent writes anonymously. “Results show they address different segments.” But far more — almost a quarter of those planning to stay offline — report plain confusion about which Web integration tactics would work best.

Those who do coordinate cite the need to reach targets where the targets want to be reached. They acknowledge that prospects and customers are increasingly spending time online. A few say they are adding offline measures to their online campaigns.

“We are finally moving into print but [are] using it to drive traffic to our site and blog,” one writes.

Respondents also note that online marketing carries lower costs than offline efforts. Granted, this last point is somewhat less important to B-to-B marketers, who by dint of higher-priced offerings can afford to spend more on marketing to a single prospect.

Money for integrated efforts is coming, in part, out of the pockets of traditional media. Nearly half of the consumer-focused marketers are moving cash from print, radio and television into Web-based marketing, as are 38% of B-to-B marketers. But a surprising number — around one-third of consumer marketers, and 40% of B-to-B marketers — are creating new resources to fund their activities.

WHOSE JOB?

Now, “resources” is an interesting word. Respondents note that outlay costs are lower for electronic marketing than traditional marketing. A few say they are using free sites to further their online efforts. But, unbidden, several indicate most of the “costs” are those of employee time.

Ask a group of marketers which department is responsible for evaluating integrated campaigns' success, and it should come as no surprise that an overwhelming number (64%) say marketing. But the second-most-cited single department is public relations/corporate communications, a fact that holds true across both B-to-B and consumer firms.

One in five indicated multiple departments bear responsibility, and a handful say it is still up in the air — or, as one respondent with a taste for 1950s game shows put it, “That's the $64,000 Question!”

In terms of metrics, consumer companies say they gauge integrated marketing by watching both incremental sales and brand awareness. Those are both somewhat surprising responses. The link between digital campaigns and sales is often hard to prove. And the branding response seems high for a survey that includes a high proportion of direct marketing companies. B-to-B firms rank qualified leads first, followed by incremental sales. But several volunteer that they are looking at Web traffic numbers, without saying they track the impact of spikes in site visits.

WHAT'S IN YOUR TOOLBOX?

Given that Web traffic is something marketers are focusing on, how are they generating it? Organic search, as generated through search engine optimization, is the number-one method regardless of customer focus, trailed by links within e-mails and URLs in offline media. Several cite catalog and direct mail efforts, and one respondent writes simply, “Luck!”

These traffic generation rankings hold true regardless of the company's customer focus. But small firms — those with revenue below $10 million — are more likely to embrace using social media sites, such as blogs and social communities, to pull in Web traffic than are larger firms. And they're also more likely to use affiliate marketing programs to the same end.

This isn't the only difference in how larger and smaller companies view social networks. Smaller firms were more likely to use them to generate leads, while larger companies placed a higher emphasis on speaking directly to their fans.

B-to-B and consumer firms place an equal priority on using social networks to drive traffic to their Web sites. B-to-B firms are also more focused on generating leads, while consumer firms place a higher value on closing sales. In other words, consumer firms are much more interested in identifying and speaking directly to their fans in the hope of generating word of mouth endorsements — a much less important channel for B-to-B, which continues to rely on sales forces and traditional commercial relationships.

Corporate blogs are maintained in equal levels across business focuses and size. And a healthy number of firms that don't currently host them are planning to launch them.

Next Page: Tweeting for Traffic

LET'S TALK

If social media offer a chance for dialog between company and customer, there's one aspect marketers are hesitant about using. Only 17% ask for, and publish, customer ratings and reviews on their Web sites. Another 4% ask for reviews and syndicate these out to third-party e-commerce sites. And two-thirds flat-out don't solicit these, either for their own sites or others. Retail or reseller sites are more prone to offer consumer reviews or ratings, but even then, only a shade more than a quarter of those polled do so.

Why don't they? More than half feel the expectations of timely responses that the Internet culture requires would be too daunting — a figure that jumps to nearly two-thirds among consumer firms. Another 12% say their offerings wouldn't benefit from customer word of mouth. Other reasons include not wanting to reveal their customers and having other, offline feedback mechanisms in place. And one, who appears to have found the light, writes “Creating new Web site. Good idea!”

If taking in feedback doesn't yet rank atop company social media efforts, pushing out content is definitely climbing. Thirty-eight percent have corporate Twitter accounts, with another 13% anticipating opening one during the coming year. Consumer firms are somewhat more likely to have these accounts than B-to-B firms, and a greater number of large companies than small firms reported having them. But B-to-B respondents are more likely to be studying Twitter for possible deployment in 2010.

TWEETING FOR TRAFFIC

Twitter is largely being used to drive Web traffic through announcements of new content. Here, B-to-B firms take the lead, with 59% doing so, although just over half of consumer marketers follow suit. But consumer firms are much more aggressive about using Twitter to notify customers of special offers — nearly two-thirds do so, compared with fewer than half of B-to-B marketers.

Consumer-focused marketers are also much more likely to use Twitter to identify their fans and segment them for further targeting. Half do so, compared with 39% of B-to-B firms. And they're understandably more likely to use Twitter to generate store traffic than are B-to-B companies.

Other uses include brand building and top-of-mind awareness, protecting the brand by registering the account but not actively using it, and providing one more channel for listening to fans.

There are, of course, other tactics marketers are using to merge their campaigns. Nearly half report sending e-mail that can be shared to social network portfolio pages. Just under one-third upload promotional videos to YouTube or other aggregator sites. One in five use downloadable Web or mobile coupons, although admittedly this is much more common among consumer firms than B-to-B marketers. And while overall 13% use mobile text messaging campaigns, consumer marketers are twice as likely to do so than are their B-to-B brethren.

METHODOLOGY:

This survey was conducted for Chief Marketer by Penton Research, an in-house firm. It was e-mailed to 32,135 active subscribers of properties within the Chief Marketer Group.

An initial copy of the survey, offering a chance to win one of four $50 Visa gift cards, was sent out Aug. 29. A follow-up e-mail, along with the sweepstakes offer, was sent to non-respondents.

Results are based on 737 surveys returned by qualified participants. Respondents characterized their company's primary business category as advertising/sales/direct marketing agency or consultant (25%); retailer/cataloger/wholesaler/distributor (17%); manufacturer (13%); banking/insurance/real estate/financial (7%); shows/entertainment/hospitality/travel (7%); publisher (6%); associations/nonprofit/fund raisers (5%); with the rest listed as health care/social services/public administration/government/education/trade; communications/transportation/utility; list broker/compiler/manager; and “other.”

While questions were asked of both b-to-b and consumer marketers, information in the charts covers responses from both groups.