Monday, February 19, 2007

Earth to Marketers: 2007 Is Already Here

Still working on your ’07 budget? You’re not alone, but that’s no excuse.

The economy is chugging along. Interest rates and energy prices are holding steady. Unemployment is low. The stock market’s flying and corporate earnings are at their highest level in years. Aren’t these the ingredients for generous advertising and marketing budgets? Normally yes, but these aren’t normal times and we don’t have the Olympics or Elections in 2007 to give you media buyers an artificial boost.

“It’s crazy,” said Barbara, a West Coast independent sales rep last week. “I’ve never seen so much second-guessing, waiting-and-seeing and ‘analysis paralysis’. I wish somebody would just get off the dime and make a decision.”

A tech company marketing director agreed: “Everyone’s behind the eight-ball right now, and they don’t know which way to go. So everything’s pretty much stuck in neutral.”

QUESTION: How’s your 2007 budget process going? Take our FREE confidential survey and see how you stack up to your peers.

“I may sound like an old-timer, but it wasn’t that long ago when we were sweating it out if we didn’t have everyone locked up by October,” said Jonathan, a Northeast-based sales and marketing consultant. “Now it’s every three months and very short term.”

The hottest media sector — the Internet — is poised for another year of double-digit spending growth (see Online Surge Continues Despite Tepid Overall Advertising Forecast in today’s issue). Media analysts expect about $20 billion to be spent on Internet advertising in 2007, about 20 percent higher than was spent in 2006. More remarkable is the fact that this growth comes at a time when overall U.S. advertising spending is expected to grow by just two to three percent this year.

Granted, the Web accounts for just six to eight percent of the total U.S. advertising pie, noted Doubleclick Research Director, Rick Bruner, during a recent AICPA podcast on B2B advertising and marketing trends. But it’s causing enough disruption in the media landscape to have thousands of marketing executives second-guessing their media plans for this year.

What we’ve learned

What we do know is that the Web, including our Insider™ e-newsletters, is very helpful when it comes to influencing prospects during the “further learn” phase of their purchase decision cycles. If your products or services have long sales cycles, then you know the further learn phase is critical for converting a lead from a tire-kicking “suspect” into a qualified prospect.

What gives?

So what’s the delay? A lot of inertia is caused by the dizzying array of choices B2B marketers must evaluate. It used to be print for branding, mailing lists for direct response and events for product demos and networking. Maybe a little PR thrown in.

Now it’s integrated media platforms in which the Web must be melded with print, events and PR. Even within the Web bucket itself, one has to explore the options for banners, search, e-mail, lead generation, podcasts, blogs, RSS, viral and social networking thrown in. Each vehicle has merits that can’t be ignored, but there’s no magic silver bullet. And you can’t get away with one–size-fits-all creative. That’s hard enough. And now you’re being asked to tailor your creative to fit different stages of the purchase decision cycle.

And then there’s the pressure for immediate and measurable results as CFOs are involving themselves in the marketing process like never before.

Great! New media is highly measurable. Rats! New media is highly measurable. The Web’s a lot easier to measure than traditional media, but it can foster a sense of ‘analysis paralysis’ since it produces so much data…and much of that data isn’t all that helpful unless you’re diligent about matching your purchase conversions to all your online and offline marketing campaigns. Counting clicks is just the tip of the iceberg.

We addressed this click-counting obsession at an AICPA podcast a few weeks ago and several panelists agreed that superficial McMetrics such as clicks are long on statistics and short on actionable intelligence. Remember when Web sites used to brag about their number of “hits”?

Doubleclick, Leveraged Logic, AICPA Custom Media Solutions and other market researchers have studies showing that more than half of those who take action as a result of being exposed to a banner ad, tend to do so without actually clicking on the banner ad. Next month we’ll look deeper into this “view through” phenomenon.

“I think clicks are the metric that’s simplest to understand, and therefore most marketers have fixated on that metric first, where it’s not always the best measure, certainly of things like brand effectiveness,” noted Doubleclick’s Rick Bruner.

The Web has changed everything and it’s changed nothing

As marketing and strategy consultant, Rick Telberg, noted during our podcast, marketing is still about the essentials. It’s still about the right product at the right price point with the right promotion at the right time.

“What the Web has done is broken down the buying process into a stepped process and added another step, a very useful step for buyers. The Web is now the place where people go to validate a brand; to see it, once they hear about it, and learn about it for the first time and then return to it and do comparative shopping.”

Prospects may or may not ultimately buy from the Web, but they will do most of their learning at the earliest stages on the Web, and this is something that smart marketers are learning how to leverage.

So, let’s get 2007 started already. You’ve invested your dollars wisely. Test everything. Make frequent adjustments and keep experimenting till you get it right. Your AICPA account executive is always ready to help.

I’d love to continue ranting, but I’m already late. The Procrastinators Club is having its annual Halloween Ball tonight.

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