B2B Advertising: Challenges, Opportunities

This past week I spoke at the B2B Online Advertising Conference in San Francisco, sponsored by the Institute for International Research. My colleague Philip Say (coauthor of this column) and I conducted a workshop on developing, measuring, and managing a B2B advertising strategy. A great mix of attendees was there: representatives of Fortune 500 organizations, start-ups, software providers, advertising agencies, and retailers.

The workshop was aimed at identifying common challenges in the B2B advertising and marketing realms and sharing both perspectives on and potential solutions to those challenges.

One of the goals of the workshop was to highlight the impact of advertising and marketing on the enterprise. As the industry is rapidly becoming aware, tracking and analysis are only as good as an organization’s ability to correlate and utilize information.

I wanted to share some of the collective thinking of this group with the hope that it either provides some new solutions for you or, at the very least, reminds you that you are by no means alone in the challenges you face.

Common Challenges

While each organization faces unique challenges, some consistent themes emerged throughout the day. Most of the workshop participants had struggled or were struggling with the following:

  1. Planning marketing and advertising campaigns. Limited access to information and budgets makes planning effective advertising programs a significant challenge, especially for smaller organizations. Trial and error not being an option, attractive alternatives are such lower-cost strategies as keyword placement and email marketing.
  2. Tracking postclick activity. The tracking of customer activity beyond the initial acquisition event proves daunting without the data management infrastructure to do so. Many companies have chosen to outsource tracking user events (such as a purchase) to organizations such as DoubleClick. Although this certainly is a viable solution, concerns over sharing customer information with external vendors should be weighed in making such a decision.
  3. Structuring measurable agreements. The lack of true accountability for postclick activity as it pertains to cost-per-click, -acquisition, or -conversion models is an issue even for the more established players. While commercial solutions exist to provide verifiable data, the contractual issues associated with payment are more difficult to address.
  4. Selecting the appropriate vendor. Given the wealth of providers of everything from software solutions to email lists, determining the criteria for evaluating potential vendors is a challenge many mentioned.

Lessons Learned

The challenges listed above are probably not new to you. In our three-hour workshop, we certainly did not solve them, but take a look at what we did learn from one another.

  1. Integration at the business and data levels is key. Online advertising and marketing efforts should not be considered activities distinct from the rest of the business-planning cycle. Most campaigns will result in some degree of impact that needs to be managed. Tracking and analyzing the impact of advertising and marketing efforts requires a high degree of coordination between marketing and technology managers. A high degree of data availability is critical to allowing marketers to determine the success of campaigns in driving revenue.
  2. There will continue to be an overwhelming number of options to choose from. To avoid spending all your time reading marketing materials, take the opportunity to articulate clearly not just the objectives for a specific campaign, but your objectives as an organization. Though it can be difficult to do so given speed-to-market pressures, make decisions about investing in technology based on the solution’s ability to move you closer to your long-term goals. And involve other departments in the decision. Ask for the opinions of the IT and operations departments. Your ability to rely on a tool over the long term will be greatly affected by how well you can integrate it into the enterprise.
  3. Addressing B2B challenges at an enterprise level is difficult. A key step on the road to a solution is acknowledging how difficult it is to measure and manage B2B advertising and how crucial it is to understand how the organization is affected by this advertising. What is necessary to realize is that there are few easy solutions right now and that anyone who promises one should be viewed somewhat skeptically. Expect to put in a lot of elbow grease, be sure to make a lot of new relationships in your company, and be prepared to learn more than you thought you needed to know.

All in all, I found the day to be incredibly informative, and it provided me insight into the challenges of many different companies. My thanks go to all those who participated. If you are facing a pressing challenge or have learned something you think is valuable to share, please let me know.

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