At the end of 2011 the Arketi Group hosted the fifth annual Atlanta High-Tech CMO Roundtable. In all, some 60 marketing and public relations executives from leading business-to-business companies participated. The group gathered to discuss the current and future state of marketing and PR in the B2B technology sector. Most executives were optimistic about the 2012 business environment, and some consistent themes emerged, including the following:
1. Doing Less With More: For those marketers whose budgets were staying largely flat, doing more with less was a necessity. But even for those who anticipated a budget increase, there was a desire to squeeze every penny of value out of the money available. For some, this meant using technology to improve the productivity of the PR and marketing teams, or the effectiveness of the programs—or indeed both. For others, it meant taking a critical look at the effectiveness of different communication channels.
The use of data and analytics as a means to demonstrate and improve PR and marketing’s value to the organization was something the groups returned to throughout the sessions. This focus on ROI led naturally to a discussion of where to spend the dollars and what initiatives and tactics to emphasize in 2012.
2. Putting the Buyer’s Needs First: After years of focusing exclusively on “leads, leads, leads,” many felt it was time to achieve a better balance between branding and lead generation. To do this, many felt it was time to stop selling and start listening to buyers. Building value propositions and PR and marketing campaigns designed around the buyers’ real needs is now more important than ever.
Customers and prospects are now bombarded with e-mail, whether in the form of special offers or lower-key lead nurturing that are more self-centric than buyer-centric. All agreed that this “prospect fatigue” was a concern. And yet e-mail is inexpensive and the sales team is frequently its greatest proponent.
While many agreed it’s time for a balance, only a couple of the roundtable participants were planning to make branding a major focus in the near future. Most agreed, however, that branding and lead generation are not mutually exclusive, noting that efforts in one often support the other.
3. Balancing the Communications Mix: Most of the roundtable participants had taken time and money in 2011 to experiment with new ideas and planned to continue experimenting throughout 2012. One surprise among the lessons learned was the positive return that many had experienced from conferences and even trade shows.
A number of the CMOs present were also actively fostering user groups online. The benefits extended beyond marketing, with several reporting that users were turning first to the online community with issues they might have taken to a support line in the past. Those present involved customers in other ways as well, establishing customer advisory boards, creating customer champions for PR efforts and conducting customer satisfaction surveys.
4. Making Metrics Matter: All participants agreed that tracking performance of PR and marketing programs is vital not just to understanding the ROI of the programs, but also to the success of the communication function within the organization. Many activities, however, remain hard to track.
When one tactic—such as e-mail marketing—is easy to measure, but another such as a printed catalog is less so, the challenge becomes how to allocate the budget. For other activities it can be even harder to measure ROI: Trade shows and analyst relations were oft-cited examples.
5. Content Marketing and Social Marketing: As the conversation on measurability continued, some roundtable participants cited social media as easy to measure, while others felt its true value could not be gauged by merely counting “likes” and retweets. This disagreement aside, all agreed that social media is now a mainstream marketing channel—even in a B2B environment.
Building on this idea, several attendees stated they issue press releases primarily for their social media value. As a result, the news release is evolving into a very different animal: It no longer needs to contain a great deal of “news.”
As B2B communications professionals work to develop and disseminate messages that will resonate within their markets and help sales teams, it is clear these five trends will play a part in ensuring their PR and marketing efforts generate revenue. PRN
Rory Carlton is a principal at Arketi Group, a high tech business-to-business PR and digital marketing firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.