Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The 8 Layers of a B2B Web Marketing Plan

One way to think about designing a B2B technology web marketing plan is as a series of layers, like an onion. At the core is SEO—simply making your website "findable" through organic search to buyers who are looking for what you offer. Working out from the center are concentric layers of additional investment and sophistication.

Small companies and start-ups with modest budgets will focus most of their efforts on the inner layers or rings, which are primarily designed for lead generation. As the company and its marketing budget grow, efforts can be expanded to the outer layers, which are aimed more at branding but support lead generation efforts. Ideally, a company eventually reaches the outer layer where pure branding activities (such as print advertising) help to maximize the effectiveness of lead generation programs (such as SEM) near the center of the circle.


This diagram shows how different types of web marketing programs can be prioritized in order to maximize the return from any size B2B technology company online marketing budget. (It also shows why I don't try to make a living as a graphic artist.)

Starting from the center and working out, a phased web marketing plan can be developed:


Layer 1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Since (ballpark figures) 75% of b2b buyers use search engines to research vendors when making a purchase decision, and 75% of clicks are on organic search results rather than paid links, SEO alone has the potential to expose your company to half of all sales prospects. That makes SEO—keyword research, meta tag and content optimization, and link building—the logical starting point for web marketing.


Level 2: Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Using the figures from the paragraph above, running text ads on search engines offers potential exposure to roughly another 20% of buyers. Since Google is the dominant search engine, it's AdWords search program is the place to start. Once the program is fine-tuned and results are maximized there, SEM efforts can be expanded to the AdWords content network, then progressively to Yahoo Search Marketing, Yahoo's content network, MSN AdCenter, and finally to Microsoft's content network.


Level 3. IndustryBrains

B2c marketers have a wide variety of ad networks to choose from, but for technology-focused b2b vendors, IndustryBrains (recently folded into Marchex Adhere) is far and away the leader. This networks enables you to run text and print ads across popular technology websites like PC Magazine, Network World, PC World, Intelligent Enterprise, InformationWeek and InfoWorld with a single buy.


Level 4. White Paper Syndication and Guaranteed Lead Generation Programs

Guaranteed lead gen programs generally promise X leads for Y dollars, and are offered by individual publications as well as aggregators such as ITtoolbox, TechTarget, FindWhitePapers.com and NetLine. These are also referred to as white paper syndication programs as white papers are most commonly used as the incentive for response (though other assets including case studies, reports, even podcasts and recorded webcasts with some media outlets, are also used.)

Though primarily used for lead gen (as the name implies), these programs provide some branding benefit as well. The quality of the leads tends to improve as more targeted media are used.


Level 5: Banner Advertising

Unlike search marketing and targeted network ads, which are priced on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis, banner advertising is sold on a cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM) basis. While network buys are common in b2c marketing, b2b banner advertising is generally purchased directly from media publishers.

Because of the low click-through rate of banner ads, they are generally viewed as primarily branding, secondarily lead generation. Again, however, this varies with the publisher: broad titles such as InformationWeek are mostly for branding, while banners on narrowly-targted sites like Wall Street & Technology are reasonably effective at lead generation (though this particular publication may not be the best choice at the moment).


Level 6: Email Marketing

Email marketing comes in two varieties: enewsletter advertising and email blasts to targeted, purchased (or rented) lists. Enewsletter advertising is generally the less expensive alternative, on a CPM basis since your ad is "sharing" space with editorial content and, in most cases, with other advertisers. However, these ads may also be better for branding as they are seen as less intrusive and your company benefits from the association with the publication and surrounding content.

Email blasts are more targeted as you can send to only a selected subset of the publisher's overall subscriber base, filtered by title, company size, industry vertical, geographic location and/or other criteria. In addition, your ad isn't competing with any other content in the email message.

Because the effective cost per click tends to be much higher than search engine marketing (often by a factor of 10 or more), the value of email marketing is generally viewed as primarily branding with a lead gen component.


Level 7: Webinar Sponsorships

Many publications sell "turnkey" webinar sponsorship packages where the publisher provides most (or all) of the content, promotes the webinar and delivers it; sponsoring vendors are then provided with contact information for all registrants and attendees. Although webinar sponsorship is primarily a lead generation activity, it is in an outer layer of the web marketing bullseye because of the level of investment required: programs generally range from $20,000-$30,000 for a single webinar.


Level 8: Print Advertising

Although various types of "print-to-web" programs are offered, and some publications offer print advertisers comparable space in their digital editions at no extra charge, the value of print advertising is almost strictly branding. Because companies willing to invest in print advertising are often perceived as industry leaders, this activity definitely supports online advertising and other lead generation efforts. However, costs are high and benefits difficult to measure with any precision.


Summing It Up

A "well-dressed" web marketing plan starts with solid SEO, then works outward from direct lead generation programs to more expensive and beneficial-but-difficult-to-measure branding activities. Vendors with limited budgets necessarily begin with core activities that provide easily measurable, short-term payback. As budgets increase, branding activities in the outer layers can be added to enhance the performance of core lead gen programs.

Interactive PR and social media engagement also provide branding benefit by increasing awareness and credibility for vendors. Like outer-layer web marketing programs, these activities have little direct lead generation value but can increase the return on SEM and other lead gen expenditures.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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