Barry Silverstein CEO of B-to-B agency Directech/eMerge is also the author of "Business-to-Business Internet Marketing" -- a popular volume that's sold three times more copies than the average business book. We called Silverstein up to find out how he learned enough about B-to-B Web marketing to fill a 492 page book, and what advice he'd give B-to-B marketers beginning their first major online campaigns.
Q: How hard is it for an offline B-to-B marketer to make the transition to being an online B-to-B marketing expert?
Silverstein: I was a direct marketer with 25 years of traditional direct marketing experience when I saw what the Internet was doing several years ago. I decided I needed to learn a lot more about it. The good news is I found an awful lot of similarities and the ability to turn it into a direct marketing tool!
Business-to-business marketers should realize that under the surface, the Internet is a medium like any other. Once you realize it's not unlike space advertising and DM, it really should not be as disconcerting as some people find it to be. The differences are that the interactivity is far superior and in some ways novel to traditional media. The immediacy and speed of response is also different -- you can create things instantly. But that means you have to have systems in place that can handle what the Internet can do with such speed.
In terms of targeting audience and offer, the creative element isn't all that different; although it's still difficult to target with the Internet the way you can with direct mail. You can do some level of targeting, it's just not the level of a direct mail list.
Q: Why not stick with direct mail then if the lists are more targeted?
Silverstein: One reason is the obvious cost differential. Right now Internet marketing is downright cheap. If you're comparing email to direct mail, the economics are far superior. Your time to market is much faster too. Also a lot of companies are global and it's much easier, faster and more convenient to use the Internet when marketing worldwide. These are just some of the real reasons why the Internet is going to beat direct mail.
However, I truly believe a marketer shouldn't jump 100% into Internet marketing. You need to do a smart transition. What we're seeing now is a very real trend toward close integration of Internet and direct mail campaigns.
Q: Speaking broadly, about how much should B-to-B marketers should be budgeting for online vs. offline marketing these days?
Silverstein: It's a huge variable depending on what you're trying to achieve. You'll probably start to put anywhere from 30-50% of your budget into Internet marketing.
Q: How are banners doing for you?
Silverstein: People ought to be classifying banners by very specific objectives. In general banners are not a quality lead generation medium. For lead generation, we find that email newsletter ads will beat banners nine times out of ten.
The other thing we're seeing is that other types of Web-based promotions seem to be more effective than banners. Web sponsorships -- a situation in which the advertiser is actually sponsoring a page or a section in a Web site -- and other promotions like that which give advertisers much more impact on the page can do well for lead generation.
Q: What's the secret of succeeding with a B-to-B banner?
Silverstein: First of all, make smart media buys! Secondly, make a compelling offer in the banner. A lot of people fail to do this. Third of all, send clickthroughs somewhere where you can track what happens with the offer.
A lot of people in this day still send people through to their corporate home page. We try to go one step further, click-throughs are irrelevant. What's relevant is a "complete." When someone fills out a form, answers some qualifying questions -- whatever we need to qualify leads. If you're using banners for awareness, you'll measure differently. You need to look at number of clickthroughs plus the amount of residual traffic you might get on your site whether or not it came directly from the banner. The real way to measure awareness is to do a before and after piece of market research.
So, media selection, effective offers and tracking banner response are all more important than creative in the banner itself.
Q: What's your advice on online surveying?
Silverstein: We have used Zoomerang a number of times for online surveys. We like it because it's easy to use, there are real time reports and it has levels of service -- free or paid. There are several other online survey services I like as well. The advantage of that type of service is that you can execute an online survey almost instantly and get back results in real time. You don't necessarily have to create a survey that's all that difficult. It's pretty easy to get them to answer five questions. Just send them an email with a link! To raise results you can make people a small offer -- a $10 gift certificate to Amazon can be very effective. In the old direct mail days we used to send dollar bills.
Marketers are always saying, 'How do I know if something's going to work?' Do a survey! A few hundred responses could give you an excellent reading on whether something's going to work or not.
For example, we recently did a survey for a client who has very limited awareness in a particular market. The survey was specifically designed to give us product usage information. That's extremely valuable information for correctly positioning a product to a target market.
Q: What are the biggest mistakes you see many B-to-B marketers making online?
Silverstein: It's hard to believe, but people do still spam. They send email on an unsolicited basis. You have to be 100% sure you are using a real opt-in list.
Q: We've heard some marketers say they want to test spamming -- such as sending an email to a compiled list -- before they rule it out. Why shouldn't they just test it?
Silverstein: On the Internet, the issues of annoyance and privacy are too large to take that risk. It's only ok to email someone if you clearly have permission.
Q: Ok, what are the other big mistakes?
Silverstein: The second biggest mistake is people are not always tracking results from every single campaign carefully. They might not be sending clickthroughs to a response form. Or there might not be a reply form of any kind on their Web site. There's no excuse for that. This medium is measurable. You can collect people's names!
The third most common mistake is getting enamored with technology. Marketers want to do the coolest and the neatest.In B-to-B , not everybody can see or hear what you're trying to accomplish. Don't assume everyone can use HTML emails. Don't assume everyone wants an attachment in email. You have to be quite cautious with people.
In terms of Web sites, the largest mistake is being overly complex with a page -- trying to engage someone with complex graphics vs. giving them very clear response paths and clear places to go throughout the site. Sites defy logic more than a brochure or DM piece, it's like being in a candy store. So you have to direct visitors more. Give them signals where to go first.
Q: Here's the question beginners always ask: what's the range of response rates that B-to-B marketers should expect from well-executed online marketing these days?
Silverstein: For a well-targeted campaign, blast email response rates range from 3-10%. That's compared to direct mail rates of .3-.5% these days! Ads in email newsletters run in the 3-5% range of responses, but that's not just click-throughs. That includes people who saw the ad and visit your site later. Banners are usually under 1% -- sometimes under .5%.
NOTE: Interested in Silverstein's book? You can download a free sample chapter or buy the whole thing at the links below.
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