April 2008 - Online Strategies

Marketing Within

By Aaron Kahlow

The past two-and-a-half weeks have brought me to nine cities and 10 marketing conferences. These were conferences for executive-level marketers, publishers, direct marketers, B2B marketers, search marketers and web analytic marketers. Yet with all this diversity, one thing remained constant: the largest challenge for any company/agency was not in executing, but rather in understanding internally how the web affects business today. So, I’d like to share a few observations from the executive, managerial and tactical levels and point out a few ways to unify your stakeholders.

Executive-level understanding. When speaking at the DMA’s leadership conference in Miami, I was reminded of what it is executives like myself really need. We need solutions to our business problems. And that is where most marketing professionals fail in trying to sell new online programs and the proper budgets needed for support. Executives talk about market share, EBITA, profit, competition, growth, emerging marketing, etc. Marketers talk about campaigns, search engines, websites and conversions.

So we need a translator to align the conversations and that translator needs to be you. For example, if you are trying to convince your boss that you need a greater budget for search engine optimization, then you need to start the conversation by talking about wanting to help grow market share. While there are a few options out there, the most cost-effective way would be through exposure on search-as opposed to, “I need more money for our search campaign because it’s important and everyone else is doing it.” Bottom line: talk the executive talk and solve their problems. So it would be equivalent to going topless at your local beach-that only works when in South Beach. (Or, in our example above, talking with marketing peers).

Mickey Mouse budgets. Orlando allowed some great one-on-one connections with direct and B2B marketing professionals who have a zest for learning the best practices in online marketing. Here it was clear that most marketers are simply overwhelmed with all the responsibilities on their plate. Online marketing seems to be just one of many issues they face on a day-to-day basis. We took six hours that day to peel back the layers of challenges, and although all the traditional direct marketing efforts were still running at the same spend and pace, it seemed that everyone in the room knew they were misappropriating their budgets, meaning they knew that 92 percent of buyers go online before they purchase and more time is spent online than watching TV. Yet, less than 10 percent of B2B marketing budgets were in the medium. The consensus? They need to educate their team/boss on the trends, empower themselves with research, and have the courage to request a change in the allocation of marketing budgets.

Publishers protectionism. New York was a fresh reminder of how much publishers are afraid of the online world. Still, to this day, the lack of understanding and “head in the sand” tactics are causing these publishers to lose more market share every day to online startups, Google and the blogosphere. I think that until a publishing company looks at the web or its website as a separate and distinct business and builds a corresponding model that sustains it, the effort to educate and empower is fruitless. So, here it comes down to the business model itself.

Respite in the Rockies. Analytic and search marketers arrived in droves at the Omniture User Summit in Utah and SearchFest in Portland. It was nice to see and hear so many aggressively pushing into the future and really creating campaigns, web applications and strategies that have never been done before. Lance Armstrong was the keynote at the Omniture Summit, and his message of “finding your cause” and acting on it was perfect for a world of online marketers trying to fight for the respect, budget and integration into their organizations they deserve. In Portland, search marketing professionals like Rand Fishkin and Kent Lewis took the high road in reinforcing the notion that the growth in search has enough room for all of us, and that even the largest companies in the world have tremendous challenges ahead in getting their arms around how to leverage the medium. The only challenge is getting the talent to execute. Nevertheless, the online marketing community seemed excited and enthused to tackle the new challenges.

So we have executives with business problems, direct/B2B marketers who need to unify stakeholders, publishers who are fearful and online marketers who are energized. How do we get all four on the same page? Simple: listen. Bosses, listen to your online marketing team. Direct/B2B marketers, listen to your boss for his or her issues and use your knowledge to solve them. Online marketers, listen to everyone because they have control of the almighty dollar. Listen, learn and execute!

Aaron Kahlow is managing partner of BusinessOnLine in San Diego, Calif., and chairman of the Online Marketing Summit. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

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