Online marketing in a downturn

I attended a BtoB Magazine marketing event this morning here in San Francisco. Some interesting presentations from client-side marketers and some good insight during the Q&A session into how companies are reacting to the financial crisis. The presenters were from SAP, Sybase, Visa and Barclay's, so it was a good sampling.

So, how are these companies approaching the meltdown in the market? Differently.

If you want to skip the details, here the summary;

SAP - cutting budgets
Sybase - increasing budgets
Visa - not changing budgets

If you do want some details, keep reading...

My friend and client, Kevin Cox, Director of Strategic Initiatives for SAP Global Marketing told us that SAP is cutting budgets—but will continue to invest in building their brand while striving to find the most cost-efficient means of driving traffic to their online properties. He stressed that while budgets were being trimmed, "we're not shutting off the lights." Comforting.

Kevin gave a very insightful presentation on how SAP has evolved their use of search. SAP first started using SEM as a more cost-efficient means of driving traffic than print and traditional direct marketing. However, after observing their online properties, they found that investing in SEO by developing search engine-friendly content led to even more traffic through organic search. So much so, that now, they've abandoned landing pages and now focus on building optimized resource centers for customers on their website. Is it working? These resource centers are getting 40% of their traffic from organic search.

SAP is cutting, but Sybase is going the other direction. Mark Wilson, their VP of Marketing feels like now is the time to make some noise and be provocative. He said that Sybaseis actually increasing the budget for a new campaign set to launch in the coming weeks. Comforting.

He also characterized himself as a "chronically stingy" marketer and gave three tips for inexpensive, yet effective techniques he thinks works.

1. Video. Lots of it. Sybase is shooting cheap, single camera videos with limited production value of product managers writing on whiteboards, product demos (imagine someone just holding up an iPhone and walking you through an app) and customer testimonials. Then they distribute them everywhere they can: the web, sales presentation, even email. He cited a 50% increase in email newsletter click-through rates when Sybase started adding video to their emails.

2. Mobile. It's easier than you think to publish a short-code and get a mobile program up and running. Sybase used it at a golf event they sponsored and awareness rates for those who received the mobile ad were exceptionally high compared to those who didn't.

3. Conversation Monitoring. We've done a bit of this at Traction for some of our clients. There are a number of vendors out there that allow you to monitor the volume and tone of conversations about your brand and your competitors online. Sybase monitors them regularly to see what the customer is saying about them and adjust their messaging accordingly.

Alex Craddock said Visa is "keeping marketing budgets static" and continuing to shift toward online media and finding innovative new ways to connect with their customers. Comforting.

He showed off their Visa Business Network Facebook app which is pretty cool. I actually had joined it a few months back because they give away $100 free credit in Facebook ads as an incentive for joining. Great incentive. Very relevant to their mission of helping small businesses leverage new channels like Facebook. The app is kind of a community with a community on Facebook. I'm not sure if they've actually created a valuable tool that has staying power, but they have 70,0000 people who have added the app, so if they can continue to provide ongoing value, this could be a really great program for Visa.

Also spoke to a few agency people I know. Like Traction, they are staying busy and doing well (knock on wood). Interestingly, Traction is participating in an RFP for a major travel company right now. The reason they are looking for a new partner: because they want to shift their marketing budget online and need a partner that can help guide them toward a path of being ROI-focused marketers. We also just won a major account (that I can't talk about yet) that is looking for us to come up with big viral ideas—that are not dependent on big media budgets. Seems like a trend.

So, there you have it. The trickle has not yet come down whole hog on marketing yet. I'm sure it will, but the trend is toward innovation and online channels. I'm glad Traction doesn't make our bread and butter on mega-budget TV spots.

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