“Our marketing budget was just cut!” These are words that every marketing person hates to hear. Unfortunately, in these current economic conditions, these words are being heard in nearly every company around the world. Even information security vendors-whose job it is to protect against computer threats that can bring companies to their knees-are not immune to budget cuts.
Too often, marketing is viewed strictly as an expense, instead of as an investment in positioning, promoting and educating customers. When it comes to marketing, it is always easier to figure out where to spend money than to determine which marketing campaigns should be cut.
During a management discussion, the first question typically asked is, “What marketing programs or campaigns are not delivering a solid ROI?” While this seems like a reasonable and simple question, we must not forget that our world has changed drastically in the last six months. There is a growing communications gap between vendors and customers that has a negative impact upon both groups. Spending marketing dollars in the wrong place results in lower revenue for vendors and limits the information available to companies when they’re making buying decisions.
At a time when marketing dollars and resources are scarce, a better question to ask is, “Where are my customers going in order to learn about products and services?” The first step is acknowledging that a potential communications gap may exist. Closing this gap will provide the marketing ROI and make more information available to help companies make better buying decisions.
Taking steps to better understand your prospective customers is not as difficult as you might think. The following are four tips to help you close the communications gap and set the right course during this economic storm.
Tip No. 1: As a vendor, understand how your company will respond to marketing budget cuts
In a recent survey of vendors and enterprise customers, 49 percent of vendors said they rely on their business partners to provide information about products and services. Too often, training on products and services is limited to the technology. If this is part of your marketing strategy, review your partner training materials. Make sure they clearly define the problem that your product solves, how your product solves the problem, how it differs from the competition, and the top benefits the customer can realize. A product or service that is well positioned and easily understood will help ensure your partners are more effective in educating and selling your solution to customers.
Tip No. 2: Understand how your customers will be impacted by budget cuts
With less information available about products and services, 35 percent of enterprise customers surveyed said they feel that they will have to rely on their peers to get information about security solutions, and 24 percent said they will have to do more product trials.
This year, online communities will take on a substantially more important role in bringing together and educating not only customers but also prospective customers. Companies are creating their own online communities and making these communities open to everyone. If your company has not yet created an online community, make it a priority to create one as part of your 2009 marketing plan.
For the 24 percent of customers surveyed who said they feel they will have to do more product trials (but may be constrained by resources that are already stretched too thin), an alternative is to seek out published, third-party product reviews.
How to Use Twitter in Your Web 2.0 Marketing Strategy
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Tip No. 3: Understand where your customers go online to learn about products and services to solve their problem
The survey also found that 59 percent of enterprise customers said they rely on online security publications to learn about threats, products and services. Meanwhile, only 30 percent of vendors said they rely on this communication channel to educate customers. In contrast, 25 percent of vendors rely on the Internet and Google or Yahoo ads to attract customers to their Web site to learn about new products and services. But only 12 percent of enterprise customers said they rely on the Internet and Google or Yahoo to gather product and service information.
For years, vendors have spent billions of dollars optimizing Internet content to reach customers. Today, overburdened security teams are turning to online publications to help them sort through the maze of information to short-list products for consideration. Make sure you are on the same page with your customers. Don’t count on customers being able to find information you’ve posted; make sure your company and offerings are covered by online publications that are relevant to your customers.
To help you get the coverage you need, engage an agency that supports marketing and public relations programs to ensure maximum return on your marketing dollars. In addition, supplement media coverage with quality content for organizations that short-list your solution and use the Internet for additional research.
Tip No. 4: Embrace social media sites such as Twitter
The survey feedback on social media should not surprise anyone. The survey revealed that the use of the social media darling Twitter is on the rise for both vendors and enterprise customers. It was found that 33 percent of vendors and 24 percent of enterprise customers reported that they rely on Twitter to share information about their products and services. Twitter provides instant communication among customers and their peers, vendors, partners and industry pundits. As a result, customers feel that the collective knowledge gained will help them make better buying decisions faster.
Twitter fulfills a need in the market whether you are on the buying side or the selling side of the equation. If your marketing program for 2009 does not include social media, make it a priority to create a company Twitter account now. You can easily connect and network with others in your industry, as well as get instant access to what’s being said about your organization, people, products or brand. Twitter is an excellent source for ideas, content, links and other thoughts about your area of expertise or industry. More importantly, Twitter can be used to deliver breaking news faster than other sources.
Mary Van Zandt is Vice President of Trainer Communications‘ Information Security Practice. Mary has over 25 years of experience in various technology sales, marketing and public relations leadership positions, with companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Sybase, Sterling Commerce and Platinum Technology. Mary is well-recognized within the security industry, speaks at industry events, has published several articles, and is a contributing author of the ICSA Guide to Cryptography and Commercial Computer Security Systems. She received her Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the Lake Forest School of Management at Lake Forest College, Illinois. She can be reached at [email protected].