Brett Boyum remembers the good old days. It’s not hard to do—they were only a few years back. Marketing, even online, seemed simpler. You would construct a nice website with product information, and produce some banner ads, and incorporate them into your traditional mix of print ads.

For Boyum, vice president of marketing for Warroad-based Marvin Windows and Doors, websites and ads are still useful. But he and his company colleagues saw a new trend surface a few years back, and they’ve been taking advantage of it.

“Consumers want to deal with brands they can trust—brands that are going to be there today and tomorrow,” says Boyum. “They want to know you as a person. So the ability to tell the history of our story, the generations of the Marvin family that have been involved in the business and that share the same values that have been carried since day one, 100 years ago to today, really matter to consumers. We are finding that it is a purchase decision-maker.”

These days, Marvin has its own YouTube channel, an active presence on Facebook and Twitter, and an easy-to-navigate website with plenty of images and ideas for all of its customers—homeowners, contractors and designers. Mike Keliher works with Marvin as a marketing account director for Fast Horse, a Minneapolis-based marketing communications firm. He sees companies developing their own digital media outlets to strengthen their brands. “It’s not as simple as buying a broadcast ad and reaching a huge swath of people,” Keliher notes. At the same time, he points out, “you can target your message,” and it’s more cost-effective.

The online marketing story’s not all about Facebook and Twitter, however. The number of social media platforms—such as Pinterest, Pandora, Snapchat, Instagram—continue to multiply.

Along with numerous specialized online ad networks, mobile apps and automated marketing systems, business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) firms have a bewildering array of choices. Companies that are successfully making their way through this dense forest are blending more of their marketing and information technology (IT) disciplines.

Fostering customer connections

Marketing “is an ongoing process of engaging with people,” says Steve Diller, CEO of Scansion Inc., a San Francisco-based market strategy consultancy whose recent clients include Intel, Logitech and Aetna. That requires a company to create valuable experiences to keep customers interested in the brand over time. Product design, strong customer service and marketing communications, including online, “are really about evoking and developing a long-term relationship with customers based on how customers want to feel,” Diller says. These days, he notes, “manipulation doesn’t work very well most of the time.”

Internal research conducted by a major auto company (not Diller’s client) revealed that people often get bored with a particular brand four months after buying a car, Diller says. Though there’s no substitute for strong product design and customer service, online marketing messages, Diller observes, can provide fresh content, valuable ideas and uplifting experiences to maintain a connection between the customer and company.

Another big reason companies are boosting their online marketing is the abundance of market data showing the benefits of sites such as Facebook, which allows companies to target potential customers more closely. “It’s sort of terrifying [to see] the amount of data that is available,” says Nina Hale, founder and CEO of Nina Hale Inc., a marketing agency based in Minneapolis. “But it has made messaging so much more impactful for advertisers. They can send messages that actually resonate with people . . . and hit them at the right time in their [purchasing] journey.”

Hale also has many B2B clients, and B2B companies have embraced online marketing tools, though in some notably different ways from those in B2C. She has seen many B2B firms using marketing automation, which provides “a seamless interface between the first time someone sees an ad and the ultimate amount of money that lead brought in.”

This is where some of the most complex and fascinating technologies in the marketing realm are being developed and put to use. But the goals are traditional—generate useful leads and follow the sales “journey” to see where a customer makes contact with a company. A B2B marketer may be less concerned with building an emotional connection with the brand, but she, too, wants to maintain freshness in a potential customer’s mind.

Chris Schermer, CEO of the Minneapolis-based B2B marketing agency that bears his name, says that in the past three years, “most of our clients have had a reduction in traditional communications budgets and an increase in digital marketing.”

An example is Schermer client Wells Fargo Treasury Management, whose target market comprises senior finance executives and treasury managers at midsize to large corporations. (The company helps its customers manage payables, receivables, reporting and liquidity.) Among other services, Schermer has created industry-specific content for the firm’s website to attract customers with a variety of interests. Banner ads and online surveys help generate leads, and automated marketing systems can send the potential customer more information. “Every activity . . . goes into a record for that customer,” Schermer says. “We can form a picture of their needs and their interests, and where they are in their buying intent.”

 

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