They're millions strong. You know you want their business. Generation E--that group defined not by age or social status but by technology smarts and consumer activism. They're buying music and books at home, diesel engines and heavy-duty construction equipment at work, and all by the same rules. "One click away," all of the experts keep saying. "They're just one click away from your competitors." And you need to find out how to speak their language--fast.
Don't count on the latest hotshot marketing automation software to save your business. "Every company in the world had access to the same technology as Dell and Cisco--why have Dell and Cisco become the poster children for B2B e-commerce?" asks Mike Grandinetti, vice president of marketing for software developer MarketSoft. "It is a combination of leadership, being able to consume technology in a very strategic way, and being able to apply it."
Generation E doesn't care about your location, your distribution or any of those old-world differentiators. If they don't know your brand, and don't associate it with an excellent buying experience, they'll go somewhere else. "In a world of perfect knowledge, particularly on the Internet, the only real guiding light the customer will have is the brand or the recognized value and competence of the marketer," says Don Schultz, president of Agora, an Illinois-based marketing consulting firm.
"Anyone can launch a Web site. Anyone can offer almost anything for sale. Only a brand offers trust, reliability and ongoing quality. Thus, the brand becomes more important in the e-environment for it differentiates the firm in what would appear to be a common-level situation," says Schultz. That's not to say that a good brand will be enough to save a bad company, however. It's just that if you don't have the basics of quality service, on-time delivery and attractive pricing, you won't be around long enough to worry about name recognition.
As if that weren't enough pressure to make your brand perform, e-marketing gives you the flexibility to establish multiple unique brand identities, and finding the right balance may be the difference between success and failure. Alan Meyer, of IBM's Global Business Intelligence Solutions division, explains how multifaceted branding works for banks.
Relatively old, conservative customers want to view the bank as very conservative, very stable," he says, "while young college graduates want to view it as very dynamic, changing, flexible. You want to be able to have very different messages going to these communities."
Tailoring your company's marketing messages to suit every individual may sound like a daunting task, but when you consider the advantages of online contact with your customers, opportunities quickly present themselves. Jim Flynn, senior vice president of operations for e-marketing products firm Naviant, says that one of the greatest advantages of online marketing is knowing exactly what the customer has expressed an interest in, even without explicitly telling you they're considering a purchase.
A brick-and-mortar bank doesn't know what brochures their walk-up clients take on the way out of the building. But when that same customer looks up products online, the bank knows exactly what they're in the market for.
Good Old E-mail
For a moment, forget custom Web pages. Sometimes simple and reliable is best, and it hardly gets more basic than e-mail. While most e-marketing strategy experts shudder at the unfortunate tendency to treat it as another channel for direct mail messages, e-mail can still be an effective tool for reaching Generation E. "What works well is smaller, targeted audiences, more targeted segmentation and more specific messages," says Russ Henry, vice president of marketing for software developer MarketFirst. "That's marketing mantra, but now the technology is available to actually do it."
Although you can buy verified e-mail lists from a variety of vendors, opt-in lists are considered superior. More effort, perhaps, but when opt-in works, it works extremely well. If you don't believe that opt-in can generate a sufficiently large audience, ask Lands' End about their e-mail newsletter. They'll tell you about the 200,000 customers that receive it, and how each and every one of them typed their e-mail address into a little box at landsend.com specifically to join the list.
Offering a true opt-in program means more than simply seeking blanket permissions to launch unrestricted marketing attacks. To Generation E, opt-in isn't just "yes" or "no," it's about telling your marketing department the type of pitches they want to read, when they want to receive them and by which medium they should arrive.
MarketSoft's Grandinetti recommends that companies let customers be very specific in choosing what materials to receive and when to be asked about a sale. If a customer asks to receive white papers, technical reports and seminar invitations but wants to be left alone otherwise, honor their wishes. "They're telling you, ‘I'm a rational economic buyer, and when I'm ready to buy, I'll let you know,'" he says.
Similarly, responses to marketing materials that do not immediately result in sales need to be treated carefully. Generation E doesn't click on every banner or respond to every blind marketing e-mail, so if they've given you the time of day, consider it a gift. "People who respond [but do not buy] shouldn't be tossed back in the generic pool," says Meyer. "Once they respond, you need to nurture that. They've differentiated themselves from the general population."
How you deal with opting out is just as important as how you deal with opting in. Opting out should not be considered an insult or a rejection of your company's marketing strategy. Like receiving catalogs in the mail, there are only so many a person can look forward to, and the customer's decision needs to be respected.
"Never" is a very long time, which is why in the direct mail world people normally have to refresh their names on the "do-not-solicit" lists every six months. If you plan a liberal interpretation of "Never solicit me via e-mail", you had better prepare an astounding marketing message or risk some serious backlash from the opt-out crowd.
Marketing to B2B
The B2B and "considered purchase" B2C marketplaces provide different e-marketing challenges, and different rules apply than those used to sell a book or promote an interest-bearing checking account.
"In the B2B world, the demand chain is much more complex, because the number of players who have some role in selling or marketing is rather large," says Grandinetti. There's an incredibly important need to coordinate all those people and make sure they're behaving in a cohesive manner."
And B2B customers are likely to be even more offended by strongarm e-marketing tactics. Because B2B purchases are more likely to involve multiple decision makers, electronic marketing materials need to be repeatable. It is, for example, extremely difficult to show a Web banner to one's superior or purchasing manager.
"In the B2B marketplace, we see quite a bit of uptake on the Web-based seminar," says Marketfirst's Henry. "It's convenient to attend, so typically, we see people having more frequent Web seminars" than traditional quarterly seminars or annual road shows. Offering a live Web-based demonstration tied in with a conventional teleconference offers a highly interactive experience for customers, at a low price for marketers.
Expectations and Costs
Marketing needs to be aware of the heightened expectations of Generation E. Who doesn't know the phrase made famous by late-night TV ads- -"Allow four to six weeks for delivery."? "You do that on the Web, it's two days," says Doug Barton, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Targetbase. Targetbase recently participated in the online launch of Hugo Boss fragrances, in which select customers were not only identified and contacted online, but invited to sign up for a free sample. Throughout the marketing process, the prospects were constantly updated via e-mail, even as to when the sample would be shipped. "That would never have happened in the offline world," he says.
Analysts are calling printing, postage and even marketing staff costs dead concepts when it comes to evaluating the success of your efforts. In is the concept of lifetime customer value. Simply put, when you send the right messages, that value increases. Send the wrong, or too many messages, and it falls- -costing you dearly in the long run.
One major challenge, with no easy solution, is the fact that some of the most heavily touted e-marketing strategies are those that Generation E seems to be rebelling against most strongly. Blocking popup ads has become a key selling point for desktop security and privacy products like Norton Internet Security 2000. Meanwhile, the fallout from DoubleClick's policy reversal regarding profiling has yet to be fully realized. The government may yet act to regulate online privacy, so in the short run at least, marketers will need to tread lightly.
Customers taking control. Marketing departments scrambling to craft individualized messages. It all sounds like too much to bear. Take a deep breath, and heed these encouraging words from MarketSoft's Grandinetti: "If you provide an end-to-end, positive buying experience to your customers in a way that includes them in a dialogue and includes offers that speak to their interests and preferences, you'll be hard-pressed not to get noticed."