As marketers head into 2008 they will confront many challenges, from the economy and environmental concerns at the macro level to users exercising more control of content on the micro level.
To face these challenges and others, b2b marketers are embracing new technologies, repositioning their companies as eco-friendly, expanding into new markets and sharpening their focus on marketing operations and performance.
Following is a look at the top 10 marketing trends for 2008, based on interviews with marketers, ad agencies, media executives, analysts and other industry experts.
Green marketing is not just a trendy buzzword. It has become an important marketing strategy for companies that aim to help improve the environment and position themselves as responsible organizations, all while attempting to drive sales.
Boeing Co., General Electric Co., Siemens AG and engineering firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin are just a few of the b2b marketers that have embraced eco-friendly strategies, pumping millions into marketing efforts to promote their positioning.
For example, GE's entire business strategy is built around "ecomagination," a platform that encompasses environmentally friendly products and manufacturing processes as well as a commitment to the environment.
This trend will continue next year as the environment becomes an even more important issue for businesses, customers, decision-makers and politicians.
"There has really been a transition in the mind-set of manufacturers and consumers," said Jim Gregory, CEO of brand consulting firm CoreBrand.
"Eco-friendly products and eco-friendly thinking have changed the way people manufacture products and advertise them. The environment will be part of everyone's mind in terms of how they do things and how they buy things."
"GE has really been on the forefront of this," he added. "It takes a big company like that to really have a vision and articulate that vision. They will no doubt drive changes in how companies think about the environment."
Expanding their global marketing efforts and entering new regions will be important for marketers next year, particularly as they seek to hedge against potential losses due to the weak U.S. economy.
"Global marketing is an essential component of our business," said Raj Subramaniam, senior VP-international marketing at FedEx.
The company does not break out its revenue by global region, but Subramaniam said international revenue is growing at "a healthy pace."
"In terms of our trade balance, we have to consistently watch that," he added. "The fluctuation of currency around the world has an impact on our trade patterns, and sometimes we have to refocus and shift resources a little bit. But we are a global network, so we are everywhere."
FedEx recently launched a global ad campaign to raise awareness of its brand and show how it helps customers solve business problems. It will continue this campaign into 2008 and build its international marketing team, Subramaniam said.
Other b2b marketers, including Caterpillar, Eastman Chemical, GE, Siemens and United Parcel Service of America, also plan to increase their global marketing efforts next year.
Budgets shift to online
While marketers have gradually been shifting more of their marketing budgets to online over the last several years, 2008 may be the year in which the bulk of budgets gets moved from traditional media such as print and broadcast to digital channels.
Some major tech marketers, including Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp., are already well on their way to doing this.
"Over the next couple of years, we want to drive 50% of Intel's marketing spending online," said Rob Rollinger, worldwide online marketing manager at Intel. "This is a pretty significant shift."
The decision to move more of its marketing budget to digital channels was based on research showing that the majority of b2b customers were making purchase decisions based on information they found online, Rollinger said.
Microsoft also said it plans to shift at least half its marketing spending to digital channels over the next couple of years.
Other marketers, while not so far along, say they are moving in that direction.
"It is certainly a significant amount. If it's not 50%, it is certainly getting there," said Mike O'Malley, director of external marketing at network equipment provider Tellabs.
The customer's in control
Remember the old adage "The customer is always right"? Now, not only is the customer always right, but the customer is also fully in control of content and marketing messages he or she chooses to receive.
Armed with TiVos, iPods, cell phones, handhelds, spam filters and mute buttons, users are increasingly able to browse, download, upload, create and block content, including ads.
All of this makes it imperative for marketers to engage customers in the dialogue and provide content that is relevant and engaging to them.
"Increasingly, with the proliferation of content, customers filter out what they don't want to see and go to what they want to see," said Scott Anderson,VP-customer communications at Hewlett-Packard Co.
"We are enabling customers to control their experience with us so they put us on their short list."
In one measure of giving more control to the customer, HP made a decision to allow unfiltered conversations among users on blogs, live chat sessions and other user-generated areas of its site.
"If you try to control a conversation, especially in the blogosphere, it will probably backfire on you," Anderson said. "We had to make a conscious decision to cede some of that control in order to encourage conversation in an open and authentic spirit."
Embracing Web 2.0
B2b marketers who have been experimenting with Web 2.0 applications including blogs, podcasts, social networks and virtual worlds, will take the plunge next year as they begin to fully integrate these technologies into their marketing programs.
"We want to position ourselves as a leader in new media and make sure we're in this space," said Stephanie Dillard, global media manager at Intel.
For example, Intel has a presence in virtual world Second Life, where it holds virtual events, press conferences and training for software developers.
It also regularly uses blogs, podcasts, online video and social networks to connect with its customers and prospects.
John Osborn, CEO of BBDO New York, said, "Sites such as Facebook, which began as social networking sites for consumers, have shown an increasing utility among business-to-business peer groups as well."
"These social networking sites have bubbling communities of business people who are struggling with and succeeding with similar stories, who can share best practices and discuss similar themes."
Osborn said social networking will be an important avenue for b2b marketers next year, particularly as they look for ways to connect with their audiences on a more emotional level.
A big focus for marketers next year will be improving the operations and performance of their marketing organizations, which goes well beyond proving ROI on marketing investments.
"The No. 1 challenge for CMOs is fixing broken marketing organizations," said Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council.
"They need to retool and restructure their marketing operations in order to increase the yield, productivity and performance of their marketing groups."
He said CMOs and senior marketers need to more tightly integrate and align marketing with the sales organization, be able to generate insight and analytics, own the customer database and have decision-making authority across functions including pricing, distribution, marketing communications and customer advisory boards.
Many companies are adding marketing operations managers to their organizations, which research company IDC said will continue to be a trend in 2008.
Targeted, personal events
Events will continue to be an important part of b2b marketers' strategy in 2008, although many will pursue more targeted events rather than large, horizontal shows.
According to BtoB's "2008 Marketing Plans and Priorities" survey (see story, page 24), 49.5% of marketers are planning to increase their events budgets next year, up from 44.1% this year.
Many marketers plan to conduct smaller, more focused events aimed at senior executives in the industries they target.
"We plan to do more thought leadership events next year," said Tom Haas, CMO of Siemens. "We plan to develop content and programs that will address some of the key questions within our three core industries—health care, energy and the environment, and industry. The idea is to engage people in dialogue and show that we are a thought leader in these industries."
Other marketers, including IBM Corp., Intel, Microsoft and Oracle plan to conduct thought leadership events and targeted conferences aimed at specific industry groups.
Integrating media platforms
As budgets shift from traditional media to more digital channels and events, media companies will work harder then ever next year to provide integrated platforms for their advertisers.
According to American Business Media, digital revenue for b2b media companies is expected to increase 18% to 22% in 2008, while face-to-face revenue is expected to grow 7% to 10%.
Print revenue, meanwhile, is expected to decline 2% to 7%.
However, publishers and advertisers agree that despite budget shifts, print is still an integral part of the marketing mix.
As Peter Goldstone, president of Hanley Wood Business Media, stated at ABM's recent Top Management Meeting, "If you have lousy magazines, you're not going to get any traction on your Web site and you're not going to get anyone to go to your events."
Gordon Hughes II, president-CEO of ABM, said, "You and I will be doing a lot more with handheld tools and wireless devices, but we will still be flipping through magazines."
The industry is still waiting for technology that will allow marketing content and messages to be delivered in a meaningful way to mobile devices, but recent advances such as Apple's iPhone and improvements to handhelds are helping to make that a reality.
"This may be the year that mobile
deserves a closer look and listen as tech improvements create new opportunities," said Drew Neisser, CEO of Renegade Marketing.
"Bluetooth-enabled phones have made it easier for marketers to provide contextually relevant information," he said, pointing to a recent campaign by the U.S. Air Force to recruit candidates using Bluetooth transmitters set up at racetracks around the country.
Neisser also cited Apple's recent partnership with Google and Yahoo to provide ad-supported programming on the iPhone. "Mobile marketing can deliver highly personalized and useful information when and where needed, and as long as marketers don't spam, mobile marketing may be the missing link in personalized communications," he said.
Tellabs is looking at doing more mobile marketing next year. "Pushing into more mobile activities is part of our 2008 planning process," O'Malley said. "There are more 3G [third-generation] phones out there that can access the Internet at faster and more reliable speeds."
Blended search, which expands the content of search results pages to include video, maps, news, widgets and blog links, is expected to affect marketers' search strategies significantly in 2008.
This year, all the major search engines introduced or refined their own version of blended search interfaces, including Google's Universal Search interface and Microsoft's upgraded MSN Search, which incorporates images, video and maps on the search results page.
Looking ahead at their search strategies for 2008, marketers say they will need to integrate existing content, including videos, brochures, press releases and RSS, into their search plans.
Josh Kidd, Internet marketing specialist at Siemens Medical, the health care division of Siemens AG, said: "We will have to go from simply optimizing our existing content to creating universal content optimized for ranking."
Carol Krol and Matthew Schwartz contributed to this report.