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I wasn’t surprised to see that BtoB Magazine named technology media company TechTarget #6 in its list of the 50 most powerful B2B advertising venues. As someone who’s been immersed in the world of technology marketing for nearly 20 years, I’ve watched TechTarget since its inception in 1999. In addition to its most recent honors, the company has piled up numerous accolades over the years, including twice being named one of the “Top Innovators in Business Publishing” by Media Business and collecting more than 100 awards for editorial excellence.

techtarget-logoWith its network of more than 60 technology-specific websites, TechTarget is a primary Web destination for technology professionals researching products to purchase.

To give technology marketers insight into the ways they can take advantage of TechTarget’s offerings, I spoke with Marilou Barsam Senior Vice President, Client Services and Corporate Marketing for TechTarget.

Q. Which media types and assets are IT buyers drawn to?

A. We consistently track which media types and assets IT buyers are attracted to and why, and we share these findings in our free quarterly Media Consumption Research reports. In fact, the trends we see in our Media Consumption and Google Research reinforce one another. A key finding is that IT buyers don’t select random content when they’re surfing the Web. They’re attracted to very specific subjects, topics, and media relative to exactly where they are in the buying process.

IT buyers are inclined to favor certain keywords, and are more attracted to a marketer’s message and more open to picking up the phone when a vendor calls if the company’s content lines up with their buying stage needs. Based on this finding, companies should consider syndicating their content but also make sure the content covers all stages of the buying process. Companies that produce a “one-size-fits-all” white paper, for example, miss opportunities to engage with promising leads. The prospect might look at the paper early in the buying process but won’t find it relevant at a later stage.

Another key finding from our Google Research and our most recent Media Consumption report has to do with how marketers can best draw in end-stage leads. We asked buyers what kind of content, messaging, and keywords attract them most when they are ready to make a final decision about a vendor’s solution. A majority of them said they want content comparing the vendor’s offering to the competition.

While many marketers are averse to calling out their competition by name, IT buyers are telling them they need to do this. We’re seeing larger vendors put out papers comparing themselves to competitors. Because these companies considerable brand equity and clout, they’re not intimidated by this exercise. It’s understandable that smaller companies are hesitant to publish a competitive comparison, but they’re much more likely to make it to the top of the short list if they do.

Q. How can marketers take advantage of the insights shared in the research produced by TechTarget and Google?

A. Marketers need to think holistically about the relationship of online marketing programs to these findings. They need to go beyond staging a single program and offer media types that will engage the prospect throughout the buying cycle. They also have to make sure they align all supporting elements – such as landing pages and campaigns – with their content.

Many vendors have autonomous search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) organizations that are not linked to corporate or product marketing divisions. Companies need to bridge that gap if they’re going to feed IT buyers the type of content they’re seeking. It’s not sufficient to line up organic keywords to attract the IT buyer stage by stage – marketers need to complement this activity with the content assets they feature in their campaigns and the media types they sponsor.

For example, buyers who are close to making a decision want to see case studies and comparisons against the competition. While the SEO and SEM groups set up keywords that support this, marketers should build campaigns around that type of content. Companies need to direct these prospects to a page that compares their solution to the entire competitive set.

Also, software companies should offer trial downloads, since IT buyers are highly interested in them as they get closer to a decision. In fact, if an IT buyer has a positive experience with a trial download of a lower-priced offering, they’ll typically buy the software within 24 hours. Marketers that use keywords to direct prospects to trial download on their site or our site should send them to the right page or make their telemarketing group aware of the offer so that they can close in.

While we are providing valuable information about what IT buyers are looking for, it can be overwhelming for marketers to try to address all these content needs. Resource-constrained marketers can sponsor our expert editorial content, which we publish as eBooks that offer in-depth, insightful coverage of tech-specific topics.

Q. Your 2008 Media Consumption Report: Perception Versus Reality of the IT Pros and IT Marketers highlighted gaps between IT buyers’ expectations and what IT marketers deliver. What are some recommendations for how marketers can close that gap?

A. For the past few years, we’ve consistently seen this gap exists, though it is slowly closing. IT buyers can’t get enough of anything offered via Web 2.0 – such as virtual tradeshows, videocasts, trial software, wikis, blogs, etc. Marketers need to supplement traditional media with these types of assets to keep prospects engaged.


Part 2 of Q&A with Marilou Barsam of TechTarget, a Top B2B Advertising Venue

techtarget-logoIn part 1 of this 3-part interview, Marilou Barsam — Senior Vice President, Client Services and Corporate Marketing for TechTarget — offered insights into the ways technology marketers can take advantage of TechTarget’s offerings. Here she shares details of the services and information that TechTarget delivers to its clients.

Q. What are examples of success that B2B advertisers have had with your lead generation and branding programs?

A. Our clients have found that they can achieve success with both lead generation and branding by running an integrated program that spans online, editorial, and event sponsorship, along with content distribution across our network. We feature a number of case studies on our site that illustrate these successes.

Q. What services do you provide to help clients achieve this success?

A. We offer a combination of reporting, analysis, and interpretation to guide our clients’ understanding of their campaign’s performance. We start by distributing standard lead reports every week. If a client wants early-stage leads, they can take advantage of our fast-pass registration that enables them to generate leads without applying filters. If a client wants leads that fit a certain criteria – for example, “how did the reader answer my registration questions?” – our client consultants can work with the marketer to develop custom registration questions. This enables marketers to analyze respondents’ responses and better determine where they are in the buying cycle.

By tracking performance across various media, and analyzing which content and subjects pull the best and why, we are able to provide insight into a marketer’s overall effectiveness. We also review their integrated campaigns at various stages and recommend modifications to their program that should help improve results. Our clients find this incredibly useful in understanding what does and doesn’t work online.

Companies that are disciplined about tracking leads from TechTarget can take steps that accelerate the sales cycle. For example, if they see that certain leads are more active or engaged than others – for example, downloading lots of white papers, attending numerous webinars, and listening to podcasts – they can isolate those leads and treat them preferentially.

Q. What common lessons do your clients learn in the course of working with TechTarget?

A. Companies are realizing that they should never give up on a lead that is attracted to the content they’re providing. One of our clients didn’t consider a lead from us to be qualified. The lead had downloaded lots of content but had indicated in the registration that he or she wasn’t ready to pick a vendor and make a purchase. Instead of giving up on the lead, the client entered it into its closed-loop nurturing program. After three to four months, the lead was further along in the buying process but still not sales qualified. So the client passed it over to telemarketing. Telemarketing followed up for 2-3 months. After a total of 7 months, the company made the sale.

The key takeaway is that companies need to treat all leads with dignity relative to where they are in the buying process. The days are gone when marketers can cast a wide net and toss the catch over to sales, treating each lead equally. Most companies will go to great lengths to figure out how to cluster their leads based on their buying-readiness, and then “work them” accordingly. Their ultimate goal is to figure out which leads are most qualified and, fortunately for us, our clients find that a high percentage of our leads are strong, “ready-to-buy” leads.

Q. What type of information do you provide that helps advertisers prioritize and nurture leads?

A. In addition to the reporting and analysis we provide, our lead nurturing program is extremely valuable to marketers without the infrastructure to manage this on their own. Our proprietary algorithms enable us to determine a lead’s engagement level. And our proprietary re-messaging process helps our clients treat the most promising leads in a preferential manner.

We can spot highly engaged prospects based on insights into the content that they are accessing. This enables us to suggest other relevant content from the same vendor. We work with our clients to make sure the content we suggest will pull the lead further downstream. We might start presenting content that is more focused on competitive positioning or we might suggest content in another media type. For example, if we see that the prospect has responded to generic educational white papers, we will then introduce solution-specific webcasts or a podcast series. This helps the prospect establish benchmarks of criteria for the solution set and starts creating a bias in their minds toward the particular vendor-sponsor.


Part 3 of Q&A with Marilou Barsam of TechTarget, a Top B2B Advertising Venue 

techtarget-logoIn part 1 of this interview, Marilou Barsam — Senior Vice President, Client Services and Corporate Marketing for TechTarget — offered insights into the ways technology marketers can take advantage of TechTarget’s offerings. In part 2, she shared details of the services and information that TechTarget delivers to its clients. In this final installment, she explains how marketers can keep pace with best practices and shares pricing for white paper campaigns on TechTarget.

Q. Your latest report found that “During the early stages of their buying process, IT buyers turn to eBooks, emails and editorial articles to help them solve problems.” Do you see an opportunity for eBooks to be promoted via TechTarget?

A. IT buyers are demanding when it comes to getting “expert” and “third-party” objective information. Editorial content and peer opinions always top their lists of what influences their buying decisions. As a result we find that repurposing our independent editor-authored content into eBooks is a very productive exercise for us and our customers. IT buyers will naturally download these resources for their objectivity – whether they are sponsored or not.

Vendors can sponsor our eBooks, and associate themselves with relevant technology-specific topics. The association alone will help their brands and also attract qualified leads. However, they should also offer their own content so that their prospects can get a strong sense of the vendor’s grasp of issues and how the company’s offering can help address them. If content is focused on the right issues by buying stage, buyers will consume it.

Q. In addition to leveraging the Online Marketing Best Practices resources you offer, how else can B2B marketers keep pace with the latest recommendations?

A. Marketers should check out our My Educated Guess blog and our For Marketers Resource page. They can also attend free webinars, and sign up for bi-annual Online ROI Summits and workshops that aggregate our findings and suggested best practices.

Many of our larger clients subscribe to Strategic Oxygen – a proprietary intelligent search engine and strategic planning tool that helps IT/B2B marketers and ad agencies figure out idiosyncrasies of their target audience. We recently produced a videocast with them. Strategic Oxygen conducts research on IT buying habits and preferences and compiles the information in its “INE” search engine. Subscribers can see which topics, media types, and messages resonate with these audiences. With these insights, marketers can develop a formalized content strategy. This tool is a valuable complement to our offerings.

Q. How many white paper downloads did you deliver in 2008?

A. 1.6 million across our entire network. We expect to deliver 2 million in 2009.

Q. What is the price to deliver a single white paper across your network?

A. The standard package starts around $9,000, which covers three white papers for three months.

Q. What is the price for an integrated white paper campaign?

A. TargetROI – which was one of the first programs in the industry to offer lead guarantees – costs anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000. Vendors can use this to promote anything they choose, whether a white paper, webcast, podcast, or virtual show. When a vendor signs up for this program, we project the number of prospects that will be attracted during the campaign and guarantee the vendor will receive that many leads.

Q. What’s the best way for B2B marketers to take advantage of TechTarget’s offerings?

A. Marketers can choose from online, editorial, and event sponsorships, along with opportunities to distribute their own content across our network of more than 60 websites. Today they can reach more than 7.5 million registered members through these venues.

Once marketers explore our sites, they should contact our salespeople. Our sales folks will consult with the marketer to understand the company’s marketing goals and then recommend the best options and sites for promotion and visibility.