We had a great turnout at Monday's inaugural networking event for online marketeers, which we rather unimaginatively called Beyond SEM. What struck me was the openness with which the 8 presenting companies shared their good and bad experiences with different online marketing techniques. With 45 people in rather cramped surroundings, good networking was inevitable!
The most exciting categories of online businesses were represented: fashion eCommerce (Koodos, BuyVIP, Inspirational Stores), mass customisation/ crowdsourcing (Spreadshirt, MOO, Glasses Direct, Crowdstorm), other e-tailing (Warehouse Express, Swoopo, Astley Clarke), ticketing (Seatwave), travel (isango, dealchecker), entertainment (LoveFilm, GameDuell, WeeWorld), online marketplaces (Price Minister), consumer services (MyDeco, moveme.com, RatedPeople, Qype, Zoopla, Wonga), and enterprise SaaS/services companies like KDS, NTRglobal, FRSglobal, TradingPartners, Fizzback, eCourier and ShipServ.
The evening also confirmed our thesis that -- even among B2C Internet companies -- there is a wide range of experience and sophistication with online customer acquisition tools: from managing hundreds of thousands of keywords in SEM campaigns, to experimenting with Facebook widgets, to scalably generating good quality content to drive SEO traffic.
I can't share the slide-decks with you, but here is a sample of the range of methods tried by participants and their variable outcomes:
The challenges all these companies face are similar:
- Declining effectiveness of traditional lead gen
- Dependence on Google
- Too much data, not enough proven ROIs
- Proliferation of new media
- So many levers – from keyword pricing to post-click optimisation
I think it's crucial for European marketing professionals to exchange ideas more freely so that we can accelerate learning and avoid re-inventing the wheel as often as possible. This is particularly important for those companies competing globally, since they face competition from US Internet companies that are often (though not always) ahead of the game.
My original plan was to get some Internet companies over from the US, in order to share practices from both sides of the pond. That didn't work out this time, but is something we will work on for future events.
We also learned that it's difficult to combine B2B and B2C in the same event, even if the front-end of customer acquisition (online marketing) is similar. I have no doubt that our B2B companies learned from the hard-core consumer-focused marketeers, but the lessons going the other way were far fewer. This may reflect where the B2C companies are in terms of their market lifecycle -- most remain focused mainly on customer acquisition and less on retention and the consumer equivalent of account management. The exceptions to this were the larger businesses like LoveFilm and Warehouse Express, who have made an impressive science out of nurturing consumer accounts over the long-term.
A big thanks both to the VCs who sponsored the event, opened their portfolios and encouraged their companies to participate (Accel, Advent, Atlas, DFJ Esprit, Wellington) and to the battle-hardened experts who joined the discussion: Robin Klein, William Reeve, Michael Ross and Jamie Jaggard.
What next for this forum? There was fairly universal agreement that it's worth running something like this on a more regular basis. The event really only scratched the surface of the many questions raised:
- How do we use widgets and other means to drive profitable traffic from social media?
- How do we 'industrialise' the creation of content that drives SEO traffic so that this activity scales better?
- How do we reduce the time and effort it takes to build an effective, scalable affiliate programme?
- How do we combine offline and online campaigns in a measurable, effective way?
- How do we apply lead gen methods like affiliate networks and social media marketing in a B2B context?
- What is the best way to link email marketing with web analytics to get a 360o view of the consumer every time he visits?
Over the coming weeks we'll cook up ideas about tackling these questions in more focused events so that we can bring this crew together again. Do send me your suggestions, ideas, quibbles. And I promise we'll increase the square footage per head to enable more expansive thinking!