Let’s face it, life is about priorities. There’s never enough time, money, or resources for everything. Consequently, we must prioritize. Doing so forces us to choose between what we want and what we actually need.

And marketers are anything but exempt from such choices.

When times are good—and we have a bit more money to work with—we can be creative and try some new things. But when times get tough and we need to tighten our belts, we’re often forced to determine what initiatives we can’t live without. And posthaste.

Setting priorities. So with all the buzz about a softening U.S. economy, are your marketing priorities clear for 2008? If not, you may find the results of a new B2B study of interest.

Published in February by Forrester Research, the B2B CMO Investment Priorities For 2008 study sought to identify how B2B marketing executives plan to allocate their budgets for the coming year. Stemming from interviews with 32 marketing executives at companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, and Symantec, the study offers marketers important insights. Let me give you the top line on a few of the findings, and provide you with my take on each.

Web spend forecast. The study reveals that 84 percent of respondents intend to bolster their Web marketing efforts this year. And based on what I’ve seen with most of my B2B clients, I think these executives are right on track. I will spare you my normal song and dance as to the benefits of expanding your online marketing initiatives, but suffice it to say that search continues to grow and you would be well served to continue to increase your investment in this area. With new offerings such as blended search, marketers need to think about leveraging their digital assets—videos, press releases, images, blogs—to connect with their audience.

Vertical focus is key. The study also shows that the majority (56%) of B2B marketers plan to focus on specific verticals. This is good news. I see this as a positive movement for this crowd, as B2B marketing efforts have historically been generic and tend to use one message and one voice. I have seen many B2B clients fare well by developing specific keyword and content strategies to target the needs of a certain vertical. However, while this strategy can be effective, I would caution you about making this type of a campaign part of your foundation. Instead, it should be secondary. First you need to develop your basics.

Cross-channel consistency. The majority of respondents of the study (53%) identified customer experience across multiple channels as a priority. This finding speaks to the need for consistency. And I couldn’t agree more. Yet I find that many marketers continue to speak to their customers and prospects in very different voices via different channels. This is a mistake. While I am not saying that your message needs to be exactly the same in each channel, I would encourage you to make certain that synergies exist between them in order to improve your overall brand experience and develop a deeper and more consistent relationship with customers.

Better customer data. Finally, half of the marketing executives in the study expressed a desire for better customer data. Frankly, I was surprised by this number; I expected it to be much higher. I think if B2B marketers were honest with themselves, nine out of ten would admit they need significant improvement on this front. From my experience, I have found that most B2B clients lack good and actionable data. This reality is far from surprising considering the inherent challenges of B2B marketing, such as the relationship between offline and online, and a very long sales cycle. These factors can make tracking what is working a chore. Overall, improved customer data should be a top priority for B2B marketers since there are so many disconnects and opportunities for data to get lost along the way.

Hard times ahead? How do your B2B marketing priorities stack up with the above? Whether or not they’re in alignment, I wanted to make note of one thing. The study was conducted in the third quarter of 2007, before the US economy started to show any signs of weakness. Obviously, things have changed since then. And while we might not want to admit it, we need to be realistic—the threat of a recession is very real. Given that, it couldn’t hurt to re-examine your marketing priorities.

Don’t neglect regular exercise. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it’s time to run for the hills and hide your entire marketing budget under your mattress. Rather, I’m merely suggesting that you give careful consideration to which initiatives are most vital to your overall success.

The key, however, is to do it now.

Don’t wait for hard choices to be foisted upon you by economic uncertainty. You can thwart the situation entirely by regularly performing a simple exercise. Take the time to periodically identify what new campaigns you would start and/or increase investment in given a budget increase, and which programs you would cut or reduce if necessary. The insight gained from this straightforward task will not only help you understand what’s working and what isn’t, but it could also prove invaluable when hard times hit and you need to act fast.

Overall, marketing is like everything else in life; it’s about priorities. And it’s just as true in times of great prosperity where it is easy to get distracted by spreading yourself too thin, as it is during hard times. Smart marketers will take the time to gain clarity about their initiatives so they can accurately prioritize them. Doing so will make those hard choices a lot easier.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: B2B Search Marketing Column | Channel: Search Marketing

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About The Author: is managing director of search engine marketing firm iProspect in San Francisco, and can be reached at b.kaminski@iprospect.com. The Strictly Business column appears Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

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