For three years running, Forrester has teamed with MarketingProfs to survey B2B marketers (in various industries and at different sized firms) to track marketing mix and budget trends. Reviewing the prior survey's results published in April 2009, I expected that the economy — and burgeoning interest in social media — would accelerate the shift toward digital channels throughout 2009 to an unprecedented degree.

Reviewing this year's survey results I was surprised that, while B2B marketers experimented enthusiastically with social networking sites (Facebook, LinkedIn) and microblogging (Twitter), social media have yet to create budgetary or business impacts on the marketing mix. (Note: this research looks at firms of 50 employees or more only. The data set includes results from smaller firms as well. Tim Harmon will likely publish on this data.) In fact, most digital media fair equally, and unremarkably, poorly on the list of "what works?" in the marketing mix.

Two of my recently published Forrester reports take a deeper look at marketing mix effectiveness and program spending trends. Here are some of the more interesting things found in the January, 2010 survey:

1) Social media became the hot new marketing tool. Penetrating even the most conservative marketing organizations, social networking, microblogging, and blog publishing made an impression on the B2B marketing mix in 2009. Looking at social networking sites, we found two-thirds of B2B marketers (68%) set up group pages on social networking sites in 2009 as part of their campaign efforts. More than half of respondents (55%) said they use Twitter for marketing purposes. Almost half (49%) employ corporate blogging, a number much higher than the 32% who embraced this digital medium in 2008. But remember, these statistics are about popular use, not about what works and what doesn't.

2) Email, search marketing, and inside sales worked best for awareness and demand generation. Summarizing the questions and calls I get from clients, you would think social media presents B2B marketers with tremendous new marketing opportunities. Not so. When rating these tactics on effectiveness, on average, fewer than one in five of marketers who use social media says it is highly effective for branding and lead generation. What does work? Email, search marketing, and inside sales were the only tactics to show steady upward trends for both branding and demand generation since 2007. With the company Web site, these four items are the parts of the mix that B2B marketers MUST get right before venturing into social waters. If you are operating at top effectiveness with these four basics, then forget tinkering with social media for now.

3) B2B marketers clung to unimaginative spending habits. Instead of taking the digital plunge, most respondents hedged their bets in 2009 and simply cut spending across all the tactics they used. Marketing budget allocations for 2009 looked identical to 2008, with marketers spending less on trade shows, for example, by attending fewer of them. Yet physical events continued to gobble up an average of 20% of program spending. Sticking with old patterns, B2B marketers spent an average of between 10% and 13% of campaign budgets on traditional tactics like print ads, executive events, direct mail, and PR, while fully admitting these tactics did not help increase awareness or generate demand as much as they would have liked.

So what does all of this mean? That now is the time to rethink the marketing mix and take some bigger risks when allocating marketing dollars online. While digital and social media will not eclipse conventional outbound communications anytime soon, marketers can no longer ignore the fundamental change that customers' working online has had on marketing strategy and campaign spending. To keep pace with the digital transformation, B2B marketers must shift from designing outbound campaigns to fostering community interactions. 

You can read more about this in the new research that continues to chart the progress of the B2B marketing mix. Or you can attend the MarketingProfs Business-to-Business Forum, May 3 through 5, 2010, in Boston, MA, were Forrester will jointly present more on this topic.

In the meantime, let me know what steps you have taken to embrace social media and community marketing in your 2010 plans, and if you see any different results.