Marketers struggling with Internet, survey reveals

Although Canadian businesses gather customer data with skill, only a small percentage of them are successfully converting that information into profits, according to a recent survey.

The Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) released the results of its second annual online marketing poll on Oct. 2, which studied how companies are – or aren’t – taking advantage of Web marketing techniques. It was conducted in conjunction with IBM Canada.

The CMA found that the vast majority of companies are actively gathering data about their customers. However, of those, 74 per cent are “just building” databases, and are not using the resulting data to boost their competitive footing. As well, 40 per cent admitted to being frustrated by an inability to measure the fruits of their marketing efforts.

“It’s a case where the Internet is still in its infancy. They still haven’t figured out their way around it yet,” said Ed Cartwright, a CMA spokesperson in Toronto.

Those numbers didn’t come as a surprise to Cartwright, however. He noted that although 60 per cent of Canadian companies have some sort of online presence, many of them tend to view the Web as one of many potential marketing channels.

But Cartwright said the CMA was puzzled by one finding in particular – namely, that 45 per cent of respondents point to internal politics as the biggest hurdle to clear when it comes to forging customer relationship strategies.

Cartwright said that could also be attributed to the Internet’s youthfulness. “(Managers) are asking, ‘Is the Web worth it, what’s the return on investment,'” he added. “It’s probably been a struggle for marketers.”

Marketing professionals also blamed a lack of skilled customer relationship management resources (42 per cent) and corporate funding (39 per cent) as additional challenges.

Respondents also displayed little in the way of innovative practices. Forty-six per cent of respondents use outbound e-mail campaigns as their chief marketing tool. That’s followed by banner ads at 38 per cent, and specially designed online tools, such as mortgage calculators, at 34 per cent.

CMA officials stressed that outbound does not include unsolicited e-mail, popularly known as spam, which is banned under that organization’s membership code.

But Cartwright noted that roughly one-third of those who responded to the survey were not CMA members, and thus are not obliged to follow the association’s code of ethics.

Laurie Dillon, report co-author and co-chair at IBM Canada’s interactive marketing and brand strategies practice in Toronto, said most of today’s innovative online customer initiatives are being crafted by marketers in the financial services industry. “(They’re) better at leveraging customer information. They also have deeper pockets,” she said.

Dillon points to the tough position today’s marketing professionals find themselves in for much of the reluctance around Internet-based customer strategies. “They’re under the crunch to justify their initiatives. There’s a sensitivity when something is new,” she said.

The CMA, which represents 800 of Canada’s largest companies that collectively generate more than $51 billion in annual sales, will use the information to help plan seminars and other educational opportunities for its members.