Is search engine marketing a tactical or strategic marketing tool? Yes.
Is search engine marketing transactional or relationship (branding)? Yes.
OK, the best answer is "All of the above".
B-to-B Search engine marketing is a fantastic way to generate leads for specific projects and business opportunities, and it acts as an ever-present branding tactic. SEM is both Tactical and Strategic... both goals can be applied to paid and organic search campaigns.
In effect, SEM can target and pull in leads for every stage of the buying decision process... attraction, features, benefits, solutions.
Webpages and Paid Search ads can target the potential customer across the entire buying process, including:
1. Getting their attention. Simple awareness. Uncovering a prospective client need. The prospect is thinking about thinking about buying.
"You have a problem" or "hey, we exist!", "We offer a product or service you are pondering or considering" etc.
2. Researching options. Competitive research. The Prospect is thinking about buying.
"How our product or service, and features and benefits, meet your needs", "why our offerings are better for you than alternatives" etc.
3. First Contact. Getting the lead, or inducing a call-to-action. The prospect is going to buy from someone, it may as well be us.
"Solve your problem now", "We have a solution to your problem", "We offer that niche specialized product or service you are looking for" etc.
Understanding the market I am targeting and the issues they face, for which my company can provide help and services is key to how I approach the use of webpages, search terms, campaigns and ad filters.
Since people search in a huge variety of ways, a particular search term used in a campaign may be attracting people who come from many or even all phases of lead generation development... from those just beginning to search and those about ready to make a decision to contact a business.
To accommodate these different visitors who have different agendas, a landing page must be focused but also have a little something for everyone who visits the page.... appropriate content with links to 'learn more' related pages, a call-to-action, and a look and feel which invites the visitor to stay in the site and explore - - or better yet - - contact you, no matter what stage of the process they are in.
An intelligent and aggressive approach to organic and paid search engine marketing allows both tactical and strategic marketing.
Thus, transactional marketing campaigns that target niche services, products, markets, fragmented markets and micro markets are very effective and profitable.
For building reputation, awareness and branding, creating more branding focused campaigns to promote and support broad and key brand name related searches is helpful. Web analytics can help measure the quality and performance of such campaigns.
Targeting the customer awareness, research, competitive comparisons and call-to-action phases of the potential customer base will power greater lead generation to feed the B-to-B sales funnel. Webpages that "sell" in professional way help throughout the entire lead gen process.
Just like a top performing sales representative, a B-toB website should be able to conduct consultative selling along every customer decision phase, in order to engage and keep the quality visitor, and encourage them to take the logical step of contacting your company to buy/investigate your goods and services.
Best Regards; Erik Holladay