BTB Marketing: Self-Selection Not Profiling

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Ever since author William Gibson used the term "cyberspace" in his 1984 novel "Neuromancer," the word has come to describe everything from information to activity that exists within the Internet and computer world.


As the Internet grows and evolves into a formidable business tool, it is apparent that one word cannot describe all the activity in such an emerging medium.


In fact, experience reveals that we don't live in one large Internet world at all, but in several smaller settings. The most obvious example is a "for-work" Internet world and a "for-recreation" Internet world; in e-commerce slang, a business-to-business world and a business-to-consumer world.


One of today's most sizzling issues - how marketers find out about the people who use the Internet and where to go to reach them - uncovers a significant difference between the two worlds.


In the BTC setting, many consumers are on the Internet for recreation. They are online on their own time for relaxation, entertainment or personal reasons, not to think about buying or using a product or service relating to their work life.


In this world, profiling has been the name of the game - find out who uses which sites, how frequently they visit and, as a result, the self-interests that drive behavior and purchasing. Many consumers aren't aware that information is being gathered about them, and relatively few people voluntarily hand out personal demographic information while they are in the for-recreation world.


In the BTB world, however, people are on the Internet in for-work mode. In this setting, individuals browse and search generally for specific business-related purposes - researching, information gathering, pricing, bidding, etc.


In BTB, self-selection is the big player. People are willing to trade personal data, such as name, business address, phone number and e-mail, for information that is relevant to their business or industry. The key here is people voluntarily hand over personal work-related information, which helps determine behavior based on self-interests.


The nature of the BTB world, coupled with the self-selection process, makes targeted online marketing and advertising extremely valuable and far less intrusive. People are already on the Internet for a specific reason in the for-work world, and many of them willingly give out information about their business life.


Once information is gathered, reaching individuals with targeted messages becomes the next issue.


Based on the self-selection process, BTB marketers can know exactly where people go for information, and as a result, they can send appropriate messages that actually help the business professional.


A 1998 survey of business decision makers by Cahners Advertising Research revealed that 66 percent of all buyers and specifiers are using the Web sites of specialized business publications. They use the sites an average of 2.4 times a week, and the study indicated that 45 percent of the respondents increased their use of business publication Web sites from the previous year.


The same report showed that 81 percent of the buyers and specifiers surveyed used a specialized business publication's Web site as their first link to a manufacturer's site.


These legacy publishers have been the key to information for their readers for many years before the Internet became a popular medium. They have built a relationship of trust with their audience, and their readers consider these publications a definitive source for related business information.


Most of these publications are now on the Web, and that relationship of trust has carried over into the online world. Many of these media properties have also learned to carry over a subscription-based model from the print world that requires users to exchange some type of demographic business information for valuable industry data.


More recently, e-hubs and vertical communities have surfaced as exchanges and information reservoirs about very specific, targeted industries. Business professionals use these locations in a similar way they use the Web sites of their specialized industry publication. These sites are also becoming the locations for increasingly complex e-commerce transactions.


Business professionals visit these places while they are in the for-work world, actively searching for the latest information, products, services or technology within their specific industry. This creates a prime place for BTB marketers and advertisers to reach a captive audience that is already looking for information.


Cahners also found that the stronger the bond between a publisher and its constituencies, the more seriously they take the advertising, making it more likely they will inquire or buy.


By targeting business professionals at the places they already go for information, marketers and advertisers reduce the risk of sending a message that doesn't speak to or, even worse, offends the targeted market. In fact, many of the messages sent via advertising or marketing in the BTB world can greatly help a business professional accomplish his or her purpose for being on the Internet. Best of all, the messages sent to a BTB audience are based on information the audience voluntarily offered while they were already searching on the Internet.


Targeted online advertising and marketing to an opt-in audience where they already go for information is a marketer's dream. That's why BTB e-commerce is predicted to become a trillion-dollar business in the near future.
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