New Approaches in a Changed Business Climate

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When the terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, they wanted not simply to kill as many Americans as possible, but also to strike at the underpinnings of our economy and the free exchange of ideas.


Look at the targets. The World Trade Center and the Pentagon clearly were chosen because of their importance as financial and military symbols. In striking at these symbols, the terrorists sought to attack the ease and economy with which we can move across the country and around the world on commercial airliners, which is an important aspect of our marketing dynamism.


Inexpensive and secure air travel makes it possible for companies to leverage a relatively small sales force by sending their best people to chase sales opportunities wherever they exist without having to tie up costs in maintaining sales staff in every metropolitan area. Companies will have to shift some of their emphasis away from personal selling and toward other communications methods. But many of these methods are under attack as well.


The anthrax attacks that followed soon after Sept. 11 were even more directly targeted at the exchange of ideas. The primary targets of the attacks were several major media companies. The goal of the mailings was twofold -- to foster a bunker mentality in the news media to inhibit them from seeking out information and to attack the mail delivery system. Despite the advent of the Internet and other important media innovations that preceded it, mail is still probably our most important information delivery vehicle.


Effect on BTB marketing. The effect on BTB marketing cannot be determined yet with any precision. If the terrorists are defeated soon, we may be able to return fairly quickly to something that resembles the previous situation. If we assume, as President Bush has warned, that the battle will be long and difficult, then the effect on marketing could be very great.


Already, security checks and scheduling cutbacks have increased the amount of time business travelers spend to reach a given destination. Some employees are resisting air travel. The most recent figures show that air traffic remains down more than 25 percent over year-ago levels. If these trends continue, marketers will have to rely less on personal selling and will have to find other avenues to get their message across to potential prospects.


But other methods of communicating with prospects are also under attack. Direct mail and trade journal advertising are probably the two largest avenues for promoting BTB products outside of personal selling.


Anecdotal evidence shows that direct marketing slowed dramatically in the midst of the anthrax attacks. The percentage of respondents who actually opened BTB direct mail was low to begin with.


After the attacks, the expectation was that many security-conscious companies might immediately discard direct mail offers so they could focus their attention on inspecting the mail that is personally addressed. Trade journals should not be affected nearly as much. They come from a known and trusted source and provide useful information rather than simply unknown marketing offers.


Marketing methods need to adjust. These challenges may require changes in the way that we communicate new ideas and new products to potential and existing customers. So far, the terrorists have focused on traditional media and marketing tools, and emerging Internet-based methods appear to be far less vulnerable. The Internet already has demonstrated its ability to serve as an information delivery method that is superior in most ways to traditional methods that rely on the mail system.


The problem is that until now the Internet has demonstrated considerable value in delivering information to those who sought it out but has been much less effective in reaching out to prospects who are not yet in search of information about a particular product.


As evidence, after an initial surge, paid advertising on the Internet has dropped drastically over the past year or two as companies that tried it went back to their usual methods such as trade journals. If the terrorists continue to effectively attack our information delivery systems, how can BTB marketers replace the prospecting tasks that until now have relied so heavily on airplanes and mail trucks?


Over time, the Internet has the potential to become a marketing tool that far exceeds the value of those systems that are now at risk. The key is that we must develop methods to attract Web browsers who are not seeking out information about our products, much in the way a trade journal ad or a direct mail piece catches the eye of someone who is actually looking for something entirely different.


One approach that is not too much of a departure is to continue to place articles in trade journals and rely on nearly every trade journal having a Web site that includes all or most of the content of its print version. There is every reason to believe that if trade journal readership falls because of problems with the mail system, BTB buyers will compensate by increasing their readership of the Web version in order not to miss the content that helps them do their jobs more effectively. If your article is in the print magazine you are covered either way.


Improving Web sites. Beyond that, we need to find new ways to drive Web browsers to our own sites. Clearly, the usual Web content -- about the company, product information and how to contact the company -- will do little to attract the browser who is not already seeking information on your firm. Attracting large numbers of prospects to your site will require developing the same type of useful content that already attracts readers by the millions to trade journals.


Trade journals have decades of experience in carefully measuring the readership and circulation of their publications. That is why they fill their pages with articles that provide useful technical information about a topic without a blatant product pitch, case histories written from a customer's point of view that explain how they solved a particular problem and articles taking a position on an industry topic.


As an example of how articles of this type can drive customers to your site, one that I wrote for a client about how a well-known architect uses a client's software attracted 300 page views per month from visitors who apparently found the article using search engines. Many of them used links on the page to obtain more information about the client's software package.


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