The Evolving BTB Online ToolkitEach of these online tools has unique properties and strengths and, when woven together, work very effectively as linked components in an integrated marketing program.
How BTB is unique. One key element to consider when building effective marketing programs is that online marketers in the BTB space need to recognize the importance of contextual marketing - being sensitive to the user's work environment by placing messages in contextually relevant places to the target audience.
Unlike the business-to-consumer arena, "for-work" Web users tend to be focused and task-oriented in surfing activities. Business users generally have a specific task to complete or specific information to gather. Thus, the potential for a favorable response to marketing messages increases when the messages offer relevant information about products and services that will help with a task at hand.
Another unique aspect of BTB online marketing is the result of a more complex and extended nature of the purchase-decision process. For example, a multiplicity of specifiers, influencers and decision-makers is typical in the BTB arena.
Banner ads. Because of their flexibility, banner ads long have been the workhorses of Web advertising and have served as useful branding tools in BTB online marketing programs.
Banner ads remain the dominant form of online advertising, but the way they are used has changed dramatically. In the early days of the Web, advertisers typically thought of banners as interactive billboards on the information superhighway. The idea was that banners would be viewed by whatever anonymous Web surfers might pass by, and hopefully the surfers would click through. Even as banners become more creative, including animation and rich media, they remain designed for a mass audience. Just recently, banner ads have been growing in size and are being placed in alternative locations, much like the CNET 360 by 300 flash ad placed within news articles.
As we carefully watch online advertising accommodate new banner ad sizes, two factors have helped enable BTB marketers not only use the banner in a much more sophisticated way, but also take advantage of the Web's power to deliver highly targeted messages: advances in the use of cookie-based information stored on Web-user hard drives, and the opportunities offered by online publishers to place banners next to more targeted and relevant editorial content.
Improved targeting is allowing marketers to unleash powerful vertical branding programs (positioning a brand extremely relevant to a particular industry or vertical). These programs interweave targeted banner ads with offline marketing programs that typically deliver broader-stroke messages. For example, a growing number of BTB marketers now use banner ads to deliver highly targeted messages that offer a clear solution to the unique business challenges facing that target segment.
New cookie technology, combined with IP addresses, can identify both customers and prospects, and then deliver a customized interactive tool that offers multiple action opportunities. The design of these "evolved" banners is most similar to a panel with customized function tabs, giving the user access to online brochure ware and product information as well as the capability to bring access to a company's account information to the user desktop.
Micro-sites. As the name implies, a micro-site is a focused Web environment that uses a limited number of Web pages to create a comfortable, tailored, easily navigable experience for visitors. Trade publishers often will help marketers create these useful online marketing tools.
Take the example of a business user who is visiting a trade publication Web site to gather information about pollution-control equipment and who comes across a banner ad from a vendor offering additional information related to the search that the visitor is performing. When the user clicks on the banner, the link connects to a targeted micro-site that offers links to white papers, case studies and other information sources that are likely to be of interest and use to the visitor.
Instead of interrupting users' work with a sales pitch, the contextual bridge provided by the link to a micro-site can help prospects continue their tasks - and add value to them.
Micro-sites also have been used in connection with trade show activities, including driving booth traffic and attracting prospects, pre-show and post-show.
Measurement approaches commonly used to evaluate micro-sites differ greatly from those that might be applied to banners. The data gathered by the marketer might include the number of visitors to the micro-site, which pages were read most frequently, where visitors came from, where they went when they left the micro-site, how much time visitors spent on the micro-site and how often they returned.
E-mail, newsletters and permission-based lists. E-mail newsletters and permission-based lists also are proving increasingly popular tools for BTB marketers as both branding and direct response vehicles.
When choosing e-mail newsletters as an advertising medium, BTB marketers should look for ways to tie into the valuable content that the newsletters bring to their readers. A newsletter's audience has decided that the content is valuable enough to opt in to receive the publication. Therefore, the marketing messages and links placed within an e-mail newsletter will be appearing in a content-rich environment.
Given that an e-mail newsletter is being read for its content, a marketer might want to ensure that the copy of any ad is in tune with the copy that is in the newsletter. Offers that involve useful content - such as white papers, product demos, case studies, free consulting or seminars and research information - are likely to be well received. With an audience that already is in an information-gathering mode, it will be natural for them to click on the marketer's ad because it will come across as an extension of what they are already doing.
In contrast to e-mail newsletters, where publishers provide the content that surrounds the marketers' messages, permission-based e-mail lists give marketers full control of the information that is sent out. And, in contrast to BTC permission-based e-mail, BTB e-mail lists provide marketers with far more detailed data such as industry segment, company size, job function/title, size of budget and role in purchase processes.
There are two types of BTB permission-based e-mail lists.
One type comes from traditional list publishers. E-mails sent via these list providers offer a "from" line with the publisher's name and bring the advertiser a valuable association with the trusted publishing brand. In some cases, the beginning of the e-mail may even include an introduction from the publisher along the lines of, "The following information is from one of our industry advertisers."
The other list type, from e-mail marketing services companies, features the marketer's company name in the from line.
In both types of permission e-mail, the subject line of the e-mail is crucial in the effectiveness of the campaign, which can be evaluated through several brand awareness assessments and lead conversions.
Directories. Online directories, such as buyers' guides, provide access to a particularly prime audience - customers who are ready to make a purchase. Visitors to directories have progressed beyond the initial stages of purchase-decision research. They represent a prime audience to which marketers want to showcase their products and services.
With this in mind, the marketing messages - often called listings - that are placed in directories tend to be more effective when they offer visitors access to specific information, such as details about the types of products and services offered, product specifications, contact information and other specific company information.
Typical marketing options available in online directories include a basic listing that provides a link to the marketer's Web site, an enhanced listing that provides a more robust presence in the directory and a storefront or micro-site that gives the marketer even more of an opportunity to provide information to ready-to-buy prospects.
Because visitors to directories are primed to buy, any lead obtained from such a source tends to be a good prospect.
Custom content sponsorships. Custom content sponsorships represent a more exclusive placement of a marketing message within an online content area. This might involve prominent placement of the marketer's logo or Web real estate in which the marketer can place content or marketing messages.
Online custom content sponsorships represent a rapidly evolving model. Publishers are willing to work with marketers to create online advertorials. This marketing application is only now beginning to gain popularity.
Because they are primarily focused on using the value of surrounding editorial to help establish brand and increase brand awareness, the effectiveness of custom content sponsorship initiatives is most appropriately measured via brand awareness studies that track the benefits gained by associating the marketer's brand with the publisher's trusted brand and content.