With the Web garnering a growing share of b-to-b advertising dollars, business publishers and their marketing clients are striving to create more sophisticated advertising units that provide a much richer user experience.
“It's the consumerization of b-to-b advertising,” said Matthew Yorke, senior VP-corporate sales and marketing for technology publisher IDG Communications. “B-to-b users are also consumers, and you want to capture people's imagination and break through the clutter in a business environment.”
IDG will soon be rolling out a new online campaign for a major technology company featuring a “Chatterbox” advertising unit. Yorke would not name the client.
The Chatterbox, which Yorke said was inspired by the online ad campaign for the movie “A Mighty Heart,” starring Angelina Jolie, is an online ad unit that allows users to drill down into product specifics and also connect—or chat—with peers about the products.
Yorke said the format enables visitors to “obtain what they want in the site rather than being redirected, saving them time and avoiding frustration.”
Compared with even two years ago, b-to-b publishers are now taking a much more consultative approach to their clients' advertising needs. The challenge is fusing myriad ad elements into one cohesive message.
“The biggest challenge for most publishers is bridging brand and direct response initiatives,” said Jeff Lanctot, senior VP of Avenue A|Razorfish, one of the biggest buyers of online media. “Too often publishers put them in silos and are not tying the two together to build awareness and provide a call to action.”
Still, Lanctot added, “The Web publishing community and sales teams have matured immensely. We don't get the hard sale anymore.”
Scott Berg, worldwide media director at HP, said: “B-to-b publishers are developing more digital programs where we'll be able to provide specific content that provides more value to business owners versus running banner ads.”
HP, which has bumped its online ad budget to 42% of overall media spending, up from 36% in 2007, is gearing up for another “run-of-sites” ad campaign with IDG that will showcase its products and services for IDG's various IT audiences.
Novell Inc. is running a growing number of integrated marketing units (IMUs) to plug its SUSE Linux Enterprise software on Web sites affiliated with IDG, TechTarget and United Business Media.
The video units “bring Novell messages and storytelling to life in a way static messages cannot do,” said Phil Juliano, the company's VP-global brand management and corporate communications. “They're like TV ads but can be longer than a traditional 30-second spot. They can also be expensive.”
So far, the returns have been encouraging. Click-through rates for Novell's IMUs are 25% to 50% higher compared with a static online ad, Juliano said, adding that Novell has bumped its online ad budget to 50% of overall media spending from 20% three years ago.
Juliano said publishers are doing a much better job these days of crafting online campaigns. “Three, four, five years ago there was a lot of arm-waving with making online advertising innovative,” he said. “Today, it's really happening.”
While banner ads are still used in significant numbers, they seem to be losing their luster. “They're still a staple of most online schedules, but I don't think they're effective,” said David Rowe, VP-media director of b-to-b ad agency Doremus, whose clients include SonicWALL, Tektronix and TSMC.
On behalf of Saba Software, Doremus has created “expanding banner ads.” When a user rolls a mouse over the IMU ad, it doubles in size without the user having to click on it, Rowe said, adding that 20% of users will inquire about an IMU compared with less than 1% that will click on banner ads.
Video, of course, is becoming an increasingly crucial element in online advertising. CIT's “Behind the Business” advertising campaign, for instance, features online-video interviews with corporate executives. The campaign has run on portfolio.com and wired.com, among other Web sites.
“There is no waste,” said Dan Ingram, VP-director of brand marketing at CIT. “It's the most efficient use of budget dollars because [the video] is not being delivered to people outside our target.”
Publishers are also moving quickly to take advantage of Web 2.0 community features.
“As we officially move from "read-only' on the Internet to "read-write' among users, there's an opportunity for marketers to become part of the conversation that [read-only] didn't provide for,” said Tony Uphoff, CEO of TechWeb, one of four new divisions resulting from United Business Media's recent restructuring. “As we shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, there's also a shift in how companies price and value the audience.”
Traffic on TechWeb's blogs, including David Berlind's blog, Over the Air, Startup City and Wolfe's Den, rose 400% in January from a year earlier.
Sandra Lopez, business integrated marketing manager for Intel Corp., stressed that the company is increasingly looking for media partners that can provide online vehicles that allow it to “engage our audience in a continuous dialogue.” In the fourth quarter, for example, Intel distributed its marketing messages throughout CNET.com, including blogs and reader forums. M