Does user profiling, a mainstay of business-to-consumer Web site design, have a place on b-to-b sites? That's the question BlueStreak.com Inc. is asking.
Last month, the company introduced a technology it calls Radar, short for "real-time access to data, analysis and response." It is designed to track the efficacy of banner advertisements without the use of profiling.
Radar differs from tracking techniques used by such b-to-c stalwarts as DoubleClick Inc. and Engage Inc. because it does not seek out individuals.
Instead, Radar watches group responses to advertisements and uses aggregated data to tailor campaigns. If the first 500 visitors are more likely to click on a red advertisement with one offer rather than a blue advertisement with a second offer, the red one is used more frequently in future campaigns. Campaigns can also be tailored to reflect previous users' behavior based on any number of factors, including time of day, day of the week or current news events. And unlike traditional profiling, Radar obviates the need for cookies--software code placed on a user's machine through their Web browser to track their behavior on a particular site.
"What's interesting about BlueStreak is that it sets up a horse race between optimization and profiling in the b-to-b space," said Jim Nail, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. B-to-b Internet advertising is in its infancy, reaching just $410 million in 1999, Forrester estimates.
"Cookieless technology allows you to optimize where profile-based advertising can't work, such as a media buy where there's not a lot of historical data," said Lutz Hamel, VP-engineering at BlueStreak.
"Profiling b-to-b customers is not the answer," said Lex Sisney, CEO of the affiliate network Commission Junction. "You can know everything about a business buyer's past activity, but business buyers canchange overnight. My assignment one day could be to purchase accounting software, but by the next afternoon I could have moved on to human resources software. If you are profiling me, you'd still be serving me accounting ads."
Signaling Radar's success are companies like AT&T Corp. and Rodale Press. Both are testing such concepts as whether a serious business advertisement works best during the week while playful advertisements score better on weekends.
"We think Radar will apply effectively in b-to-b," said Creigh Gibson, marketing director for AT&T's international travel division, called AT&T Worldwide Traveler. "For one thing, the privacy issue in b-to-b is important. You don't want a lot of cookies on your PC. [Also,] on-the-fly tracking allows us to see in the real-time the advertising properties getting best results."
Though Radar is one of the first b-to-b advertising systems to eschew profiling, the consumer space is also seeing a rising wave of interest in cookieless advertisements.
But Dev Bhatia, CEO of HotSocket, one company that does cookieless profiling in the b-to-c space, questioned whether low-volume b-to-b advertisements are appropriate for the optimization technique, since traffic volumes on b-to-b sites are much lower, resulting in far less data to analyze.
"It doesn't take many customers to get a baseline, maybe a couple of thousand people," Bhatia said. "But the incremental gains in [campaign efficacy] are made when you adjust for more and more customers. If you are the 100,000th customer, the advertisement is going to be smarter. You don't often see that kind of traffic in b-to-b."
Evan Grossman, senior vice president of media strategy company Hook Media Inc., said b-to-b buyers should consider using profiling and optimization hand-in-hand.
"Cookies have as much a place in b-to-b as they do in b-to-c," declared the veteran of more than 40 b-to-b campaigns.