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BMA adding customized Web features

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Last year, the Business Marketing Association began an in-house effort to update its Web site. But when the Chicago-based association started exploring its options, what also emerged was a chance to personalize the site’s content for each of its 3,000 members, an effort that begins this month.

"The more I thought about it, the more I thought it fit into our mission," said Rick Kean, BMA executive director. "Because we have all of this information. And not everybody has the time or the ability or the understanding of how to get to it. So we wanted something that enabled us to bring it to them."

Over the past five years, the BMA Web site (www.marketing.org) has become the association’s primary information-delivery vehicle, Kean said. But updating the site—which includes about 1,200 pages of material, such as white papers, studies, and BMA and industry news—required almost full-time maintenance. The BMA spent a lot of time screening outside candidates to function as its Webmaster,because updating the site required a knowledge of computer code.

Kean began considering a way for BMA staffers to update and maintain the Web site without having to learn computer programming skills. The association hired e-marketing services provider OMMGroup, Oak Brook, Ill., to help. The personalization effort was a byproduct of the update, which took a couple of months to complete.

Getting connected

With personalization, each member will retain access to all the information on the BMA Web site. "The issue is, how do you connect people with the right information that pertains to their individual situation, rather than having them sift through the Web site?" said OMMGroup President Mark Melin.

The way the BMA will do that is to filter its content differently for each user, and then present links to that filtered content on each member’s BMA portal page. Filtering factors include a member’s job description and member segment (such as client-side marketer, ad agency or supplier), their geographic location, and their membership and purchasing history. So an advertising agency executive based in San Francisco might log on and receive links to his or her local BMA chapter and to content on how to price agency services. The portal page for a client-side marketer in New York might highlight links to stories on how to prepare a marketing plan or on managing a PR budget, along with links to the BMA New York chapter.

Product pitches will also differ. Members who attended a recent BMA national conference, for example, will be reminded of the experience and encouraged to attend again. For those who did not attend, the site will sell the benefits of the conference a bit more.

Using OMMGroup software, BMA staffers will be able to update their Web site in-house. They will also use a control panel to steer personalization efforts, such as targeting messages and links relevant to different members. Kean expects updates to take his staff a couple of hours every day.

Likewise, the resources committed will have been reasonable. The BMA personalization effort incurred a set-up fee but no ongoing costs. Basic Web site personalization such as the BMA’s project costs from about $50,000 to $150,000, Melin said.

The program will not require hiring any new employees, nor did it require any new technology; the BMA will be able to run the application with Microsoft Office 2000, software it already had. The BMA will continue to work with the OMMGroup, however, to maintain and add to the program as it evolves, Kean said.

Besides saving the BMA time and providing a service for its members, Kean said the program is a good way to demonstrate personalization’s usefulness. "We have been talking for years about getting [members] involved in anything to do with Web sites," Kean said. "We see them as a marketing tool, not as an IT tool. So yes, we are trying to lead by example here, by saying: ‘Here, this is what you can do with this—and it ain’t hard.’"

BMA members have been notified of the personalization effort in the BMA’s bimonthly e-mail newsletter, but Kean doesn’t expect much feedback until members begin experiencing it firsthand.

At least one BMA member, Gary Slack, managing director of b-to-b marketing agency Slack Barshinger & Partners, Chicago, is looking forward to the change. Slack taps the BMA site for various uses, from downloading white papers to learning about and registering for conferences.

"The personalization effort will be a big plus for me, as I already go to the site for specific things," he said. "Now these areas of interest will be front and center on the BMA home page every time I log on. That’s very appealing, and it will save time and make the site even more valuable to me."

Slack suggested that the change was necessary, and that others should take note. "As Web sites become more vast and more comprehensive, users need more than just the traditional navigation bars," he said. "We need shortcuts that take us immediately to a page listing the half-dozen or dozen places that have the information we need most. This kind of personalization will be critical to increasing site traffic in the future. Sites that don’t offer some form of personalization may in fact see traffic decline."

As with any project, Web site personalization has its challenges. A "clean" database is a must, Melin said. "Personalization is only as good as the data that you have on a customer," he said. It helped that as an association, the BMA already had a single, comprehensive database of its members, he said.

Then there is software. Essentially all of OMMGroup’s technology is built on open code (commonly available and commonly used software), which will allow the BMA to add on to it easily.

User privacy can also be a sensitive issue, Melin said, but one that can usually be overcome by providing full disclosure as to how a client’s user profile will be used. Slack has no privacy concerns with the BMA effort, however. "I’m happy to directly or indirectly share information about my specific interests if I can save a few minutes getting to where I want to go faster," he said. "Frankly, I’d like Web site publishers to know a whole lot more about me, as that will make them cater even more to my needs and interests."

That is good news for Kean, who is hopeful that the effort will pay off. "It is a different association world out there today," he said. "People are demand-rich and time-poor. And while they may not have time to go to meetings and seminars anymore, they still have a need for information. So we just want to make it as easy as we can for them to get it."

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