BtoB

E-marketplaces need to catch marketing bug

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As you read this, BtoB editors will be in Los Angeles, proudly presiding over our first conference. Held in conjunction with Net Market Makers' Ground Zero 4 show-the original and still be best gathering spot for the e-marketplace industry-the one-day event will focus on helping e-marketplaces, as well as the suppliers that use them, learn how to market in this wild and woolly new medium.

There will be more questions than answers, to be sure. E-marketplaces continue to change and evolve at a frenzied pace. And marketing issues have too often been an afterthought. For e-marketplaces, the major marketing problem has been selling something that the market, in hindsight, didn't really want.

Early Net markets focused on driving down prices, forcing suppliers onto this new channel and distintermediating some middlemen. It was a cocky message. E-marketplaces were certain they were the next big thing and could dictate the rules of the game.

It turned out that this message appealed to almost no one. Suppliers obviously were taken aback, infuriated that these upstarts would threaten to slice their margins and intrude on their customer relationships.

Interestingly, buyers also were slow to buy into these so-called benefits. Many companies had spent decades building preferred supplier relationships and cutting the very best deals possible. They didn't need help in those areas.

Perhaps most unfortunate, the bold marketing message caught the ire of the world's largest companies, who, in a brutal backlash, decided to build their own Net markets to dethrone the dot-com upstarts.

Count it as another Internet marketing morality tale, akin to the business-to-consumer dot-coms learning they can't spend their way to success with flashy but ultimately empty ad campaigns.

More interesting will be where e-marketplace marketing efforts turn next.

Smart Net markets will-among many other functions-emerge as industry b-to-b marketing hubs, becoming a critical channel for suppliers to reach their customers. They will aggregate their transaction and customer data to yield valuable insights never before available to b-to-b marketers. And they will fine-tune their own branding messages to tag themselves as a partner, rather than a threat, to those in the industry they serve.

Let the marketing begin.

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