B-to-c advertisers were early adopters of the most eye-catching online technologies and formats, while b-to-b advertisers followed in their footsteps. That's changing, said David Blum, executive director of interactive services at interactive agency Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners. "One thing b-to-b has always suffered from is believing that they couldn't be as cool as b-to-c marketers," he said. "But now you see b-to-b advertisers looking at using the latest."
Here are a few online advertising trends that are making their way into the b-to-b world:
- Going where the consumers are. A few years ago you probably wouldn't see a b-to-b ad on a site that typically caters to consumers, but today as more advertisers recognize that businesspeople are people, too, they are buying into sites and networks with a decidedly fun flair. "You're seeing a b-to-b application on sites like MySpace and Google because it's not just consumers that have these interests," said Mauro Alencar, exec VP- executive creative director at interactive agency Publicis Modem.
- Making changes on the fly. Several years ago, you may have created three or four versions of an ad to be placed on different sites targeting different verticals. Today, the possibilities are endless with so-called dynamic or smart ads.
These ads, said Alistair Goodman, VP-strategic marketing at digital marketing company Exponential Inc., allow an advertiser to change content inside an ad unit based on user activity.
"We have a b-to-b job recruitment advertiser using something like this right now," he said. "We know the geography of the user and, using an XML feed, the ad can go back into the marketer's database and pull out only relevant job offers close to the potential candidate. We can layer on technology that understands the topic of a Web page and customize the placement even more."
Cost isn't much different than a normal display campaign, Goodman said, but conversions can be 80% higher.
- Going rich. Even those companies that don't use dynamically generated ads still want more than just a static ad. Enter rich media banner ads, said Skip Dampier, a partner at interactive agency Tocquigny. "We're seeing rich media banner ads that are doing anything a landing page or microsite could do in the past," he said. "They have multiple tabs of information allowing the viewer to self-select their area of interest and allowing them to choose the role they play and look at the ads from that point of view."
These ads, from companies such as PointRoll, Eyeblaster, iWonder and Atlas Rich Media, disseminate information in the form of quizzes, product demonstrations and deep content, Dampier said.
"Now you don't have to put as much time into a landing page," he said. "Anytime we can avoid multiple clicks, we are happy about that."
Google has also introduced its own ad unit—called the Google Gadget Ad—that runs on the Google AdSense network and offers advertisers a number of options for interaction. Google's ads join other widget-type ads that consumer marketers have been using for a while, said Mat Zucker, executive creative director at Agency.com, an interactive agency.
- Borrowing a page from the user. E-commerce players have known for a while that customers like to hear what other customers are saying. B-to-b advertisers are taking advantage of this paradigm by pulling user-generated content and using it in their ads, Alencar said. "Brands are getting smart about using the fan base," he said, "not just in their blogs and fan pages but also in their overall campaigns."
There are privacy issues—there has to be consent from the user—but that can be taken care of by prominently posting a user agreement that details how content may be repurposed, he said.
- Teaching rather than showing. Sometimes the soft sell is the best sell, said Sarah Fay, CEO of interactive agency Isobar/CaratFusion. To that end, advertisers are creating educational programs and tutorials built around categories rather than individual products, using a sponsorship strategy. "You get the halo effect," she said. "It positions you as an expert, which can provide a conversion rate of somewhere between 20% and 50%." Sites such as CNET have opportunities like this, where companies can sponsor a tutorial about a specific topic—digital cameras, for example.
- Remessaging to the masses. Show a prospect an ad once, and you may catch their eye if you're lucky. Show it to them 10 or 15 times, and they're more likely to take notice. This is the idea behind the pervasive remessaging that's going on today, Dampier said.
"We're following the customer from site to site and remessaging them in the multiple environments they move between. There's an efficiency and effectiveness, because it can give a niche player or someone with a modest budget the illusion that, `Wow, company XYZ is really competing at the same level as a bigger player.' Subliminally, it has that type of impact."
- Going granular. While the run-of-site buy isn't dead, more advertisers are looking to focus their efforts more tightly, making placements on individual sites that aren't in a network, or buying placement on a specific page or section within a site, Fay said.
"The idea is to center more around targeted audiences," she said. "If I had to compare it to media days of old, we're sacrificing a bit on reach and going deeper on the target audience. You're trying to thoroughly penetrate a smaller audience and get the right message across to them."