Marketers try banners to capture b-to-b target

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While consumer companies have long dominated the Web banner business, advertisers targeting other businesses now are getting into the game.

Two key issues they face: Using rich media tools effectively to draw in users and discovering the best placement for their banners.

Often, the key to capturing the attention of online business users lies in adding that element of interactivity that plain animated banners simply can't offer.

Experience vs. message

Scott Kessler, senior creative engineer for the transactional media unit of San Diego-based First Virtual Holdings, says he advises business marketers to "make advertising an experience, rather than a message."

"Some transitions are going to be too abrupt, and the user isn't going to understand what to do," says Mr. Kessler.

Recognizing that rich media banners have many of the same elements as moviemaking, he maps out banner transitions and other creative elements using storyboards.

Rich media

Orion Learning, a management coaching and team building company based in San Diego, is using First Virtual's VirtualADz technology to develop a banner campaign targeted at CEOs and upper management.

This new advertising banner, a Java-based executive quiz titled "Fix This Problem," is an interactive game with a 20-second time limit.

With such clients as Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Qualcomm and Sheraton Hotels, Orion senior partner Bob Root says he sees business-to-business Web advertisers struggling with how long to keep the user's attention as they try to figure out what works best.

In determining which banner types perform best, Tom Rodak, director of sales and marketing for The Plastics Network, cites his 3% click-through rate on static or animated GIF banner ads, vs. 6% on HTML banner ads.

HTML options

The HTML format gives the Plastics Network more options, Mr. Rodak says; for example, "Our HTML banners allow users to see drop-down lists, such as product categories."

Using these lists, someone who wants to visit the PlasticsNet site, an online trade community for the plastics industry, can select a specific term, such as "injection molding machinery," forcing a click-through to that Web page.

This relates to the concept of buying keywords on search engines.

"The business professional insists upon a much higher degree of education and relevancy, which directly connects to where the banner is going to take you," says Mark Walsh, president-CEO, VerticalNet, developer of 22 industry marketplaces.

A frequent buyer of Web advertising on a variety of search engines, Mr. Walsh says he purchases "esoteric keywords . . . like RF and reverse osmosis," which narrowly prequalify potential site visitors.

Frequently rotating a series of banner ads to sustain market interest, the Plastics Network also advertises on search engines such as Yahoo!, AltaVista and Infoseek, and buys very general keywords such as "plastic."

Mr. Rodak's goal to generate high Web site traffic through banner advertising is easily realized by a "15% click-through rate on Yahoo!"

Keyword costs

"If your keyword is not getting that many impressions, it's not worth paying for a minimum placement," says Mr. Rodak, noting that search engines can charge at least $1,000 a keyword, inflating the cost per impression on a narrowly defined term.

Buying more general or higher-level keywords might be a better placement strategy, especially when combined with rich media banner features that allow users to pre-navigate the targeted site. u

Kim M. Bayne is author of "The Internet Marketing Plan" and host of the syndicated program "The Cyber Media Show With Kim Bayne," heard weekly on public radio.

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