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Marketers find Web effective way to reach small companies

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Recognizing that more of their small-business customers are going online to find products and information, b-to-b marketers are becoming more savvy in their use of online marketing tools to reach this audience.

One tactic is partnering with media companies that have launched special sections or sites dedicated to small businesses.

CMP Technology, for example, earlier this year launched SmallBizResource.com, an information site and online community for businesses with between one and 10 employees. The site contains articles, tips, blogs, an e-newsletter, a public forum operated by Yahoo! and free consulting advice from SCORE, a group of small-business consultants.

"We know that our clients have a challenge in reaching the small-business market," said Kate Spellman, publisher of SmallBizResource.com. "In the past, companies have targeted small businesses with enterprise solutions or consumer information, but there have not been many business and technology solutions for small businesses."

Several b-to-b marketers, including AMD, CompUSA, Eastman Kodak Co., Pitney Bowes and Symantec, are running ads and promotions on SmallBizResource.com.

AMD, for example, has developed a shopping tool for the site that lets small-business customers compare different computer products and buy specially configured systems through online retail stores such as Dell Computer, Circuit City and CompUSA.

"One of our key initiatives in 2006 was to reach the SOHO [small office/home office] market," said Grazia Ruskin, AMD's manager of online programs for worldwide consumer marketing programs. "AMD's interest [in SmallBizResource.com] was to tie into the technology and IT issues that small business owners are faced with and make hardware and software technology easy to find and locate, as well as help them through the decision-making process."

In addition to the product comparison tool, AMD runs banner ads on SmallBizResource.com. It has also launched its own microsites for small businesses, such as www.AMD.com/homeoffice and www.AMD.com/helpmedecide, which are designed to address the business and technology needs of small-business owners.

Visa USA last month launched a Web site aimed at small-business customers and prospects. The site, www.bizbreakthrough.com, features advice from small-business experts, online video clips profiling small-business owners, a contest for small businesses, articles and tips.

"This is a way of talking to small-business owners that is truly experiential," said Jim Taschetta, senior VP-marketing, strategy and planning at Visa USA. "With the online video clips, you can see small-business owners talking about their business problems."

Taschetta added: "This is representative of the way we are trying to go to market and connect differently with small-business owners. You can't just reach them through mainstream TV. You have to reach them in ways that are more timely and relevant."

Dell is another marketer that is targeting small businesses. One of its strategies is launching microsites showing how it's helping small-business customers succeed.

For example, in March Dell introduced www.dell.com/ironman, a microsite developed by T3, Austin, Texas. The site shows how Dell technology helped the 15-person World Triathlon Corp. put on the Ford Ironman World Championship, a competition in which 1,800 of the world's best athletes competed. Small businesses are encouraged to share their success stories on the site.

"Sometimes a large company can look like they're always trying to sell to you," said Gay Gaddis, president-CEO of T3. "This site talks about how Dell is helping small businesses and is focused more on the human side than the transactional side."

T3 recently introduced a new agency service called Big, which helps Fortune 500 companies market to small businesses. It has also developed Dell customer microsites for CHF International (Community, Habitat and Finance), Curb Records, E Solutions and Gearbox Software.

Media properties are also adding new services and communities aimed at small businesses.

Business.com, a business search engine, last month debuted Work.com, a resource for small businesses that offers how-to guides on topics such as hiring and accounting. It also features advice from experts and links to small-business resources.

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