BtoB

Marketers narrowing audience segments

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As online communities evolve, some marketers are offering smaller, niche communities for their business customers to communicate with others in their specific industry sector.

Dozens of business-to-business Web sites are using this "customized mass marketing" technique to fine-tune their reach.

The new practice typically involves taking large, generalized markets, such as industry segments, breaking them into smaller groups, then concentrating on marketing to those sectors. While there is no universal strategy, the most common approach seems to be fourfold:

  • Accumulating massive amounts of product information and data across numerous, cross-searchable industries and subsectors.

  • Using mass e-mails to emphasize the ease of configuring these data to an individual subscriber's interests.

  • Sending out specialized newsletters, targeted to specific interests as defined by users during registration.

  • Creating discussion groups specific to industries.

    Among the many sites doing customized mass marketing are Access Business Online's BizWiz, New York; Worldwide Internet Solutions Network's Wiznet eCommerce Portal, Delray Beach, Fla.; Industry.net, Denver; and VerticalNet, Horsham, Pa.

    Wiznet has more than 100,000 supplier catalogs from about 90,000 vendors in hundreds of Standard Industry Classification codes. The company's VP-strategic development, G. Michael Harmon, has started an effort to recruit experts to write newsletters targeted to their respective industries and competencies. The site also sends out e-mail alerts when new features are added.

    Register here

    Many b-to-b sites use registration not only to determine what industry the aspiring member is in, but also what information they are most interested in.

    VerticalNet, a b-to-b portal with 39 industry-specific communities, plans to enhance member-to-member contact by instituting "forced" registration sometime this summer. That is intended to develop a greater amount of searchable information about individual members' business needs, said Blair LaCorte, senior VP-strategy and e-commerce.

    BizWiz also facilitates customized mass marketing through member-to-member communications. CEO Arthur Rosenfield said this approach can best serve the needs of companies and individuals within narrow niches.

    When people register at BizWiz, they are asked to supply some data about their company, what they specialize in, and even some information about themselves. Then, Mr. Rosenfield said, "Introductions go out via e-mail to corporate registrants with matching profiles."

    During registration, BizWiz's optional Talent Direct area allows for several types of enrollment that can pre-qualify members into specific niches, including individual talent and businesses.

    BizWiz also targets narrow audiences through its DataPrism capability. Corporate announcements such as news releases are classified through keyword-sensitive technology into one or more of BizWiz's 170 or so industry and professional areas.

    Mr. Rosenfield said not only do the sheer number of industry topics serve to customize BizWiz's offerings, but the cross-classification also can do the same. "The press release could be about the chemical industry, but if you're in a water-related industry, you'd probably want to read it as well."

    VerticalNet has three approaches to market its customized content and services, Mr. LaCorte said:

  • Editorial content within each site that is comprehensive enough to satisfy almost any informational need and will generate word of mouth, resulting in more memberships.

  • A "virtual office" equipped to handle requests for proposals from or between members.

  • E-mail notifications that let members know when someone is looking for a specific product or service they offer.

    Industry.net expands effort

    Industry.net also is exploring strategies to expand its online community effort to subsegments, COO Steve Austin said.

    "We offer industry-specific discussion groups and news feeds, as well as articles written specifically for Industry.net to appeal to our type of user," said Mr. Austin. "We have yet to do a newsletter that was specific to a particular industry, although that is certainly in our future."

    He said Industry.net plans to target advertisements to specific industries.

    "We are also going to make certain types of customers [with their permission] aware of the different types of technical information, which is new and/or specific to their industry," he said. "An example: [If] we have a customer in the boiler-manufacturing business, we will let him know when a new code or standard has just been published."

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