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Three observations about b-to-b's future in the next five years

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Our fifth anniversary special issue looks at how b-to-b marketing has evolved during a tumultuous half-decade. We've enumerated the top trends, events, newsmakers and campaigns of the period and rounded out the package with a collection of guest columns by industry leaders.

Distilling five busy years into a few pages was an interesting and valuable exercise. Reflection of this sort-less and less common in today's real-time, instant-message world-is vital if one hopes to grasp macro trends and, just as important, prepare for the future.

Before making three observations of my own about the future, I'd like to take this opportunity, in our fifth year, to commend BtoB's editors, reporters and design director-a great group of people whose talent, expertise and passion make BtoB what it is. Thanks, everybody.

Three observations:

ROI. Although the recent recession accelerated this change, I believe the true catalyst was the measurability of Internet platforms such as e-mail, banners, search marketing and so on. In the next five years, the dominant challenge for b-to-b marketers will be to align and integrate their goals and measurements with those of other corporate departments, notably sales and finance. Synchronizing marketing with these groups has been a perennial problem, of course. But I sense we're at a tipping point, and that unless marketers act quickly, they may find themselves subservient to one or both of these departments.

Information consumption. Shifts in how people, especially young people, seek and then consume information are having a profound effect on both marketers and their business media partners. Don Schultz, professor emeritus-in-service at Northwestern University, aptly sums up this transition in his column (p. 45), noting that the flow of information is no longer simply outbound: "Today, buyers commonly know more about solutions, alternatives, costs and the like than the seller," he writes.

In the next five years, marketers-armed with technologies such as behavioral targeting-will need to do a much more elegant job of delivering relevant information to their prospects as they move through the stages of awareness, consideration and preference.

The well-documented fragmentation of commercial media sources has now been joined by another phenomenon: peer-to-peer channels such as blogs. Although these dialogues typically fly under the corporate radar, their influence is growing. In the next five years, marketers will need to develop effective, legitimate strategies for both creating and joining these conversations.

Customer insight. David Sable, chairman-CEO of Wunderman Europe, Middle East and Africa, writes in his column (p. 46): "We can create ever more efficient and effective ways to target our key prospects, using better transactional data, linked to cleaner personal data, overlaid with better market data, mined using insightful data models and delivered through channels-digital, print, broadcast-that up to a few years ago didn't exist or couldn't be tailored to send personal messages."

In the next five years, marketers that don't spend the time, effort and, yes, money segmenting and profiling their current and potential customers-and then communicating with them via their preferred media-will fall behind. Technology will be the differentiating factor, and marketing departments, agencies and media companies that are both savvy and bold in its application will jump ahead.

To end, let me repeat what I wrote in my very first BtoB column (April 24, 2000): "Tell me what stories you want and need to see in BtoB, and always feel free to tell me when you think we've missed something important."

Ellis Booker is editor of BtoB and BtoB's Media Business. He can be reached at ebooker@crain.com.

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