It's savings, not profits

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While Web marketers on the consumer side struggle to define even what they're after, business-to-business marketers have already moved to the bottom line: The Web cuts costs.

Let's face it, profits aren't really the game yet. No, the real business value from a good Web site comes from its efficiency in trolling for prospects. It's just like direct mail or catalogs, except without the ongoing costs.

As our story about Du Pont's Lycra Web experiment points out, the Lycra site allowed the brand's marketers to save $10,000 in research costs the first time out -- and the whole site cost only $25,000.

For many businesses, Web marketing makes too much economic sense to ignore, even if it never generates a dollar of direct profit.

My own belief is that business executives still nervous about investing in a site will be forced to over the next 18 months out of a completely different kind of competitive pressure -- not the loss of business, but the loss of financial edge against their online rivals.

Take trade publishing as an example: There are still plenty of trade publishers not sure if the potential justifies Web investment.

I would argue that's the wrong agenda. Look instead at the savings in using an inexpensive Web site to cut the direct mail costs of driving circulation. That alone will pay for the site; any ad revenues are gravy.

This shifting of costs is the unseen revolution of the Web. Because it involves the hands-on tools and methods of hard-core marketing, it's not glitzy enough to get headlines in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal -- or even Wired, for that matter.

No matter. It may not be hip, but it's definitely happening.

David Klein is editor of the Ad Age Group.

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