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Traditional marketers ease into emerging tech

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As technology opens up new ways for companies to communicate, b-to-b marketers are starting to use emerging media such as blogs, podcasts and really simple syndication (RSS) to reach customers, employees, prospects and business partners.

A recent report by JupiterResearch found that while these new media channels have gained a foothold among consumer advertisers, corporate advertisers such as those in financial services, media and travel are just beginning to experiment with blogs, podcasts and RSS.

The report, published in August, found that 11% of Internet users had read a blog during the past year, 7% had listened to or downloaded a podcast and 3% had received information over an RSS or XML feed.

Some high-tech companies such as Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp are well entrenched in these technologies. Traditional b-to-b marketers, meanwhile, are just beginning to test the waters.

"We're just starting to actively look at blogs and their evolution in our market space," said John Beering, director of marketing for the commercial engines and global service partners business of Pratt & Whitney, a division of United Technologies Corp.

"Podcasts are so new, I think we'll need to wait and see," Beering added. "As we are very focused on a measurable number of customers, we would need very targeted dissemination of messages through iPods, or BlackBerries or the like."

Visa USA launched its first blog in October. Called Journey to Torino, it ties into Visa's sponsorship of the Winter Olympics, which will be held in February in Torino, Italy. "We are doing it as a communications experiment to study how we can effectively use this new medium," said Michael Rolnick, a Visa USA spokesman.

The blog, at www.journeytotorino.com, features stories about Olympic athletes and news about the Games. It also contains podcasts of interviews with athletes.

"It is organic," said Rolnick, noting that Visa is not promoting the blog, and that it contains no mention of the company other than a logo and statement at the bottom that says, "Brought to you by Visa USA." "We're seeing how it can spread as a viral means of communications," he said.

Usage has grown from a handful of readers to more than 300 a day, with readership spiking at 10,000 the first week of January when syndicated radio talk show host Kim Komando named it the site of the week.

General Electric Co. is also beginning to experiment with blogs and podcasts.

GE Healthcare recently conducted a Webinar for the OB/GYN community to discuss MR-guided focused ultrasound and uterine fibroids.

The effort was so successful that GE is now planning to expand the Webinar into podcasts aimed at doctors.

"We are increasingly looking at new media-Webcast, blogs and other activities-to find the best ways to reach out to our customers, who are pressed for time," said Sean Burke, chief marketing officer for GE Healthcare's Diagnostic Imaging and Services unit.

GE Healthcare also set up a blog at the Radiological Society of North America show, which was held in Chicago in November. At the GE booth, customers submitted comments about the show, which were posted each night on a blog titled RSNA 2005: Blog from the Floor. GE Healthcare is now planning to launch a new blog aimed at cardiology customers.

In the high-tech space, Oracle has aggressively pursued the use of blogs, podcasts, RSS and other emerging technologies.

"Oracle has quite a long legacy of using new media and new technologies to gain a competitive edge in marketing," said Nathaniel Robinson, senior director of brand and creative at Oracle. "Streamlining the marketing process is also a driver, as well as creating a more engaging experience for the user."

Last April, Oracle began producing podcasts that feature technology experts discussing the company's technology and applications. They are available at the Oracle Technology Network podcast center, and users can download them to their desktops or MP3 players.

Oracle also has a large blogging community, with between 60 and 70 blogs that are currently published by Oracle customers and partners discussing how they use the company's technology. In the first quarter, Oracle plans to roll out a blogging infrastructure using a third-party blog engine that will streamline the process.

Measuring ROI on these new media tools is difficult, Robinson said. Oracle uses page views to measure blog interactions, and number of downloads to measure ROI on podcasting. Both are inexpensive to produce, Robinson said.

Last August, IBM launched a series of podcasts aimed at investors at www.ibm.com/investor.

Titled, IBM and the Future of ..., the podcasts feature IBM executives discussing business and technology topics such as banking, shopping and online games.

IBM is also encouraging the use of blogs and podcasts by its employees by offering blogging and podcasting on the employee intranet.

"As we push these capabilities out to our folks, we find they are powerful enablers of social networking and communicating," said Brian Doyle, an IBM spokesman. "Our employees are helping us realize the potential of new ways to communicate."

So far, about 15,000 IBM employees have registered on the company's "blog central," and more than 2,200 maintain regular blogs. Topics range from technology discussions to requests for help on projects.

Doyle noted that providing open access to information through new media can also create problems.

"Blogging and podcasts give you another view of the promise of the Web, but we also see these as disruptive technologies," he said, pointing to potential problems such as the release of confidential information or the dissemination of information that could harm IBM's reputation. To lessen this threat, IBM last year released corporate guidelines that employees must agree to before posting blogs. These include: steering clear of activity that could harm IBM's business interests, not disclosing confidential information, not referencing clients without permission and not using insults or profanity.

"Just as the Internet morphed into a powerful business tool, we see these new media like blogs and podcasts evolving as well," Doyle said. "We see the business potential."

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