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Trends and tendencies: getting to where we're going in 1999

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Each year, the editors at Business Marketing identify the top 10 trends that will play a critical role in shaping business-to-business marketing in the year ahead. We look at new areas that emerged over the past few months, we discuss recurring themes that are running through industry conventions and submitted articles and conversations with marketers, and we compile a list of buzzwords that popped up over the year. We even dig out last year's trends to see how they played out, or even if they played out.

The trouble with identifying the top 10 trends each year, after all, is the pressure to come up with 10 all-new trends. There's that human tendency to want to scratch things off last year's list as a quantitative measure of how we did-"Yup, did that, did that, did that, didn't do that. There, that's done." Then we can put the list away and forget about it.

But business-to-business marketing, like life, doesn't work that way. Sure, there are certain projects we complete and can then say, "Look, we achieved this!" But for the most part, the movement in marketing is evolutionary, and we're watching for trends, which, after all, are ongoing.

That's not to say we see no progress. Nothing could be further from the truth. Business-to-business marketers are moving at a pace that was unheard of just a decade ago. Fueled by advances in technology, marketers are getting closer to their customers all the time. They're learning more about them, collecting more data, closely exploring their buying patterns and delving into their needs and what they want from their "relationships" with other companies.

So what do we look for in determining a trend? A trend has to be ongoing, it has to be relevant to a lot of people and it has to be more than a fad. In other words, it has to have staying power.

Of course, some things have staying power, but we would never call them trends. For example, while b-to-b agencies have always handled all facets of their clients' marketing, we would never call that a trend because it is just what these agencies do. But in the past six months or so, the term "integrated marketing communications" has come into vogue to describe this process. Not only are people focusing on it, they're looking for that kind of expertise from their agencies. It's no longer just something b-to-b agencies do to help out their less savvy clients, it's becoming a hot specialty-one that many b-to-b agencies just happen to excel in already.

At the same time, other trends spring up out of nowhere and spawn many new trends. While just a few years ago Internet marketing was a trend, today it's a mainstream marketing area that's rife with opportunities for new trends as marketers adapt it and develop it to suit their ever-changing needs.

In looking at our list for 1999, you won't-or, at least, you shouldn't -find anything new and unusual that will bowl you over and send you running out the door or to the Internet to find out more. What you will find are some key areas that will be building over the next 12 months and that will affect how you market your company and how you handle your job.

As you can see from the list, many of these areas are computer dependent. They require flexible minds and skills on the part of those working with them.

If any of them makes you feel nervous or clammy, I urge you to embrace it. Learn as much as you can about it. Your future, and your company's future, depend on your ability to adapt and learn and grow.

Looking ahead, Business Marketing has planned some big projects for the coming months. Highlights include:

* The second OutFront Marketing study. Scheduled for the April issue, the OutFront study will offer the second look at how business-to-business marketers divvy up their marketing budgets. The results of this research will build on the first study, which appeared in the June 1996 issue.

* The Millennium issue. This special report will look at the past 100 years in business-to-business marketing, focusing on key campaigns and how the industry has changed-and where it's headed.

* Increased b-to-b agency coverage.

* The introduction of businessmarketing.com. This site, which will feature daily news as well as articles from the monthly issue, will launch in the coming weeks.

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