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Web 2.0 catching on quickly with b-to-b marketers

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As quickly as b-to-b marketers assimilate and take advantage of new Web 2.0 technologies, new capabilities are roaring down the pike—at Internet speed—presenting new challenges and opportunities.

Characterized by greater levels of user participation and interaction, Web 2.0 advances—such as blogs, RSS feeds, podcasts and Ajax-driven Web sites—are becoming the norm these days, even for the most cautious b-to-b marketers.

A new survey of b-to-b marketers released this month found they are increasingly using Web 2.0 technologies in campaigns, with 31% having initiated pilot campaigns, 28% using them on an ad hoc basis and another 42% rolling them out to their teams, divisions or entire organizations.

The survey of 68 marketers, conducted online in April and May by Direct Impact Marketing and the Buzz Marketing for Technology blog, also asked marketers what Web 2.0 vendors and tools they are using—hard information that can help other marketers kick off their own Web 2.0 work, said Paul Dunay, a co-sponsor of the study and director of field and interactive marketing at BearingPoint Inc.

The link to participate in the survey and download the report is www.web20toolssurvey.com.

"We view it as an adoption aid," Dunay said. "It will let marketers go and jump-start the process to gain knowledge about the top tools."

Some of the most popular tools used by b-to-b marketers today, according to the survey, are the FeedBurner RSS feed creator, PingoMatic weblog ping tool, WordPress blogging tool, Technorati blog monitoring tool and LinkedIn social network.

The challenge for marketers, however, is that as quickly as one Web 2.0 tool or capability becomes mainstream, another technology or product flares up and rockets to prominence.

Among the recent advances: "micro-blogging" tools such as Twitter or Pownce that let users announce their presence via quick-consume messages; personal aggregation sites like NetVibes, PageFlakes and others that let users build their personalized Web start pages; and "roll-your-own-MySpace" vendors that let anyone build a features-rich social network site in just a few clicks. Also vitally important is new social network king Facebook, which soared when it released a new platform that let others build applications targeting its users.

And that's not to mention other new and notable advances, including the proliferation of niche video distribution vehicles, vote-for content sites such as Digg and Reddit, virtual 3D worlds such as Second Life and the emerging monolith that is the Apple iPhone, which is already affecting how users experience the Web.

So how should b-to-marketers approach established and emerging Web 2.0 technologies?

"If there's one piece of advice for marketers I'd give it's this: `Lather, rinse, repeat,' " Dunay said. "Get in there, mess it up, get comfortable. It's all about trying and experimenting."

Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff sounds a similar theme, touting the fact that Web 2.0 technologies lend themselves to "rapid prototyping and rapid change. If you looked at a marketing initiative five years ago, it involved a whole lot of planning and expense, and then six months later you'd determine if it worked."

"Now, it's about coming up with an idea and taking three weeks to implement," Bernoff said. "It costs you $40,000, not four hundred thousand. And you can look at it in two weeks and kill it, change it or leave it alone."

For b-to-b marketers, there's no time like the present for keeping up with new technology advances. Were you late to the blog or RSS party? Chances are your boss, if not necessarily your customers, took you to task for it.

But sorting out the future can be tough, thankless work.

It's incredibly difficult for marketers to "pick winners right now," said Paul Gillin, an analyst at Paul Gillin Associates and a BtoB contributor. "It seems every month there is some new shiny toy to play with. Early this year it was YouTube, then Twitter, now Facebook and maybe Pownce is next. It's very difficult for marketers to make any kind of long-term decisions in this environment. The market is just wildly racing from one service to another, and no one has a clue which is going to survive."

The key, Bernoff said, is putting the customer first. "People, especially in this market, are all excited by new technologies," he said. "When we're working with clients, what we ask first is: `What are you trying to accomplish?' Often an embarrassed silence follows. Marketers need to figure out what they are trying to do and pick the strategy or technology that goes along with it."

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