Twenty years ago, International Data Corp. estimated there were about 14,000 medium to large computer-using organizations with about 250,000 buying influencers at those sites. (Overall, IDC estimated there were no more than 500,000 total computer buying influencers.)
And there were only about a dozen computer publications serving these "electronic data processing" professionals.
Boy, has that changed.
With the invasion into business of the PC in the early '80s, the market exploded.
And with the advent of the massive Computer Industry Media Study from IntelliQuest-probably the largest study of its type ever conducted-we have the most complete picture ever painted of the "demand side" of the computer market, including all buying influencers.
A COMPREHENSIVE LOOK
CIMS covers everything from chief information officers who might influence hundreds of millions of dollars of corporate computer expenditures to home users who buy a few hundred bucks worth of stuff every year.
CIMS 3.0, released recently, looks at how many people are buying influencers, who they are, where they work, what they do, what they buy, and what they read and watch.
It has an amazing wealth of useful marketing data in seven huge three-ring binders, covering readership of 20 computer publications in its home study and 40 in its business influencers study. (There are roughly 400 computer publications that accept advertising today, including more than 30 devoted just to the Internet.)
CIMS 3.0 also looks at readership of more than 75 consumer and general business publications in the home study and 60 in the business study.
It covers viewership of a broad selection of cable channels and network TV programs and time slots.
Use of online services, including the Internet, is also studied.
Based on their research, CIMS estimates that there are now 29.7 million people in the U.S. who are involved in the purchasing of computer products and services for the home, and 23.6 million who have buying influence for their business or organization. Roughly 16 million fall into both groups.
Since the 1995 study, that represents a 26.4% rise in home influencers, up from 23.5 million; and a 12.4% rise in business influencers, up from 21 million.
10% OF THE POPULATION
These are huge numbers for an essentially business product. More than 10% of the total U.S. population of 200 million people over age 16 appear to be involved in the purchase process for computers in business. (More than half of all these adults currently use a computer, according to other IntelliQuest estimates.)
Because of glitches IntelliQuest recently discovered in its software-explained at some length in a white paper issued in September-the numbers for 1995 and 1996 were underestimated.
The numbers for the home have already been revised upward for both years, but the business influencer number can't be adjusted until next year when they do new fieldwork.
According to Intelli-Quest, the business number is expected to be 10% to 15% higher. These problems don't affect any of the percentage-based information or the readership or viewership rankings in the study.
NOT ALL BUYERS CREATED EQUAL
As the accompanying charts show, there is a wide range of spending responsibility among buying influencers, both in the home and in business. The home study asked about spending expected for 1996, while the business side asked about buying for the next 12 months.
The typical (median) home buyer will spend only $307 on software in 1996, but 21% plan to spend more than $400. Median expenditures for hardware will be $701; but 11% plan to spend more than $2,000. (Average expenditures were $442 and $1,160, respectively.)
Business buying influencers tend to be involved with a lot more spending-although levels range even more widely. Of the 23.6 million projected business buying influencers, 18.9 million plan to be involved in spending in the next year. Average spending involvement for this group will be $126,000-slightly higher than shown in the 1995 study.
But only 8 million business buying influencers (about a third of all business buying influencers) will be involved with more than $20,000 in spending in the next year. Their average spending involvement will be approximately $289,000.
On the other hand, 3.3 million business buying influencers (about 14% of all business buying influencers) will be involved with more than $100,000 in spending in the next year-and their average spending involvement will be more than $636,000.
TITLES NOT USEFUL
Often in business-to-business media planning, one finds the best buying influencers for the product or service being sold by looking for people with the right title or function. CIMS, however, shows clearly that method does not work well in the computer market.
CIMS looked at title and function in several ways. One of the most interesting things they did in that area is to create two categories called "formals" and "primaries."
"Formals" are those people whose formal job responsibilities include buying computer products and services for their organizations. The survey included 11.5 million people who said they qualified in this category.
"Primaries" are those people for whom buying computer products and services for their organization is their primary job responsibility. There were 4.7 million people qualified in that category.
CIMS also categorizes those people whose primary job function qualifies them as information technology professionals (2.1 million), and everyone who has a senior or corporate management function (4.3 million). Both "formals" and "primaries" could fall into either of these categories.
It would seem logical that these categories would be filled up with the real "volume buyers." But the data show otherwise.
LEVELS RANGE WIDELY
As the chart on page 34 shows, while average spending in these categories tends to be higher than it is for the entire audience, buying levels range widely in every category-and between categories.
There is a better correlation of level of spending involvement to the size of the site where a person works than there is to function, in fact. For example, as the chart shows, average spending involvement of all business influencers ranges from $46,000 at sites with fewer than 50 employees to $423,000 at sites with more than 1,000 employees-a ratio of nearly 10 to 1.
While the ratios are somewhat lower among people in these selected categories, they are not that much different.
Information technology professionals at sites with fewer than 50 employees show spending involvement of only $154,000, while info tech professionals at sites with more than 1,000 employees are involved with more than five times that much spending.
For "formals" the ratio is 10 to 1 ; for "primaries" it's 9 to 1. And for senior and corporate management, it's about 20 to 1.
0Of course, it makes sense that as you get to larger sites you will have people with higher spending involvement, regardless of title or function. The budgets are bigger and more people get involved in every decision.
The study shows that the nature of buying involvement also varies.
Info tech professionals are more likely to be involved with recommending and specifying, while corporate managers are more likely to be involved with approving, for example.
FOLLOW THE BUYING POWER
The best way to find the important high-tech business buying influencers is, therefore, not to look at title or function but to look at spending levels.
CIMS gives you all the information you need to do this effectively.
It provides spending levels for15 different categories of computer products and services in the business study, ranging from "Notebook/Subnotebook/Laptop" to "Wide Area Networking Services." There are 9.6 million buying influencers in the former category and only 525,000 in the latter.
CIMS also asks respondents (in both the home and the business studies) to indicate precisely which products and service they are planning to be involved in purchasing. This yields a long list of specific products being planned for purchase. When you combine the spending levels in the larger categories with the finer selections in the specific product categories, you can usually create a fairly precise target audience of good prospects for whatever product or service you are selling.
With this information, it is now possible for high-tech advertisers to get a pretty good estimate of just how many buying influencers there are in the U.S. for their product or service-and how many of them are serious spenders.
BIG SPENDERS, BIG READERS
Average issue audience figures are shown in accompanying charts for classes of publication for both the home and business study. Many publications are in both studies; some are only in one or the other. In trying to decide which publications to use, it is important to balance coverage and efficiency (a combination of composition and price).
For example, by advertising in one issue of each of the "news magazines and newspapers" studied by CIMS, you can reach 45.6% of all business buying influencers.
That's great coverage, but rates for these publications are based on total subscribers and readers, and the price of ad space in these publications-which have millions of readers who are not in this universe of high-tech business buying influencers-may make the CPM quite high.
On the other hand, ads in each of the "PC publications" studied would reach only 33.1% of the total universe, but might be much more efficient, since these publications are not read by very many people who are not buying for business. They have a high composition of high-tech business buying influencers.
As a rule of thumb, the CIMS study shows that as your product gets more technical and more expensive, then your target audience is more likely to be reached most efficiently with the more technical publications. Low-end products, especially for home use-and those that are not technically sophisticated-can often be advertised efficiently in consumer publications.
WORLD WIDE WEB HYPE
The World Wide Web is hot, but high-tech media planners are talking about it far out of proportion to their investments in it.
CIMS asked both home and business buying influencers about their usage of online services, including the Internet. The numbers are large and growing.
More than half of all home buying influences claimed to have used an online service in the last 12 months, while 61% of all high-tech business buying influencers make that same claim. In both studies, another 15% of respondents plan to access online services in the next 12 months. The penetration figure among this universe of computer buying influencers appears to be much higher than it is among adults in general-as could be expected.
While the questions asked are not the same, IntelliQuest has estimated-in another study-that only 17% of all adults in the U.S. over 16 have used the Internet in the last three months.
The typical user (home or business) signs on 15 times a month, and stays on for 30 minutes. Home users say they spend an average of 30% of their time online for business purposes, while business buying influencers say they spend 44% of their time for business purposes (less than half).
Only 10% of business buying influencers checked "buying products or services" as one of the reasons they use online services.
Online advertising for high-tech products and services is coming along, but the hype may exceed the potential at the moment.
If you're looking to build awareness and preference for your computer-related product or service, print advertising might be a much better buy.
One analysis using CIMS data shows that the CPM for viewers of a simple banner on a Web site produced by a computer publisher may be much higher than the CPM for readers of a color ad in the comparable print product from the same publisher-and the print ad gives you a lot more room for creative.
CIMS also looked at viewing habits of its respondents for selected types of TV programs and cable channels.
Cable has excellent penetration of both home and business buying influencers, with the Discovery Channel ranking high for viewership in the "last seven days." It is No. 1 in the home study (61.8%) and No. 2 (62.2%) in the business study.
Cable, however, is subject to the same problem as consumer magazines: composition.
They charge for all of their viewers, many of whom are not computer purchasing influencers, and that may make them less efficient when you are targeting only computer influencers.
It's worth checking out, however, especially if you have a more low-end product with a fairly large number of purchase influencers.
The online services like America Online, for example, appear to make good use of cable advertising to sell subscriptions.
Network TV is much more of a problem. With top-rated shows like "Seinfeld" topping $1 million a minute for advertising, it's really hard to get any efficiency on a computer influencers target.