2001 survival strategy:Lean on brand equity

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Are dot-com companies evaluating their business models and marketing plans more carefully for 2001? One can only hope so. The start of next year is sure to see falloff in b-to-b advertising and marketing expenditures, indicating a retreat from earlier exuberance and reflecting the consensus that the hyperventilating brand campaigns of 2000 didn't accomplish those "first mover" and "liquidity" goals that industry analysts once said were so essential to Internet success.

In fact, when it comes to b-to-b e-marketplaces, the marketing-driven issue of "trust" ranks well above "liquidity" in importance to buyers, according to a recent Jupiter Media Metrix research report.

Earlier this month in Los Angeles, BtoB held a daylong seminar on the intersection of marketing and e-commerce. The event, a joint production of BtoB and Jupiter Media Metrix unit Net Market Makers, attracted around 200 attendees-a mix of marketing executives, e-commerce managers, e-marketplace representatives, and a smattering of developers and financial types. Like BtoB the publication, our seminar made the case that b-to-b success requires technology, financing, and effective marketing and advertising.

The thorniest question we asked the marketing/advertising gurus was: What would you advise a young dot-com or e-marketplace whose budgets are under intense scrutiny?

Not surprisingly, there was no single answer. But there was unanimity among panelists that marketing plans must be synchronized with measurable business objectives, rather than left as an afterthought once a product or service has been launched.

Other conclusions:

• Go slow, remembering that branding is an iterative process. And don't start without agreeing on ways to measure success.

• Start with small tests of Internet campaigns. This was one point that both B2BWorks and Engage Inc., competitors in the b-to-b advertising network space, agreed on.

• Branding needs to suffuse all activities, online and off.

• Industries with small numbers of buyers and sellers may not need broad marketing campaigns, and should rely instead on sales staffs and face-to-face encounters. Our panelists from the advertising world rejected this notion, but many of the dot-com executives on the stage said events and trade shows remained among their strongest b-to-b marketing vehicles.

As I've argued before in this space, marketing and brand matter more, not less, in the age of the Internet. Actually, brand equity takes on double importance if, as some believe, we are entering a lean quarter or more. The companies who appreciate this will survive through 2001.

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