Internet advertising, which is expected to reach $8 billion in total revenue this year, is slowly gaining traction among b-to-b advertisers as a viable, effective marketing tool.
High-tech companies such as IBM Corp., Oracle Corp. and Microsoft Corp. have topped the list of online ad spenders since the medium debuted as an ad vehicle. Now, more traditional b-to-b advertisers are joining the ranks and increasing their online budgets as they see the benefits of the medium. Financial services companies have become major spenders on online advertising, with American Express Co. and Bank One Corp. among the top 10 b-to-b advertisers in May, according to data from Nielsen/NetRatings Inc.
Traditional manufacturing companies are boosting their ad spending, too. For example, Hobart Corp., a kitchen equipment maker, now devotes 40% of its total marketing budget to Internet marketing, which it uses to communicate with customers and prospects.
"There has been a significant positive shift in opinions about interactive over the past 12 months," said Tom Stein, president-CEO of Stein Rogan + Partners, New York, which conducted research for the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
According to the study, 69% of respondents said their opinions regarding the effectiveness and importance of interactive media have shifted positively over the past 12 months. In addition, 80% of major brand marketers and advertising agency executives surveyed said interactive media and marketing must now be considered mainstream.
Based on its findings, Stein Rogan developed an integrated ad campaign for the IAB with the tagline, "Interactive is the active ingredient in the marketing mix." The campaign launched last month.
Another report also spotlights the growing importance of interactive marketing. A study released by Forbes.com found that C-level executives spend more time each weekâ16 hours, on averageâwith online media than with any other medium. Thatâs more than five times the average amount of time spent online by the general population.
The ability to target these decision-makers with unique messages is one of the key benefits of online advertising, and publishers are finding new ways to deliver on the promise.
"The thing thatâs of most interest for b-to-b advertisers, apart from bigger units and searching for new technologies that make for richer ad environments, is our targeting capabilities," said Bruce Rogers, VP-marketing at Forbes.com.
Forbes.com now offers targeting by title, enabling b-to-b advertisers to reach only CEOs, CFOs or other executives by job titles. It also offers targeting by Forbes 2000, which guarantees delivery of an advertiserâs message to companies on Forbesâ lists of top businesses.
In addition, Forbes.com launched a reach-and-frequency offer in the first quarter. This guarantees delivery of an ad to a certain number of unique users, with a cap on how many times they see an ad. For example, advertisers can buy guaranteed exposure of their ad to 1 million unique users, and each would see the ad only twice.
"We feel this is the way the industry is headed, so people are buying real GRPs [gross ratings points] instead of projected audience," Rogers said.
Delivering more information
New, larger interactive ad units are also giving online advertisers the ability to put more information within online ads and make messages more relevant to their target audience.
"The first thing [b-to-b advertisers] are looking to do is exploit the capabilities of the new ad formats," said Greg Mason, exec VP-sales at CNet Networks Inc., which worked with the IAB to help develop standard formats for interactive marketing units (IMUs), the large, information-rich, navigable ads that CNet pioneered.
CNet advertisers Oracle Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. are among the b-to-b advertisers using the IMUs to deliver software downloads, product tours and other interactive messaging within the ad units and as part of integrated marketing programs.
According to CNetâs latest research on the effectiveness of IMUs, more than 48% of users remembered having seen an ad, up from 42% that remembered the ad in the first wave of research in July 2001.
CNet this month will launch a new ad format called Dynamic Data Ads, which will allow marketers to change copy within ads on the fly by simply clicking on a creative form and inputting changes. The ads, created with Macromedia Flash, are just the latest in new formatting techniques that make online advertising easier to create and deliver, Mason said.
Such advances are paving the way for more traditional b-to-b marketers to test the waters with interactive.
One of Stein Roganâs new clients, scanning equipment maker Symbol Technologies, just hired the agency to develop an integrated campaign, including interactive. The client has not done much interactive marketing in the past, Stein noted.
The agencyâs first assignment is to build market share for Symbolâs bar-code scanner in the channel market, targeting resellers. So Stein Rogan created an interactive scanner selector in which resellers can enter five or six criteria about what products theyâre looking for. The ad sends users to the scanner selector, which is actually an application on a micro-site.
"When clients see what is available, such as acquiring customers and converting them more quickly, they see how [online advertising] can drive their initiatives," Stein said.
Still holding out promise, but having difficulty gaining widespread acceptance among b-to-b advertisers, is rich media, which allows advertisers to deliver full-motion video, audio and other multimedia content within online ads.
Some Web publishers, such as CNet, Forbes.com and CBSMarketWatch, have added rich-media capabilities to their sites, and advertisers are beginning to take advantage of these opportunities. But itâs still an uphill battle for most agencies, clients and publishers, say industry players.
"Many of the agencies weâre working with are being driven by advertisers to get more involved with richer technologies, but there are a lot of technologies the agencies arenât up to speed with," said Bill McCloskey, president-CEO of Emerging Interest, an industry group that promotes education about rich media. Emerging Interest has put on more than 50 road shows since October to educate ad agencies about new rich-media technologies.
More education needed
Forbes.comâs Rogers agrees there is still more advocacy that needs to be done to promote the use of rich media.
"Streaming media is catching on, but not as fast as we thought industrywide, because advertising agencies havenât quite caught up to the Internet," Rogers said.
However, Forbes.com is beginning to do more cross-media advertising, making use of new streaming technologies. Itâs now running a campaign for Microsoft using streaming technology from EyeWonder that plays a Microsoft TV commercial in a Forbes.com
e-newsletter, without needing to launch a multimedia player.
And b-to-b advertisers are paying attention to rich media. According to Emerging Interest, the average weekly impressions of banners using Flash has increased from 100,000 last August to more than 1 billion in June.