The deceptive lure of mega Web sites

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When it comes to online advertising, b-to-b companies are increasingly following their business-to-consumer brethren, picking high-traffic ‘‘consumer'' destinations such as MSN, Yahoo!, GeoCities and Netscape.

A just-released report from Media Metrix Inc. (and its newly acquired Jupiter Communications Inc. research unit) predicts b-to-b ad impressions on mainstream Web sites will jump to 13% of the ad impressions on these sites by next year, hitting a whopping 18% by 2005. (BtoB’s coverage of the report starts on Page 1.)

The report goes on to conclude that 50% of online advertising spending by b-to-b companies will take place on mainstream Web sites.

Today, most b-to-b online ad spending comes from technology companies and professional services firms. Technology companies, in particular, were early and enthusiastic advertisers on the Web and remain by far the most visible advocates of the medium for marketing and e-commerce.

If technology companies were first, who will come next? According to the Jupiter analysts, next in line will be electronic marketplaces, the so-called ‘‘Net market-makers’’ that are appearing with all the nimbleness and diversity of tiny mammals during the Cretaceous Period.

It makes sense. Many industries now have two or more e-exchanges, with more in the pipeline. Painfully aware of the competition, providers of these online marketplaces need volume--and fast. After all, buyers and sellers are the gasoline of an e-hub engine. To attract them, e-marketplace providers will spend gobs of marketing money, both offline and online.

These b-to-b advertisers are feeling their way, however. According to Media Metrix, 80% of online advertising spending by b-to-b companies goes to 25 sites. That compares with financial services companies, which spend 80% of their online advertising dollars on only eight sites, and retailers, which spend 80% of their online advertising money on just 10 sites.

Watch for a branding blood bath as b-to-b companies and Net market-makers jockey for position among an increasingly narrow number of Web sites. And watch for them to pay top dollar for the right to post their banners on these favored few locations. At the same time, the largest vertical e-marketplaces will position themselves as viable advertising locations.

Should b-to-b online advertising blindly follow the business-to-consumer crowd and end up on a handful of mega Web sites? Absolutely not. If anything, those stodgy business publications of yore had it right. There is long-term and sustainable value in focused information and services to targeted communities. Time will tell, but I strongly believe the smartest b-to-b advertisers will shun the current, trendy spending on general purpose consumer sites and seek instead marketing strategies, technologies and, yes, Web sites that deliver high-value prospects and customers.

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