Leading those horses to water

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Long before the Internet existed, this column urged b-to-b advertisers to guide prospects through an ad in a sequence consistent with the logical development of the selling proposition.

That usually meant arresting the reader with an intriguing visual, a promise-laden headline, brightly written copy that reinforces the promise of a reward and some form of advertiser identification—most often a logo. It was the art director's job to logically provide the navigation. The better ads would leave prospects favorably disposed to the company when its sales rep came knocking.

That was the logical development of the selling proposition in the predigital world. These days, b-to-b advertisers need to do more than warm the doorknob for sales reps. Advertisers need to get prospects to their Web sites. They need to include that critical step in the selling proposition.

It's a trend we've watched unfold over the past decade and, by and large, b-to-b advertisers are making savvy use of the Internet in their print advertising. In some cases, the Web site is where the deal is sealed. In other cases—especially when it's a complex product or service—a visit to a corporate Web site is one more step in the sales process.

Regardless of the nature of the product or service, you've got to get prospects to the Web. Let's take a look at some examples of ads that have woven the Internet into the selling propositions and some that did not.

In any era, an advertiser's first mission is to engage the target audience. ZoomInfo, a specialized search engine for business, does a stellar job of getting readers to its Web site, which is the product itself. The ad uses a panel of vintage cartoons that highlights the enormous risk businesspeople assume when they fail to do their homework before a business presentation.

ZoomInfo offers itself as the solution to the problem of public embarrassment by making its search engine the center of attention in the bottom half of the ad. Its call to action is simple. "How to keep your foot out of your mouth. Fig. 1. Use." Adds the copy: "Do a search before any meeting, phone call or presentation—and get instant expertise on 32 million businesspeople, 2 million companies, what they do, who they compete against, how well they do and who knows whom. Know your stuff."

Schneider Electric misses an opportunity to sell in logical sequence by burying its Web address in microscopic copy in the bottom left-hand corner of its ad. Schneider, which bills itself in the ad as the "world leader in the management of electricity and automation," could have elaborated on its claim in more convincing fashion on its Web site. We understand that the primary focus of the ad is brand-building, but why not take it a step further by selling readers on the value of the brand by driving them to a more information-rich atmosphere like a Web site?

Nortel also hides its light under a bushel by not only failing to invite readers to its Web site, but by making the address all but invisible because of a typographical flaw. The ad starts out on the right foot with a headline and copy that describe how Kroger has tapped Nortel to help converge its voice and data networks. We're usually fond of case histories because they make the reward attainable. But Nortel's Web address is printed in black type set against a dark blue background. The lack of contrast makes it difficult to see. The rest of the headline and body type appears in white. In a bygone era, we'd say this ad is OK; but in the age of the Internet, we'd say this ad could have done more by inducing the audience to visit Nortel's site.

Cisco brilliantly warms the doorknob for its Web site by beginning a story in print that concludes on the Web. Readers are engaged by the photo of a schoolboy bearing down on a book in the Maugham Library in London. Note how the copy flows logically onto Cisco's Web site: "On the human network, a kid can rewrite the book of knowledge. Welcome to a place where an idea is created by one, tweaked by many and shared with the world. Where collaborative applications are rewriting the rules of business. And encyclopedias. One network makes all this happen. The human one. The story continues at"

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