Use Net promotions to build relationships

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Effective online promotions in the b-to-b space don't have to be expensive. But they do need to be targeted.

A lot of b-to-b buying is done through relationships, said Harry Wohlander, VP-market research at ActivMedia Research Inc., a Peterborough, N.H., market research firm that recently completed a report on b-to-b promotions.

"The whole idea of bargains goes against aggressive promotion, competition on price, trying to deliver service when they don’t have the margin to do it," Wohlander said. The most effective b-to-b promotions, then, are aimed at launching a relationship, he said.

Still, b-to-b sites are even more active this year in promoting themselves than their business-to-consumer counterparts. Wohlander’s report highlighted a survey done by ActivMedia Research showing the average b-to-b site budgeted nearly $72,000 for promotions this year, compared with a $40,000 budget for the average consumer site.

Those sites that expect to be profitable soon had the highest budgets, Wohlander said, while those that are already profitable had the lowest.

Commodity suppliers of office supplies and computers are most likely to conduct price-based promotions, Wohlander said. and fall into this category, he said.

The days of giving away cars and vacations on the Web may be over, but as I found at the recent Supercomm trade show, savvy promoters can still find giveaways that make a lot of sense.

Evolution of online promotions

Evolving Systems Inc. of Englewood, Colo., for instance, sells software to telecommunications companies and knows that cellular phone companies must be ready to make their numbers "portable" by Thanksgiving of 2002 (as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996).

The company offers software to solve the problem, and to promote it. Evolving Systems is offering a free screen saver from its Web site. The screen saver is basically a calendar that identifies key dates along the way to cell number portability, which will let cellular customers take their phone numbers with them when they change carriers.

Few people need this screen saver, but those who do are in the heart of Evolving Systems’ market.

Similarly, market research firm Current Analysis Inc., Sterling, Va., was looking for a way to gain more trade press coverage. When analysts are quoted regularly, technology companies take notice and become more likely to buy research reports.

So Joel Ranck, the company’s director of account development, created a special Web page that signed up reporters at the Supercomm trade show for "behind the firewall" access on Current Analysis reports.

The sign up also got the reporters on a list for regular HTML-based press releases highlighting the company’s latest findings. Analysts made themselves available at the show’s pressroom for interviews.

The user names are given to reporters and identified as to which show they signed up at, so the company can track its success closely. As budgets tighten and more companies place content behind firewalls so they can earn money from it, these kinds of promotions should become more common.

There are important lessons here. Information can be as valuable a promotion as products can. Targeting your promotion as narrowly as possible pays off. Also, a successful promotion doesn’t require a huge budget.

Dana Blankenhorn is a free-lance journalist who specializes in Internet issues. He is publisher of the Web site

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