Shiny, jingly, moving objects attract attention

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Are dazzling graphics and streaming audio and video presentations powerful tools for online b-to-b marketers? Or are they, as some argue, expensive toys that will cease to grab attention once the novelty wears off? It’s a tough call.

On one side, there’s the now-famous Federal Express Corp. packaging tracking Web page, which in 1994 demonstrated to many people (myself included) the power of Web self-service. The original FedEx site was an exemplar of simple elegance. It contained little more than a single-line field that asked for a package tracking number. Once you hit return, the page refreshed with a few lines of simple text—FedEx processing locations and times—that told you the whereabouts of your shipment. (Behind the scenes, FedEx had to do some extremely sophisticated systems integration to make this straightforward interface work—but that’s another story.)

On the other side, there is anecdotal evidence that so-called rich-media marketing and Web sites offer dramatic returns. In our Page 1 story on rich media, you’ll learn of a travel agency that used a Western Union branded video message to target business travelers. The campaign converted an amazing 35% of the prospects into viewers, and 1.3% of recipients into buyers. Indeed, according to BtoB’s own, expansive Special Report on direct marketing in this issue (see Page 41), rich media is among the top 10 industry trends of this year. “Those things that appeal to human nature work as well in b-to-b as in business-to-consumer,” said Venture Direct Worldwide Inc.’s Rich Baumer.

For a thorough discussion of rich-media marketing—its promise as well as its problems—see our package of stories in the NetMarketing section of this issue beginning on Page 27.

My own assessment is that b-to-b audiences are interested in function over form. Multimedia extravaganzas that don’t contribute to the function of a site (say, easier navigation or information delivery) may win design awards for their clever use of technology but will not succeed over the long term.

BtoB has operated from the very beginning under this assumption: Marketing and technology professionals are morphing into each other, appropriately combining both skills. Therefore, it was very gratifying to see a confirmation of this in the results of a Web poll that BtoB ran recently. The chart at left speaks for itself. Check for new polls (and an archive of old ones) on our Web site:

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