Special Report: Top 10 trends for 2001 rooted in b-to-b reality

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Now that the novelty of the Net as a b-to-b tool has faded, 2001 will be the year that the realities of marketing on the Web will be fully explored and exploited, said several top b-to-b marketing executives. No matter what the business challenges—or opportunities—are this coming year, they’re most likely going be addressed on the Internet, they said.

"Long-term strategy has never been more important," said Greg Nickerson, exec VP at Bader Rutter & Associates Inc., Milwaukee. "The legacy of the failed dot-coms underscores the need to have long-range planning and to execute real business strategies. We’re all working in cyber time, but we don’t have to think in cyber speeds. This coming year, I think there will be some stepping back to make sure the right thing is being done for the long term," Nickerson said.

The following top 10 trends to watch in 2001 come from interviews with top executives at b-to-b companies and agencies.

1) Return of the Web site

Although they still may remain involved with e-marketplaces, many b-to-b marketers will return their attention to their corporate Web site as an important channel for reaching customers.

"This year will be a year of innovation as to how to use the Web as an effective communications tool, and this will lead to major overhauls of many corporate Web sites," said Lee Nadler, CEO, Digital Pulp Inc., New York. "Companies increasingly depend on the Internet to communicate with customers and are paying closer attention to how to get the most out of that Web site."

In the U.S., "the Internet as the great experiment is over, and companies that have been standing on the sidelines waiting to see how all this shakes out are now in a position to move onto the Web in a big way," said Tucker Greco, president, Greco Ethridge Group Inc., New York.

2) E-marketplace evolution

That said, e-marketplaces will try to learn from their mistakes and offer more marketing activities for their sellers, who will demand a more direct path via these e-markets to their customers. VerticalNet Inc., for one, is attempting to get on a more positive financial track by boosting e-commerce via its community Web sites, providing news, job listings and discussion forums for small and midsize companies.

"To have an impact, e-marketplaces must be more than a place to place an order," said Steve Levine, VP-marketing for MarketMile, a Mountain View, Calif., joint venture between American Express Co. and Ventro Corp. "There has to be an exchange of business intelligence. What we’ll see in 2001 is that marketplaces are a piece of the foundation for the exchange of b-to-b solutions: That buyers and sellers will actually use the Internet to impact their bottom line from a profitability point of view. It’s not just buying online, but more intelligently doing so online."

Scott Andrews, CEO of Inc., a Morrisville, N.C.-based e-marketplace, said that he believes 2001 will see a major shakeout of e-marketplaces, whether these marketplaces are consortium-backed or independently created. "We’ll see many of these marketplaces either merge or go under," Andrews said. "Those remaining will start to see a significant pickup in e-commerce, as companies complete the installation and integration of e-procurement software and actually begin to use the marketplaces. "

3) CRM commitment

Companies will make a larger commitment to customer relationship management and sales force automation systems in b-to-b to help better segment their customer base and deliver micro-targeted messages, experts predicted. Carla Hendra, president, OgilvyOne North America, New York, said that while most b-to-b companies agree that they need and want CRM, they don’t actually know exactly what it is.

The expectation this year is that CRM will be clarified and fully implemented. "The Internet has made database marketing less expensive ... but no less complex given corporate silos and legacy systems," Hendra said. "Smart b-to-b companies are building out CRM systems that are 24-7, real-time responsive—in fact, anticipating customers’ next needs and wishes."

4) Brand trumps product again

B-to-b marketers will need to decide the right balance between providing straightforward product and service information—often via the Web—versus marketing activity that is softer and more brand oriented. An overall renewed interest in branding is behind these activities, as it becomes increasingly clear that b-to-b customers still want to do business with a known quantity or brand, said David Webster, managing director of the New York office of Siegelgale, a branding consultancy.

Levine said that while branding efforts will remain at the forefront, exorbitant spending will most likely halt. "The model in 2000 was that you went out to the capital markets, got money and used that money to do branding," Levine said. "This is what happened with all the dot-com ads that ran in the Super Bowl last year. As the capital markets have changed, it’s going to be harder for business-to-business marketers to justify that kind of spending in 2001. So while brands are important, companies need to figure out new ways to create and promote a brand without huge investments in capital."

5) Wireless marketing

The so-called "next frontier of marketing," wireless applications are already in place in European and Asian markets, but slow to catch on in the U.S. That will change in 2001, said b-to-b executives, as business marketers pay closer attention to how wireless applications are actually implemented overseas.

"There are some exciting and unique things that marketers are doing with wireless, and everyone here needs to take seriously this notion of preference and personalization," said Emma Carrasco, VP-global advertising, Nortel Networks Corp., Sunrise, Fla. "Wireless presents yet another new opportunity for marketers to execute and personalize an interactive marketing experience, one that shouldn’t be overlooked because the technology isn’t all here."

6) Tech marketing metaphors

As technology becomes evermore complicated, there will be a stronger push to make the advertising that explains the technology more simplistic. For instance, the recent campaign by Genuity Inc. for its Black Rocket software uses a black rocket as a metaphor for speed, while an ad for Blue Martini Software uses blue liquid overflowing from martini glasses as a way to demonstrate how its software allows businesses to reach out to customers in unanticipated ways.

"We’re seeing a lot more brand-building by metaphor, that is, devices that allow people to latch on easily to what the technology is all about," Webster said. "If you had to pick between two different outsourced hosting systems, why not go for the one with the rocket? It creates a point of difference, it’s evocative and it helps customers understand what would otherwise be a descriptor of a generic product."

"We are increasingly being asked to articulate some really complicated b-to-b products," said Andy Edelstein senior VP-creative, The Lord Group, New York. "But the more simple and focused the message, the easier it will be for someone to remember your product."

In whole, advertising increasingly will offer clues, with the accompanying Web site actually filling in the details, said b-to-b ad executives.

7) Global gung-ho

Carrasco said business clients will place greater emphasis in 2001 on leveraging the Internet as a global asset. "We call it executing globally, that is, the marketing strategy is global, but the execution is done in a local manner," she said. "It’s delivering to local markets in the local culture and language all within the broad strategic framework."

In short, expect more b-to-b marketers building offices overseas, as well as using technologies to move into valuable marketplaces.

8) Privacy in e-mail marketing

Privacy and security issues remain in the spotlight as marketers try to sort out what they can send customers without treading on sensitive toes. Giving customers plenty of opportunities to either opt-in or opt-out will remain a key aspect of e-mail marketing in 2001.

"We’re seeing considerable progress on both privacy and security issues, and a growing level of comfort with using e-mail as a marketing tool," Nickerson said. "As the Internet becomes such an integral part of our lives, these issues will begin to subside and e-mail marketing will become an important tool for b-to-b marketers."

Caveat: Though direct marketers have make strides in setting standards for e-mail privacy, government may soon take matters into its own hands. Hundreds of bills currently floating in Congress include e-mail privacy legislation provisions.

9) Consultative marketing

Agencies and b-to-b media will act more as consultants to b-to-b marketers in an attempt to better target b-to-b media spending. Agencies are also going to be smarter about where they’re spending clients’ ad dollars, especially as companies hedge their bets by placing media on a quarterly basis rather than placing it all at once.

"We’re in a tenuous marketplace and there’s a real feeling that certain b-to-b media are not going to be around at this time next year," said Donna Mercer, VP-media director, Howard, Merrell & Partners, Raleigh, N.C. "There’s going to be some advertising liposuction ... and many advertisers are holding back until they get a sense of what’s going to remain standing."

10) Profitability and ROI

A back-to-basics swing in 2001 is leading many marketers to focus more attention on profitability and return on investment. There’s greater demand for Web sites to prove their traffic and their returns, and industry executives overall express confidence there will be tremendous progress made this year to demonstrate the true efficiencies of Internet advertising and marketing. "Advertisers want to know what they’re getting, and we want to be able to tell them," said Caroline Riby, VP-communications director, Saatchi & Saatchi Rowland, Rochester, N.Y.

Hendra said that she expects to see a continued shift between the media channels: some general advertising dollars moving to direct and interactive marketing; direct mail and Internet ad dollars moving to e-mail. "There will be a major focus on results and accountability," she said. "It’s already begun and will continue growing in this new year."

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