Web to return to its marketing roots

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After all the hype about commerce engines, push, Java and other tools, the focus of business-to-business Web development in 1998 will return to where it started -- to people and business relationships.

B-to-b marketing is all about building relationships and the Web is a great tool for that, says Jerry Michalski, managing editor of the "Release 1.0 newsletter", New York.

But all the great new Web technologies have taken business' eyes off the ball, Mr. Michalski says.

Big winners of 1998

The companies that refocus their efforts on relationships will be the big winners of 1998, he adds.

That's what Suzanne Neufang, director of interactive media for Stamford, Conn.-based GTE Corp. (among the Top 50 in the NetMarketing 200) is counting on. She says getting close to the customer is critical and database-driven Web sites will have a huge advantage.

"If users are willing to give us information, we'll be able to make their session at a much more personal experience," she says. "We'll be able to use e-commerce and transactional tools to anticipate what they want and to offer them specials and promotions based on their previous buying patterns."

Vernon Keenan, a director of Zona Research, a Mountain View, Calif., market researcher, says this refocusing means we'll see more middlemen doing business online.

Indeed, two of the Top 10 companies in the NetMarketing 200 -- Marshall Industries and W.W. Grainger -- are middlemen between manufacturers and buyers.

"We call [middlemen] the electronic economy nexus," Mr. Keenan says.

But wait a minute. Wasn't the Web supposed to release us from all these middlemen?

Not exactly, says Harold Wohlander, director of research for ActivMedia, a Petersborough, N.H., market researcher. Mr. Wohlander says the creation of extranets brought middlemen into the online business process. He says this makes authentication a key Web technology for 1998.

Back to basics

Mr. Michalski sees 1998 as a "back to basics" era in the development of online marketing.

"Businesspeople are still trying to think of what to do with the Net," he says. "They see it as another channel like print and broadcast. They don't realize it's fundamentally different. They're not taking advantage of the differences."

Those who do see the differences, building a Web-aware "personal information manager" for their companies, building online networks alongside their personal business networks, will be the big winners in 1998.

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