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And the survey says: B2B is where you need to be

Perhaps you should stop right now. Since you are reading this magazine, this particular article is likely redundant. All it will do is confirm that, yes, you're astute in terms of your career and you'...


February 1, 2008
By Pulp & Paper Canada

Topics

Perhaps you should stop right now. Since you are reading this magazine, this particular article is likely redundant. All it will do is confirm that, yes, you’re astute in terms of your career and you’re in good company. Or so say almost 600 of your peers. This article is about B2B media – trade publications, dedicated websites, trade shows and conferences -all serving the business-to- business world and the businesspeople that know and use this media.

Should you turn the page or keep reading? I’ll help you decide. Are you in or edging towards a corner office? Are you 46.2 years old, enjoying a household income of US$123,000 per annum and work at a senior or mid-level US$5-million-plus firm?

Call it a telling coincidence but along with the clout and six-figure pay cheque, you also dip into 4.2 trade magazines a month, regularly click into 7.4 biz-to-biz websites and attend a trade show or conference every second month or so. (By the way, you’re also 69% male, 31% female. Carl Jung would be intrigued.)

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If the above composite fits -congratulations. You’re a typical, intractable user of B2B media. Fine, move on to the next article if you like. However, if you want know how to better use B2B media, keep reading. Pollsters’ findings and pundits’ ruminations await.

In June 2006, mighty American Business Media organization released a survey it commissioned to research firm Harris Interactive. The goal: better understand the role B2B media plays with corporate decision makers. Some 588 ‘deciders’ makers winnowed from Dun & Bradstreet lists were interviewed. All were senior or mid-level executives “very involved” in the B2B arena and were equally spread over 21 BINS or business categories to ensure the results could be projected across the full business spectrum.

Some select findings

B2B media is held “in high regard” by decision makers. Most executives laud B2B magazines and websites as more reliable (83%) than mainstream medium (i. e. general business magazines, television and newspapers); 96% use B2B media to stay informed and get a leg up on the competition, with senior executives -vice presidents and above -being especially keen.

The connection isn’t passive. The executives are “engaged/involved” with B2B media; they actively seek the input of B2B magazines and sales representatives cited as the most engaging, slightly ahead of B2B trade shows, websites and conferences and seminars.

Ninety-one per cent of senior executives read more B2B magazines (4.9 per month on average) than do mid-level executives (83% and 3.6 magazines). The top dogs read longer: 2.36 hours versus 1.7 hours. States the report: “In fact, when asked what source of information executives rely on to do their job best, B2B magazines (41%) comes out on top as the single most-mentioned source, well above any general business media.”

Attendance at trade shows has slipped slightly, down from an average 2.9 shows and 8.1 days in 2001, to 2.1 and 7.4 days in 2006. Senior executives go to more shows than mid-level executives (2.7 verses 1.7 shows respectively). Still, trade shows are lauded as forums for ideas and literal hands-on interaction with new products and potential purchases.

Different strengths and fortes

• Trade shows provide invaluable interaction with sales representatives and industry peers to raise wareness of products (70%);

• B2B magazines generate trust (57%), are seen as objective and raise awareness of new products and services. Notes the report: “Furthering their reputation as informative, B2B magazines are the top source identified where executives first earn of new products.”

• B2B media websites offer immediacy (49%). Three in four say websites provide the latest information, with wo-thirds saying they raise awareness of new products. Trust in B2B websites as a reliable resource is on the rise.

Advertisements in different B2B mediums “spur different types of action,” yet create overall synergy. Ads for the same product in different mediums aren’t redundant but instead provide extra information. This augmentation is vital for “offering executives the guidance they want every step of the way.”

• B2B magazines direct executive interest to the Web, either to find additional information (79%) or make online purchases (39%). B2B magazine ads prompt almost six in 10 executives (57%) to buy, or recommend the purchase, of a product or service.

• Hands-on, face-to-face tradeshows and conventions drive sales. Seventy per cent of executives make or recommend a corporate purchase as a result of a show. They also spur them to seek more information, either via the Web (77%), a sales rep (73%) or a 1-800 number (70%).

• The immediacy of website ads translates to slightly more than one in three (35%) executives making a direct purchase online and almost one in two (49%) to purchase or recommend the purchase of specific goods or services.

Good news for B2B sales types, but most executives believe “each type of B2B media discussed directly leads to purchases of products or services advertised/promoted in that media.” The more the better; ads in multiple B2B media vehicles raise “top of mind” awareness for that product or service.

Survey data vs. front-line advice

Lori McDaniel, president Group3 Communications advises industry giant Voith Paper and other corporate clients with their B2B-media presence. From her vantage point in North Car- olina, the B2B advertising pie is still there … but it is sliced differently.

“I don’t think the money is drying up,” opines McDaniel. “It’s going to different places. We’re seeing a trend towards more one-to-one marketing as solutions are becoming more customized. If our clients are doing custom work for their customers, then they want to be able to tell their customers exactly what they’re doing for them, not offer a generic ‘solution’.”

Solutions come in the form of targeted, even personalized direct mail; direct e-mail and Internet or extranet websites. Canny companies sponsor e-mail newsletters. They beef up web advertising and their own online presence and know exactly where they are with the supplier: special-order products, new products and so forth. Says McDaniel, “They’re using technology a lot more to do one-to-one marketing.”

Call it self-fulfilling but print advertisements are scaled back when biz people believe other biz folk aren’t reading trade publications as they did, five and 10 years ago. Meanwhile, the allure of new technology -websites, e-newsletter etcetera -takes more dollars away from traditional print ads.

“As new media emerges, the way people receive information is more fragmented,” says McDaniel. “You can’t assume everyone is reading this particular trade organization’s newsletter, so you need to be more places. We’re seeing [B2B advertisers] diversify and split up their money in a lot of places to reach their really specific targets.”

McDaniel also believes certain types of trade shows are losing audiences and sponsors. Although IT and technology shows are active, manufacturing- themed shows are unhappily pulling in the ‘wrong’ crowds. Rather than connecting with buying cliental, the folks in the booths get hit on by hungry suppliers. Increased travel costs also keep some customers at home.

The result, says McDaniel, is that more companies fold up the booth and instead focus on conferences to present technical presentations, get published and otherwise raise their profile cost-effectively.

However, Thomas Johnstone, president of $600-million per annum Buckman Laboratories of Canada, doesn’t think trade shows should be down-played. Call it loyalty and business sense, but when “you support the hand that feeds you, you’re going to get yourself well-known.”

Yes, snag but one big contact or contract and the expense is covered. But Johnstone says the shows aren’t mere one
-off sales hits but long-term investments, knowledge and networking pools … and great venues to raise corporate profile. Especially when there’s a solid conference element to showcase technical presentations and your corporate smarts.

“The key to business is not knowledge transfer, but confidence transfer,” says Johnstone. If the customer is confident your company can do the job, fix the problem, fill the need and your company name is top-of-mind – you’ll likely get the business. “You’re basically marketing your ‘brand’ – marketing and getting your name out there.”

Think synergistically. Newsletters, literature, trade shows, trade publications, call people, be part of industry meetings, large technical presentations, be accessible to the media and become a factual and quotable source for articles (such as this one).

“It’s a whole package,” explains Johnstone. “It’s essentially coupled with face-to-face meetings and being in the marketplace.”

People have short memories. To keep top-of-mind, Johnstone says: get out there. Print is useful but only one shell in the arsenal. “It’s just part of a ontinual bombardment of your name, right in the face -your [company] is here and it’s successful.”

Johnstone notes that any article or ad is “wasted” if it doesn’t reach the right demographic. In specialty markets, be wary of general-audience publications and instead look B2B media that focus on hitting the right eyeballs.

Maintaining visibility

Advertising budgets for print may have shrunk but McDaniel says many companies still see credible trade publications as important vehicles to maintain their visibility in the industry and stay atop news-wise. As well, in specific sectors, the number of trade publications that cater to an industry are fewer, which make it easier to select a horse.

McDaniel believes hybrid publications, traditional print augmented with an online presence are the future. Those who adapted early-on, such as IT and tech industries, are already riding the hybrid horse. However, those later-to-adapt aren’t using electronic media to get all the media information they require. But that will change.

The challenge for any trade publication is to create and deliver content that is so valuable, robust and timely, the audience is going to read it. Magazines must be creative, the content fresh, provocative, important and, yes, influential. In short: a must-read or a must see.

“Because, ultimately the [advertising] money is going where the audience is,” says McDaniel. “As long as the readers are still subscribing to these publications and reading them, then the advertisers are going to stay interested.”

So now we’re at the end of the piece. Thanks for that. Now, flip the page, go ruminate on the other articles. And do scan the ads and the technical articles. You know it’s good for you, your company and your career ath.

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“In fact, when asked what source of information executives rely on to do their job best, B2B magazines (41%) comes out on top as the single most-mentioned source, well above any general business media.”

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Still, trade shows are lauded as forums for ideas and literal hands-on interaction with new products and potential purchases.