Working With B2B

If you’re a media buyer who has recently created a business-to-business (B2B) campaign, you probably noticed that B2B inventory just isn’t what it used to be. As such a buyer, I have to ask: Where has all the good B2B media gone? Only a few years ago, the Internet was overrun with specialty B2B portals and sites that touted a thorough penetration of their respective niche markets. Their ad rates may have been sky high, but we endured the strain — after all, this was precious, highly targeted inventory.

Back then, every new workday seemed to bring another industry report forecasting the impressive future growth of B2B e-commerce. The B2B portals were set; if these speculations were accurate, it wouldn’t be long before they would be selling out their inventory at whatever rate suited their fancy. Specialty networks that dealt only in B2B media were formed. Everyone wanted to be on board when this market inevitably became the online profit generator, for buyers and sellers alike.

As it turned out, the analysts were pretty bang-on with their predictions. In 2000, eMarketer was projecting that worldwide B2B e-commerce would be worth $1.255 trillion by 2003. Stats from the research firm’s recent “E-Commerce Trade and B2B Exchanges” report now confirm that global online B2B trade is on track with previous predictions, estimated to reach close to $2.4 trillion by 2004. It’s expected to total $823.4 billion by the end of this year alone.

So where does this leave all of those portals and networks that were so anxiously awaiting the growth of this potential goldmine? Unfortunately, many of them (think sites that deal in verticals, such as hydrocarbons and petrochemicals, or grocery retailing) couldn’t sustain themselves while waiting for their big break to arrive. The demand for good B2B media inventory is strong, but fewer sites are left to fulfill it. When conducting research for B2B campaigns, I’ve often tried to obtain advertising information from portals and networks that were formerly known to be leaders in the markets, to no avail — their sites were still up, but nobody was home. When your advertising options are fairly limited to begin with, finding out that half of your prospects are down for the count can put a real damper on campaign planning.

This isn’t to say that developing a B2B campaign online is a hopeless endeavor, but doing so successfully has certainly become more challenging. Some of the more surprising sources of inventory are the networks and media brokers that we deal with regularly for our consumer campaigns. In an attempt to attract some of this lucrative business, many companies that have traditionally sold consumer inventory have expanded their offerings to include B2B media. By partnering with the niche portals that are still hanging on or developing their own lists, these networks are able to provide banner placements and email lists at significantly lower rates.

When you work with these suppliers, providing as much detail as possible about the market you need to target is important. It’s wise to assume that the account executives won’t have as much experience selling B2B inventory as they do consumer placements. To them, targeting engineers, for example, may just be a matter of placing your ad in the engineering section of a B2B partner’s site or running some counts on an email list by the same name. But if your target audience is engineering consultants in a specific field — such as metallurgy — they’ll need to search deeper to locate the right audience.

Considering the current state of B2B media, you might also think about compensating for the lack of targeted inventory by reinventing your marketing strategy all together. Slapping together some industry-specific creative and hoping it will reach your target might be the easiest approach, but if your client has an email newsletter that you can leverage, why not create a campaign that encourages users to join a mailing list? Ask subscribers to tell you their industry sector and other job specifics, and you have your own targeted list. This may involve a larger initial investment, but once you’ve managed to build up the list, you can guarantee you’ll be reaching the client’s exact target from then on. And getting subscribers won’t be as hard as you think. Just as it’s now harder for buyers to find good sources of inventory, it’s also harder for those who work in B2B to find good sources of information. They’ll be just as grateful to be singled out as your client will be to get a B2B ad campaign that works.

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