Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Web Pusher

Everybody wants credit for inventing the Worldwide Web and the Internet – even Al Gore. Despite these claims, the WWW has some genuine fathers. I always felt that a Minneapolis-based science fiction writer, Gordon R. Dickson, pre-visioned it in 1984, when he published a novel about a galaxy-wide confrontation called The Final Encyclopedia. Amazon describes it this way:

“At the center of this galactic conflict is the Final Encyclopedia, a huge space-station in orbit of Earth, that contains all the knowledge of the human race. Whoever controls the Encyclopedia will control the fate of humanity.”

Nobody that I recall imagined the space station-load of all knowledge would include advertising. And you hardly need to be told that the Internet is a major advertising medium. I’m sharing a couple of key points because some industrial firms might not be giving it strong enough consideration in 2006.

There’s a lot of hoopla about “consumer advertising” rather than business-to-business advertising on the Worldwide Web. The financial facts are pretty important. See the latest figures here. National advertisers’ 2005 budgets only grew 3.7% overall in their traditional media (vs 2004), but grew 15% in Internet expenditures. The big guys are spending about $8 billion on Web advertising in one form or another. In 2006, the consumer advertisers are expected to grow that spend another 10%...the highest rate of increase among all advertising media.

Most business-to-business advertisers haven’t come anywhere close to matching that rate of increase – except for the very largest.

I think there’s a good reason for this and you can leave aside the “old guys don’t understand new technology” stuff. It's trite. Author and marketing communications futurist Seth Godin spoke to an interviewer recently who asked two questions:

1. Should every business use the Internet to communicate?
2. What are the basics of an Internet communications strategy?

Godin said, “You should only use the Internet if you want your communications to be FAST and you want to reach LARGE NUMBERS with no intermediaries. If you can't handle that, though, you shouldn't try.”

Sean Finnegan, US director of i-agency Digital/OMD, modifies this in the right direction. The Web is a mass medium, he says – but it’s an excellent way to reach an engaged “consumer” looking for a deeper bond with your brand.

In tightly focused B2B markets such as restaurant management software or drilling muds, for example, companies do use the Internet to communicate, but most often it’s via their Web sites – a pull medium when they can get their specialy focused prospects and customers to view them. They do not make as much use as they could of “push” advertising on the Web...and they could use it if it is strategically and tactically well-executed.

Unlike Dickson’s imagined encyclopedia, there is no “final” in the expanding world of online media. It’s devilishly hard to stay ahead of the curve. For most of us, keeping up is way better than catching up.

Advertising professionals like me want to continue to support clients effectively. This year, I’m going to be an enabler. I want to (first) show clients how to get more out of the digital channels they are already using, to push their prospects and customers into closer, more valuable relationships. And (second) I intend to help them implement these new and continually changing channels. Happy New Year’s resolution.

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