B-to-B Marketing: 1978 vs. 2008
By Robert W. Bly

I started my career in business-to-business marketing in the late 1970s, and by the early 1980s, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the basics of b-to-b.

I also didn't see where b-to-b was likely to change much. So I believed I could continue to use the methods I'd learned during my first few years for the rest of my life.

I also didn't see where b-to-b was likely to change much. So I believed I could continue to use the methods I'd learned during my first few years for the rest of my life.

Boy, was I wrong!

First came along the fax machine ... then the personal computer ... then cell phones ... then white papers ... then the Internet ... then search engines ... then blogging ... then Webinars ... then social networks ... and suddenly, b-to-b marketing had become a brave new world, one that few fully grasped and most of us struggle to keep up with.

Here, as I see it, are some of the biggest changes that have taken place in b-to-b marketing during the past three decades - and also, what has stayed relatively the same.

1-The death of "industrial marketing." It used to be called industrial marketing, and the trade publication serving the industry was called Industrial Marketing.

Gradually, Industrial Marketing changed its name to Business Marketing and then to BtoB. And today, those of us who market products and services to businesses are "business-to-business" marketers.

2-From tactical to strategic. Before the Internet, b-to-b marketing had relatively few choices. So planning campaigns was simple and straightforward. You'd create a sales brochure, - run a trade ad, send out a few press releases, and try to get a feature article written about it in the industry trade pubs.

Today, there are dozens of other marketing methods, and a number of the early communications tools have, in many instances, fallen out of favor and been supplanted by new media - everything from e-newsletters and Webinars, to podcasts and vertical search engines.

As a result, you have to decide how to divide your limited budget and time among these new communications vehicles. So planning a b-to-b marcom campaign is more complex.

3-The end of the "industrial film," slide shows, and 35 mm photography. When I worked at Westinghouse Aerospace in the late 1970s, I actually produced my first A/V promotion on 16 millimeter film. Soon after, film died, and everything was shot in video.

We also had an entire department that did nothing but produce slides for presentations. Managers who wanted to speak with slides had to go to the slide department to get them produced. Now, everyone has PowerPoint and can produce their own slide shows on their PCs.

Also at Westinghouse, we had a full-time photographer, Pete - a skilled professional who took photos of products, processes, and installations with a 35 mm camera. Today, film has largely disappeared, replaced by digital photography ... and everyone who owns a digital camera thinks he's as good a photographer as Pete.

4-The dethroning of trade journals. The primary means of marketing business-to-business products was through the major trade journals targeting the industry or market niche you wanted to reach.

Today, trade magazines still exist, but are hardly flourishing. They struggle to compete with the Internet, and play less of a central role - though are still important -- in educating members of a particular industry or trade about new technologies, products, and developments.

5-The decline of print advertising. Whenever we wanted to promote a product, doing an ad for the product was a no-brainer. It was automatically assumed you'd advertise. The question was where, when, what size, how frequently, and with what budget.

Today, print advertising is rarely the primary b-to-b marketing medium. For many B2B marketers, it's not even on the radar. More likely to be considered: paid search, SEO, and e-mail marketing.

6-The effectiveness of planted feature articles. Writing articles for industry publications was such an effective marketing strategy, I knew a guy who had a boutique PR agency that did nothing but ghostwrite and place such feature stories for clients. Typically the articles were bylined by an engineer.

Today, despite the supposed decline of the printed word, writing articles for trade publications remains one of the most potent B2B marketing tactics. Writing online articles for Web sites and e-zines may generate more clicks and traffic, but in many markets, a bylined article in the leading industry magazine still has more credibility and clout - and the reprints make terrific sales literature.

7-The shrinking of PR. In the heyday of print, each industry was covered globally by too many trade publications and newsletters for most marcom managers to count. So they hired a B2B PR firm to make sure their products got as much coverage as possible.

But in the 1990s and 2000s, publishing underwent a consolidation, with the number of publications serving each industry declining by 50 to 75 percent or more. When marcom managers saw there were only a few publications in their market, many decided they could do PR in-house, and numerous small B2B PR firms either folded or saw billings decline.

8-The demise of the sales brochure. For many years, I made my living primarily writing sales brochures. These were slick, glossy affairs with expensive photography and high-end graphic design. It was not unusual for a client with a new product to want multiple brochures for a new product covering different applications or markets, each ranging from 4 to 16 pages or longer.

Today sales literature primarily resides on the World Wide Web as pages accessible through the company's Web site and through search. Fewer and fewer print brochures are published, and they are shrinking in size, with the most common format the two-sided 8 1/2 by 11-inch "sell sheet."

9-The rise of the white paper. The primary sales collateral today is the white paper, not the brochure. While the sales brochure focused on the product, and looked and read like sales copy, the white paper focuses on educating prospects about a problem and how to solve it - and looks and reads like a how-to article or tutorial.

10-The critical importance of key words and search. In the old days, the most important sales channel to cultivate was your inside sales force and your reps: the primary means by which prospects approached your company about buying your product.

In 2008, the primary means of finding products is through Internet search. Therefore, the most important knowledge for the b-to-b marketer to acquire is not how to recruit reps (though that's still important). It's finding out the key words and phrases prospects search when looking for your type of product or for help solving one of the problems it addresses ... and along with that, making sure your site comes up on the search engine's first page when prospects type in those key words and phrases.

I've only covered the tip of the iceberg as far as the differences between business-to-business marketing in 2008 vs. 1978. There's a lot I left out because of space limitations: e-mail marketing campaigns, e-newsletters, blogs, vertical portals, tele-seminars, MySpace -- you name it.

And that, I think, is the point: I was wrong in 1978 to view b-to-b marketing as static and set. It's dynamic and fast-changing, and for today's b-to-b marketing professional, it's a full-time job just to keep up. My objective in this new column is to help make keeping up a little easier, and bring you a steady stream of profitable new ideas for generating more b-to-b leads and sales.

About the author:
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 70 books including The White Paper Marketing Handbook (Racom). His Web site is www.bly.com, or e-mail him at rwbly@bly.com, or phone 201-385-1220.