Which B2B Medium is Right for You?
By Robert W. Bly

Today we are faced with a bewildering variety of choices when it comes to choosing how we will communicate with our prospects. Let me tell you what I know about making that decision.

Although print advertising has fallen out of favor, it can still be effective, especially when targeted to niche audiences. So should you consider advertising in a magazine?

Let's say we were selling valves and our target audience was chemical engineers. There are at least two major trade publications serving that field, Chemical Engineering and Chemical Engineering Progress. Most chemical engineers read at least one of these two publications. So a space ad running in both would make sense.

The rule of thumb is this: if a target market has its own trade publication, that's probably a cost-efficient and effective way to reach them. So trade publication advertising is a medium worth testing. Start with a quarter-page ad, and if it works, try a half or full-page advertisement.

On the other hand, say you wanted to advertise valves for sulfuric acid plants. Only a tiny fraction of the readers of Chemical Engineering and Chemical Engineering Progress work in sulfuric acid plants. So advertising in those publications would give us a huge amount of wasted circulation: most people who read the ad are not prospects.

What's the solution? See if Chemical Engineering or Chemical Engineering Progress can identify subscribers by type of plant or operation they work in. If the magazine will rent you a list of subscribers working at sulfuric acid plants, you can reach them through direct mail.

Should the mailing be plain and simple or expensive and elaborate? That depends on how many names are on the list. The rules of thumb here are as follows: the higher up the prospect is on the corporate ladder, the more impactful the mailer has to be. And the smaller the target market, the more you can afford to spend on each mail piece.

Let's say your target audience is the CEOs of the 200 largest automobile industry companies. If you spend $10 per unit for a dimensional mailing, your total mailing cost is only $2,000. Generally expensive dimensional mailings (i.e., bulky envelopes that contain an object) are within the marketer's budget if the size of the list is a few thousand names or fewer.

If the list has tens of thousands of names and postal addresses for them, a more standard direct mail package - either a #10 envelope package or a self-mailer - is probably your best choice for reaching them with impact and affordably.

If the list has a hundred thousand names or more, there is probably at least one magazine serving that market, and an ad may be the most cost-effective way to reach them.

Don't forget associations when targeting niche markets. If you market is worldwide or nationwide, you can market to the association on the national level. This marketing could include exhibiting at their annual meeting, running an ad in the members-only newsletter, or getting the membership directory and mailing to that list (check with the association to make sure that is not prohibited).

If you sell more on a local or regional level, the best way to reach members may be through the local chapters. Some local association chapters publish membership lists you can mail to or hold nearby meetings at which you can volunteer to be the speaker.

When marketing through trade publications or associations, don't forget the PR approach. Send press releases on your products and other news. Offer to write an article for the magazine or newsletter.

In many industries, there are a few influential bloggers who hold sway over surprisingly large and active audiences. Assemble a list of the top bloggers in you field and make sure they receive your press releases. More important, read and participate in these blogs, and alert them first when you have an interesting new story to tell.

Another good place online to subtly promote yourself, your products, and your company is LinkedIn discussion groups. Find and join the discussion groups in your niche. LinkedIn shows you which discussions on the group are the most active. Participate in multiple discussions and in more than one group.

What about e-mail marketing? There are only two types of lists you should e-mail to: (1) outside opt-in e-lists, which are typically rented by list brokers, and (b) your house file of opt-in names.

Presumably you have a box on your web site where visitors can opt in to receive a free online newsletter or other content. This list will likely give you the best response to e-mail marketing, because they already know you and agreed to get messages from you.

E-mailing to rented lists is a little tougher, because they don't know you, although they know the publication, web site, or other resource that owns the e-list (the e-mail message from line identifies that source). You have to bribe them into responding with an attractive offer such as a free webinar or white paper.

Often the decision as to whether to use e-mail marketing boils down to the availability of lists. In some niche markets, both postal and e-lists reaching a sizable chunk of the market are available. In some other markets, the e-mail lists are incomplete, with far fewer names than postal lists, so direct mail is the way to go.

Take a look at the industry e-newsletters you probably receive on a frequent basis. Many of them accept advertising. If there is an e-zine reaching your market, try them for an ad or two. The ads let you reach their subscriber list at a fraction of the cost of a stand-alone e-mail marketing message to that same audience.

How much online marketing to use in your media mix depends to some extent on whether your target audience spends a lot of time at their PC. Also, do they tend to search for products and suppliers online? If so, both organic search as well as pay-per-click advertising might work well for your business.

About the author:
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 75 books including The White Paper Marketing Handbook (Racom). You can find him on the Web at www.bly.com, or e-mail him at rwbly@bly.com, or phone 201-385-1220.