The Evolution of Business-to-Business Advertising

March 24, 2014

In the past two decades, since the debut of the World Wide Web, the evolution of business-to-business advertising has moved at an unprecedented pace. Business-to-business advertising has always been about leveraging audience data, but now tremendous advances in digital marketing have enabled it to make some incredible advances in audience targeting.Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 1.34.35 PM

To fully grasp these advances, however, we must go back to the beginning of business-to-business advertising. Here are five basic steps business-to-business advertising has taken along its evolution over the past century:

5 Steps B2B Advertising Has Taken To Evolve

1. Trade publications

The late 19th century and most of the 20th century comprised the golden age of the trade publication, and great brands such as Farm Journal, Machine Design, and WWD still thrive. These vertical publications were the leading business-to-business advertising vehicles of their era, primarily because of the data they had on their audiences.

These controlled-circulation magazines had a simple business model. They covered a specific industry and offered their publication for free to members of the industry who provided data, such as their job title, company, contact information, and purchasing budget. These vertical publications generated revenue by selling ads to business-to-business advertisers interested in reaching their vertical business audience.

2. Websites

In 1993, the Mosaic Web browser made the graphical Internet accessible to millions. For business-to-business advertising, the first online opportunities were for advertisers to run banners –display ads – on vertical industry websites. While publishers could provide advertisers with data on how many impressions their banners had reached and how many click-throughs were generated, the basic system essentially replicated the offline media buying model. Advertisers bought online ads on vertical industry websites on the assumption that the visitors to that site were members of that particular industry.

3. Ad Networks

Ad networks first came to prominence in the late 1990s. These networks provided some relief to marketers and their agencies by allowing them to simplify the online media-buying process for business-to-business advertising: Instead of following the time-consuming practice of contracting with each individual publisher, they could simply deal with a network and run display ads on a variety of websites. Ad networks also gave marketers significant reach and ultimately lower CPMs. Horizontal business-to-business advertisers, such as shipping companies, financial institutions, and consultancies, found the networks very appealing.

4. Ad Exchanges

The real promise of the Internet was extremely targeted one-to-one marketing, where marketers could use audience data to identify targets and serve them tailored messages. With the advent of ad exchanges, powered by real-time bidding (RTB), the Internet began to realize this promise in online business-to-business advertising.

Ad exchanges rely on audience platforms, which enable display ads to be automatically or programmatically served – in milliseconds – to an Internet user based on “who” they are, not “what” they are viewing. The audience platforms anonymously identify Internet users based on their job function, job title, company, geo-location, and industry. Now exchanges such as Google’s AdX, AppNexus, and OpenX use this data to service precisely targeted ads to Internet users based on this data virtually anywhere they go on the Web. The result is business-to-business advertising that combines amazing reach and precise targeting – all based on audience data.

5. Synchronizing Display Ads and Marketing Automation

The latest advance in online business-to-business advertising is the synchronization of display ads with marketing automation software. For example, new Eloqua offerings allows Eloqua customers to retarget Internet users who have visited their websites but have not converted. It enables Eloqua customers to serve targeted display ads to prospects in their email database who are among the 80% who are not opening the emails.

This post was originally published on the Bizo blog. In July 2014, LinkedIn + Bizo joined forces to build the most robust B2B marketing platform available to marketers. To learn more, check out David Thacker, VP of Product at LinkedIn’s announcement blog post.

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