Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Internet portals come to B2C markets
Article Type: Internet currency From: Journal of Consumer Marketing, Volume 25, Issue 5
Edited by Dennis A. PittaUniversity of Baltimore
A few years ago, B2B marketers developed web sites called “portals.” Portals were gathering places for industry specific information and visitors. For example, portals that specialized in industrial chemicals featured links and specific web pages devoted to the needs of industry suppliers, manufacturers, and consumers. The portals were, in essence, one-stop shopping places. They focused on the buying and selling activities of industry members. Some were no more than collectors of promotional links. However, others added information about government actions, interesting technological developments, and other items to become so important that users visited those sites daily.
Technology Marketing Corporation(www.tmcnet.com/)
One neat example of a B2C portal is Technology Marketing Corporation (TMC). It is based in Norwalk, CT and was founded in 1972. The company is a leading integrated marketing media company, servicing niche markets within the communications and technology industries. TMC has created a highly targeted, content-driven set of communities focused on serving the communications and technology fields. By providing rich content is has become one of the world’s primary educational and news resource in – voice over internet protocol (VoIP), IP communications, telecom, contact centers, and CRM. TMC reaches about 3.5 million readers worldwide each month. They visit the site for up-to-date information about segments within their industries. The content is highly focused and remarkably up to date. Somehow, TMC manages to provide fresh material that marketing managers use on the job, every day.
TMC provides a valuable mix of news, expert commentary, research reports, and valuable opinions of industry participants. Doing so breaks the rules of normal web pages. Instead of an ordered, simplified landing page, it shows an amazingly cluttered space with no less than 100 hot links ranging down the left side. Each, in turn links to numerous sublinks. In addition, it shows several interactive ads, provides space for links to blogs, as well as white papers and video clips. TMC must hold the record for containing the highest number of links. Perhaps the amazing thing is that people log in everyday and access the content.
The site succeeds because the users are motivated, knowledgeable, and value the material. It provides expert information and answers to questions that save time, money, and effort. One invaluable feature is the selection of blogs and forums that offer interactive value. It also attracts advertisers because of its selectivity and reach. The old rule of thumb is the higher the traffic, the higher the advertising revenue.
The TMC site is not the real focus of this column. It serves to benchmark the progress of B2B portals. The portal idea has reached the consumer marketing arena. One noteworthy example, serves the communications and technology fields. One such web site is C/Net.com. C/Net.com is important since other web sites are poised to replicate the portal concept in B2C markets.
C/Net.com was once restricted to providing information about computer hardware and software. Over time, it evolved into a provider of a variety of information for consumers interested in technology. The site provides information, tools, and advice that help users decide what to buy and how to get the most out of consumer technology. Like TMC, it selects its audience with great specificity. It provides the latest news and unbiased reviews of computers, software, home electronics, automobiles, cell phones, and more. It uses videos that demystify technology, and podcasts that inform. It even allows users to download software, music, and games. Some of C/Net’s free downloads could easily command a significant price. Giving them away helps drive visitors to the site.
One other valuable benefit is the unbiased opinions it provides. C/Net is not the first organization to create unbiased reviews of consumer interest. The venerable Consumer Reports publication built its reputation by testing products and services scientifically and sharing the results with consumers. Their methods became decision models for consumers who learned not only which products in a given product category were values, but what criteria were important to use in an evaluation. While Consumer Reports varies its coverage to cover the wide variety of products consumers use like tires, insurance, televisions and electronics, household appliances and more, C/Net concentrates on products containing a measure of technology.
The C/Net review team uses standardized tests to evaluate products and provides a perspective that aids in making good consumption choices. For example, the web site reviewed one of the popular digital cameras of the day, the Nikon D60. Nikon is legendary for its 35mm cameras and its innovative digital line. The experts examined and evaluated the product and provided a three-part evaluation. The evaluation listed the good things, bad things, and a summary. The specifics were:
The good: Optically stabilized kit lens; convenient onscreen user interface; compatible with a wide variety of lenses and accessories.
The bad: Pricey for what it offers; lens-based image stabilization is less flexible than sensor-shift offered by some competitors.
The bottom line: Despite modest improvements in performance and a couple of new features, Nikon’s D60 fails to impress and costs more than some competing models.
The review was accompanied by a video presentation by one of the editors who showed in detail how the camera operated, what features were new, and where it fell short. Other reviews featured automobile evaluations, a newly added category. Once again, the reviews included video footage to communicate clearly.
C/Net supplies not only expert ratings, but also ratings from average consumers. Not surprisingly, editor and user ratings do not always agree. Editors have their standardized procedures and wealth of experience. Users, with much in common with site visitors, may provide evaluations that are even more useful. After all, their opinions concern the technology and the consumer electronics they live with every day. However, the balanced approach does much to aid users in their decision making.
The variety of reviews in fields as different as cellular telephony and automobiles is remarkable. As the photography example cited above, video reviews that communicate far more effectively than text and graphics would accompany each area. More important, the consumer reviews mentioned above, provide a higher level of credibility than expert evaluation alone.
While TMC’s portal serves mostly industrial users, its potential for gaining a powerful competitive position in the consumer area is clear. C/Net has followed a similar model to provide value to visitors and gain traffic. That traffic generates considerable revenue. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of C/Net is the way it has evolved to include increasingly diverse fields of interest and proportionally higher traffic.
C/Net demonstrates that the B2C portal is viable. This web site evolved like a retail store. As patronage grew, C/Net added product categories to broaden appeal still further. After significant additions, the web site became a repository of pertinent and current information as well as links to vendors that provided a commercially viable source of revenue. That revenue fueled profits and continued development.
In our next issue, we will investigate other informative sites and invite readers to submit their favorite internet sites for our consideration.
Please forward all requests to review innovative internet sites to: Dr Dennis Pitta, University of Baltimore, 1420 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21201-5779, USA. Alternatively, please send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org for prompt attention.