Industrial Marketing Management 31 (2002) 75 – 76
A rainbow’s worth of shades of grey From special considerations to effective communication in internet-based B2B marketing George T. Haley* Department of Marketing and Internal Business, School of Business, University of New Haven, 300 Orange Avenue, West Haven, CT 06516, USA
Our first considerations in dealing with this special issue were the number of high-quality articles that were submitted and the great diversity of topics covered by the submitted articles. These considerations eventually led Peter LaPlaca, as the Editor of IMM, and me, as its Guest Editor, to decide to make the special issue a double issue. As the accepted submissions were evenly split between two kinds of articles, the special issue has been split into two parts. Part One consists of an electric sorting of articles, all focusing on special issue in Internet-based B2B Marketing. Part Two is comprised of fairly traditional marketing articles — focusing on the quality, methodology and effectiveness of marketing communications through the Internet-based media. Part Two’s articles present analyses of both more traditional marketing topics and more traditional approaches to marketing research than Part One’s. However traditional in topic and tenor, Part Two’s authors have maintained the same innovative perspective as Part One’s. Given the tremendous diversity of business environments, situations and problems, all businesses and business functions are swamped by considerations that create scenarios of a rainbow’s worth of shades of gray. But when something takes hold of the business and media world’s collective imagination the way Internet-based commerce did, it creates a situations where analysts and practitioners wear blinders that focus only on the black and white extremes of the rainbow’s spectrum of colors. The monstrously complex business environment suddenly becomes simplified into an environment of exaggeration and of bipolar opposites: yes/no, go/no, right/wrong, the future/the past, life/death and even good/evil. The blooming of Internet-based commerce created just such a situation. According to the gospel of the E-entrepreneurs, established economic laws no longer applied and the ‘‘new economy’’
* Tel.: +1-203-787-9813; fax: +1-203-208-2468. E-mail address: [email protected]
was one of eternal growth where recessions and economic privations would be banished from the world. E-entrepreneurs were superior — they were more daring, more courageous and more intelligent than previous generations of businesspersons, and were morally and spiritually superior also. Venture capitalists granted them millions of dollars without seeing business plans or legitimate profitability projections because they perceived this superiority. Now that the E-commerce bubble has burst, venture capitalists, analysts and media have flipped to the opposite extreme. The Internet now is viewed as being strewn with the carcasses of good wishes and misplaced enthusiasm. The articles of Part One seek to reestablish the business environment rainbow’s shades of gray. A recent study by McKinsey reported that 20% of all B2C Internet companies (our poorer cousins) is profitable . Obviously, there are good investments to be made and good profits to be earned so long as one can see the various shades of gray. I see Part One as generally consisting of three matched pairs of articles. The first pair of articles deals with what the advent of Internet-based marketing means to business in general, and marketing practice in specific. Our first article, ‘‘Trends in Internet-Based Business-to-Business Marketing,’’ addresses why Internet-based marketing is an important business issue. Once one has established what an issue means and why it is important, one has to translate that issue from a mere consideration into action, and our next article, ‘‘So You Want to Get Involved in E-Commerce,’’ does just that. The authors discuss what small businesspersons on limited budgets need to do and make suggestions to help them to succeed in moving into E-commerce. The next pair of articles focuses on the core of Internetbased marketing — a complex channel of distribution that incorporates both the distribution of the product and the transmission of marketing communications. The first article, ‘‘Managing Channels of Distribution in the Age of Electronic Commerce,’’ addresses the issue as a general
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G.T. Haley / Industrial Marketing Management 31 (2002) 75–76
management problem dealing with channels as a whole. The subsequent article concentrates on one particular distribution form — the auction. Yet, as is evident from the article, ‘‘The Role of Internet Auctions in the Expansion of B2B Markets,’’ the auction has, potentially, been affected more by Internet-based marketing than any other channel form, and may grow most in importance due to Internet technologies. Finally, the last two articles of Part One address two diverse topics — trust and international effects. The development of trust is something perceived to be best achieved through personal, face-to-face contact; yet, Internet communications prevent face-to-face contact. ‘‘Trust Production and Privacy Concerns on the Internet: A Framework Based on Relationship Marketing and Social Exchange Theory’’ addresses the first of the above-mentioned issues. The author seeks to help marketers establish trust and overcome a key problem in achieving that first step to a profitable business relationship — the first sale to a customer. The final article of Part One, ‘‘E-Commerce in China: Changing Business as We Know it,’’ seeks to remind readers that they should not venture forth internationally under the assumption that E-commerce is the same worldwide. The articles use China to present the argument that the way business is conducted is heavily influenced by the infrastructural environment in which that business evolves, and that the greater part of the world does not possess the communications, economics and service infrastructure of the industrialized West. Part Two’s more traditional nature does not make its articles any less important or innovative than those in Part One. Communication is the best element of marketing process — without it, there is no reason for the marketing function in business. Effective two-way communication between marketers and their markets is the primary determinant of success in marketing. Without effective communication, our researchers would be unable to determine the preferences and needs of their markets; our promoters and advertisers would be unable to tell their markets of either their products or their products’ benefits; and creating market satisfaction would be a matter of random chance given today’s global markets. Ensuring that marketers communicate effectively is critical; hence, these articles are crucial to both the practitioners and the practice of an increasingly important, but poorly understood, form of B2B marketing. The importance of those articles is best understood by reviewing the issues they cover. Another pair of related articles begins Part Two of our special issue. The articles seek to evaluate websites from the supply-side perspective. In ‘‘E-Comprehension: Evaluating B2B Websites Using Reliability Formulae,’’ the authors demonstrate the value of techniques proven in evaluating advertising programs to evaluating websites. The authors of
‘‘Fortune 500 Manufacturer Web Sites: Innovative Marketing Strategies or Cyberbrochures’’ evaluate the strategic worth of websites. Both articles provide suggestions and guidelines useful to companies large or small, in manufacturing or services, or are even in the nonprofit sector. The next pair of articles switches the focus of our special issue from a supply-side perspective to a demand-side one. This change of perspective moves us into the consideration of our markets’ reactions to the Internet-based strategies. In ‘‘An Exploratory Study of the Internet as an Industrial Communication Tool: Examining Buyers’ Perceptions,’’ the authors study how customers evaluate their suppliers’ Internet-based communications. Continuing with the focus of the individual customer, ‘‘Building Customer Relations Over the Internet’’ seeks to establish a longitudinal perspective. The authors investigate and discuss what it takes to establish long-term relationships through Internet communications — something that historically has always been assigned to personal, preferably face-to-face, communications between buyer and seller representatives. The final pair of articles brings us to our final considerations as marketers, the market as a whole and our bottom line. In ‘‘A Structural Analysis of Business-to-Business Digital Markets,’’ the author takes us from considering the individual customer as the unit of analysis to the market as the unit of analysis. The article uses a top –down procedure to build an understanding of digital market behavior by observing the market’s behavior, rather than a bottom – up approach seeking to build an understanding of the market by first understanding individual members of the market. Finally, in the special issue’s last article, ‘‘Marketing Activities and Performance: A Comparison of Small InternetBased and Traditional Firms in Taiwan,’’ the author takes on the final issue — the benefit, if any, firms generate for themselves by making the investment to become Internetactive in their marketing efforts. With this final article, we have gone from Alpha to Omega. This special double issue begins with articles on the revolution in thought represented by Internet-based B2B marketing and the skills needed to build Internet-based communications and marketing programs, and ends with an article studying the bottom line benefits that can accrue to the marketer that takes the trouble to become Internetcapable. Throughout the double special issue, the authors emphasized providing, first, innovative perspectives and then innovative skills for the B2B marketer focusing on Internet-based business-to-business marketing.
References  Kemmler, Kubicova´, Musslewhite, Prezeau. E-performance: II. The good, the bad, and the merely average. McKinsey Q (On-line; June).