Webcast Education Makes IT Consumers the Best Customers

They’re pressed for time, deluged with product information, and their purchasing budget is no drop in the bucket. Attracting the precious attention of the billions of IT pros here in the states is no easy task. To do so, more and more technology companies are using audio and video webcasts.

For years, Sy and Marcy Syms have been telling us that educated consumers make the best customers. That theory holds just as true in the tech industry as it does in the general merchandising market.

“IT professionals, when they’re researching new products and technologies, are turning to the Web, and advertisers are figuring that out in a quick way,” says Greg Strakosch, co-founder and CEO of online tech resource, TechTarget.

Last year, the company showed around 30 sponsored webcasts per month (mainly audio only) to “the power users of the Web,” as Strakosch refers to the niche technology audience. Now TechTarget runs around 50 each month and projects that number will be closer to 100 by year’s end. Overall, according to the Yankee Group, the webcast market will grow from $900 million to $2 billion in the next year.

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As featured in a recent white paper published by IDG and based on the Information Network Effect Research Study conducted in 2001 by Strategic Oxygen, webcasts enable IT buyers to cope with the “torrents of information flowing toward them,” and bridge the gap between TV and other advertising and “all touch vehicles” like sales force contact.

Non-IT buyers spend less than three and a half hours each week researching and purchasing tech brands, while IT purchasers spend about seven. “On one hand that seems like a lot of time,” observes Rich Mikita, COO of Accela Communications, the IDG division that puts out ITworld.com, a major storehouse of IT video webcasts. “But to a marketer, that’s less than an hour a day in which all vendors are vying for attention.”

Time is a factor, and so is timeliness. At any given moment, different IT buyers are at different stages of the purchasing cycle. Webcasts not only deliver a full range and depth of information in brief chunks; users can access that information however and whenever they see fit. Rather than being constrained by a seminar schedule, the webcasting experience allows users to navigate through several information resources in an on-demand and personalized manner. “Webcasting is not a single linear communication medium,” stresses Mikita.

Technology companies are reallocating one-time-only seminar budget dollars to sponsored webcasts, many of which are produced and hosted by the actual vendors. However, the refined targeting and lead generation capabilities of publishers like TechTarget and ITworld.com make hosting webcasts on these sorts of sites worthwhile. ITworld.com presents and sometimes produces video webcasts for the likes of IBM, Lucent and F5. For each given webcast, the company segments the appropriate audience, registered with ITworld.com and partner sites such as Forbes.com and SalesandMarketing.com, and promotes via email.

TechTarget also requires registration, and allows webcast sponsors to ask qualifying questions in order to prioritize leads. The publisher also drives webcast traffic through email newsletters. “No one ever shows up to a webcast by mistake,” comments Strakosch.

Webcasts need not be for IT marketing alone. In essence, the medium could work in any market in which education is part of the sales cycle, such as pharmaceuticals, financial services, automotive, scientific instruments and general business.

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