Case Study: Moving from Paper to Online

Dec 5, 2007 - 12:08 pm 3 by
Filed Under SES Chicago 2007

How ThomasNet reinvented itself after 100 years

A little history

ThomasNet was a print directory company who turned into a giant online marketing force.  They connect industrial buyers and suppliers. They’ve been online since 1995; 100% focus on industrial marketplace.  They cover a wide array of areas and Linda assures us that the lessons they’ve learned will benefit all of us.

There are new authority sites popping up like Travelocity, Amazon’s and Expedia. 

Years ago there were only a few options in terms of television; they were NBC, ABC, and CBS.  This shook things up and made the marketplace competitive.  Linda compares this to sites like Travelocity, Amazon’s and Expedia’s that are focused on categories which compete with the Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft.

To be a destination site, you need to be a trusted authority.  They moved their directory from print to online but it’s more than that.  You need to reinvent yourself and listen to your buyers.

Staying true to core business adjectives

They stuck to what they had done best and that was bringing together buyers and sellers.  They didn’t just build a web component for the heck of it.  The important thing is to understand your buyers and users and this will help you to build relevant results and how to fill that need. 

Buyer Centricity

Building and improving products & services

Measure everything

Promote and marketing

Continually improve w/ testing


Questions to Consider

  1. Where do they currently look for products/services?
  2. What information is important to them when sourcing?
  3. What level of detail are they looking for?
  4. What frustrates them?

Older vs. Newer Methods

Direct Mail vs. On-site/online and email surveys

Focus groups vs. Online Focus groups

In-person surveys (one-on-one) vs. Webcast Surveys

Key benefit: rapid proto-typing – faster to market

9 out of 10 buyers start with the Internet to source products and services.  Their buyers were going online faster than the suppliers were putting their products online.  Less than 5% of their 20,000 clients were performing e-commerce actions on the site.

Situation -> Opportunity

Spending more time sourcing online -> Increase speed & efficiency of site

Sourcing online is not easy when looking for complex information -> Provide more company information in relevant categories

They reinvented themselves but developing products/services that enable suppliers to help buyers display information and easily navigate.

The website now has to serve the purpose of answering questions and asking questions back just like what a typical sales person would have done if talking to the buyer in person.  Your site has to have the ability to do that.

Situation -> Opportunity

Knowing key places buyers’ source online -> Educate suppliers on where buyers go first – reps, workshops, etc.

Website falls short of detailed specs and navigation -> Help supplier build websites, catalogs and CAD drawings that buyers want.

Proving ROI – understanding metrics -> Produce tool to help suppliers identify conversions actions and measure activity.

Constantly think about what user action you would want to take place.  (phone call, email)

Additional growth areas….

They post about 100 new product articles on a daily basis (many of these are press releases on new products).

Available via RSS feeds

Daily, weekly, monthly product alerts

Bi-weekly blog

Bi-weekly industry newsletter

Expand internationally, site translation

What they offer

Website Design & Development

Online Catalog Tools

Online CAD Drawings

Website Tracking

Measure Everything

  1. Quantitative user online surveys
  2. Traditional and online user focus groups
  3. Web analytics

Contributed by: Justin Davy is a search engine marketing specialist for the E.W. Scripps Company and a guest writer for SER.


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