Marketing intermediaries are firms that can help a company to promote, sell and distribute its products or services. In the Internet context, online intermediaries can be contrasted with destination sites which are typically merchant sites owned by manufacturers or retailers which offer information and products (in reality any type of site can be a destination site, but the term is generally used to refer to merchant and brand sites).
Online intermediary sites provide information about destination sites and provide a means of connecting Internet users with product information. The best known online intermediaries are the most popular sites such as Google, MSN and Yahoo! These are known as 'portals' and are described further below. Other consumer intermediaries such as Kelkoo (www.kelkoo.com) and Bizrate (www.bizrate.com) provide price comparison
Firms that can help a company to promote, sell and distribute its products or services.
Sites typically owned by merchants, product manufacturers or retailers, providing product information.
Online intermediary sites
Web sites that facilitate exchanges between consumer and business suppliers.
Online social network
A service facilitating the connection, collaboration and exchange of information between individuals.
Search engines, spiders and robots
Automatic tools known as 'spiders' or 'robots' index registered sites. Users search by typing keywords and are presented with a list of pages.
Directories or catalogues
Structured listings of registered sites in different categories.
for products, as described earlier in this chapter. Most newspaper and magazine publishers such as VNU (www.vnu.com) and Emap (www.emap.com) now provide online versions of their publications. These are as important in the online world in promoting products as newspapers and magazines are in the offline world.
Online intermediaries are businesses which support business and consumer audiences, so they can serve both B2B and B2C information exchanges. Auction sites are another type of online intermediary that support the B2B and the C2C exchanges introduced in Chapter 1. Online intermediaries sometimes support online social networks which are a form of online community described in more detail in the section on virtual communities at the end of Chapter 6. The Google Orkut service (www.orkut.com) is an example of a personal social network, while Linked In (www.linkedin.com) and Eacademy (www.eacademy.com) are examples of business networks. A business-to-business community serving the interest of Internet marketers is the E-consultancy forums (www.e-consultancy.com/forum).
Online intermediaries are typically independent of merchants and brands, but can be owned by brands. In business-to-business marketing examples of such intermediaries include Clearly Business (www.clearlybusiness.com) from Barclays or bCentral (www.bcentral.co.uk) from Microsoft. These are examples of 'countermediaries' referred to earlier in the chapter which are created by a service provider to provide valuable content or services to their audience with a view to enhancing their brand, so they are not truly independent.
Sarkar et al. (1996) identified many different types of potential online intermediaries (mainly from a B2C perspective) which they refer to as 'cybermediaries'. Some of the main intermediaries identified by Sarkar et al. (1996), listed with current examples, are:
• Directories (such as Yahoo! directory, Open Directory, Business.com).
• Malls (now replaced by comparison sites such as Kelkoo and Pricerunner).
• Virtual resellers (own inventory and sells direct, e.g. Amazon, CDWOW).
• Financial intermediaries (offering digital cash and payment services such as PayPal which is now part of eBay).
• Forums, fan clubs and user groups (referred to collectively as 'virtual communities' or social networks such as HabboHotel for youth audiences).
• Evaluators (sites which act as reviewers or comparison of services such as Kelkoo).
At the time that Sarkar et al. (1996) listed the different types of intermediaries given above, there were many separate web sites offering these types of services. For example, AltaVista (www.altavista.com) offered search engine facilities and Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com) offered a directory of different web sites. Since this time, such sites have diversified the services offered. Yahoo! now offers all these services and additional types such as dating, communities and auctions. Diversification has occurred through the introduction of new intermediaries that provide services to other intermediaries and also through acquisition and merger. Since Google issued shares it has increasingly acquired or developed new services in its Google Labs (http://labs.google.com) to integrate into its services as Yahoo! has done throughout its history. For example, it has purchased provider Blogger (www.blogger.com) and has introduced the Gmail e-mail service and Orkut social networking service.
Activity 2.6 highlights the alternative revenue models available to these new intermediaries, in this case an evaluator, and speculates on their future.
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