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Mar 10, 2006
How To

Business-to-Business Publishers Can Jack Up Online Profits

SUMMARY: Many traditional trade publishers are still hoping article shovelware will be their solution to a Web site visitors and sponsors will adore. But, the bottom line isn't singing. We asked analyst John Blossom to detail what the successful B-to-B publishers are doing differently than the rest of the pack. His practical advice here.
"The Dow Jones reorg is symptomatic of what's happening with business content," says analyst John Blossom President Shore Communications.

"Major publishers such as McGraw-Hill, Thomson, and Reed Elsevier are all faced with the challenge of trying to get more money out of business publishing. The business media market suffers too much from still being too orientated toward print."

ContentBiz asked Blossom for his perspective along with some practical advice for B-to-B publishers who'd like to be among the few, the proud, the profitable, outside-print.

Key #1. Online doesn't demand more text-based articles

Aside from shoveling the mass of their print content onto their sites (hence the name "shovelware"), most print-background publishers tend to approach the Web content problem from one perspective -- create more textual content.

After all, that's what they are good at. Their editorial teams are geared up to write articles. The biggest change from print to online for many trade publisher sites is simply adding a more "newsy" slant so content is "fresher" online. In deference to the pain business execs feel reading lengthy articles on a screen, plus for editorial cost-savings, these newsy bits are usually shorter "briefs."

Often, in fact, they are nothing more than press release summaries a cheap junior reporter can slam up.

The problem? It's content your readers can get from a zillion other sources ranging from 'Google News' to the new breed of online-only business publishers such as Fierce Markets and Watershed Publishing whose entire editorial teams are focused on beating you at this game.

These news briefs are not adding most-read-value to your site, they're adding lame-value. So, what content will create a barrier to competition and thrill your readership?

Key #2. Content that drives online ad sales and site traffic

Blossom notes your advertisers may already be turning to social networking services such as LinkedIn and JigSaw to get sales leads. And, then they are turning to Hoover's, Highbeam and Gale's Goliath for background info before they make the sales pitch.

But, there's a critical place in the middle of this activity that only B-to-B trades can help with: educating and warming sales leads.

As your own sales reps will tell you, warm leads are far more valuable than cold contact names no matter how much research that cold lead comes with. Business trades are already in the process of educating their readers, helping them identify pain points and solutions. While you should provide lead generation tools to sponsors (such as online registration forms), consider coupling this activity with:

- Educational webinars (including archived library); flash demo library; white paper library and quizzes and interactive buyer's guide tools to enable business execs to set budgets, figure out what level/type of product/services they need, and write better RFPs.

Last but not least you may want to try to beat the social networking sites at their own game by enabling similar functions for your own site where visitors are guaranteed to be networking with a more relevant pool of execs. Then bar all vendor sales reps from entry unless they work for sponsoring organizations. Social networking could include:

- MeetUp-style real-world networking service; Soflow-style member directory and online networking system; SitePoint-style bulletin boards; JigSaw-style lead swapping services; and free blogs for all registered members.

Luckily for most of these categories, you can private-label existing software at a reasonable price to power the service. You're bringing the brand community and a bit of editorial policing to the plate, not the technology.

Key #3. Creating content you can sell licenses to

Blossom notes for most markets the prototypical 1990s site license and syndication world has flattened or drifted downwards. Gone are the days when you could sell an XML feed of your stories to a corporate intranet for big bucks.

As Factiva, Bloomberg, and others have known for years, it's all about coupling your content with what Blossom calls "a powerful database-driven component." He cites the following B-to-B publishers who get it:

o American Lawyer Media
o Aviation Weekly
o McGraw-Hill's Construction.com

"Content aggregation doesn't wash anymore. Now companies are transforming themselves into more business process engineering solutions. You need to shift from providing archives to software and Web interfaces that solve specific business problems."

Example: SeamlessWeb, a company that's doing double duty, selling specialized accounting software to law firms and financial institutions while taking a cut of business from the catering vendors those organizations buy from. (Caterers selling to that market in Manhattan alone have slashed advertising elsewhere due to the service.)

If you're from a traditional publishing company, the idea of turning yourself into a software company may fill you with dread and misgivings. How do you get around that? Blossom recommends you consider partnering with software companies. They bring the programming strength plus often a strong field sales force building relationships with the clients you'd like to sell to.

Example: Follow the lead of the many content companies that are piling their content into the SalesForce.com platform.

"That's where a lot of the short term immediate money is at," advises Blossom.

Useful link related to this article:

Shore Communications
http://shore.com



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