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Stephen M. Saunders

Consumer Tech: Bad for Business

Stephen M. Saunders B2B - 01/11/2011-10:12 AM

On the face of it, Internet technology should be a b-to-b publisher's best friend. Sure, the Internet effectively put an end to the long and lazy golden age of publishing (1493-1993, RIP) when we used "ink" and a composite of mulched tree to disseminate information.

But that same Internet is making our lives as publishers easy in so many other ways, right?

Take recent efforts by Google and Apple to resell e-subscriptions to publications (in case you missed it, Google is rumored to be launching a digital newsstand, an attempt to one-up Apple's iTunes subscription service). These offerings will supposedly provide publishers with an exciting and ubiquitous new sales channel for their products.

Except... they won't. And b-to-b publishers wondering which company to work with should go with choice C: Neither.

Let's say you sell a subscription to a reader via iTunes. Ostensibly that's one (1) new subscriber for you. But really, it's one new subscriber for Apple. By going through an intermediary you have ceded direct control over the subscriber relationship, never a good idea if you base your business on subscriber relationships (and you value things like controlling price and customer information).

In theory, partnering with Apple and Google should pay off in another way: allowing publishers access to information collected by these companies about potential customers so that the publishers can use it for marketing purposes. Here again, reality falls short of the dream. Apple doesn't share any information with its publisher partners. And regardless of what the industry hype says Google has actually turned out to be a bit rubbish at the data collection lark.

I would even argue that these services' most persuasive selling point-their ability to reach hundreds of millions of potential subscribers-is all wet. Yes, they reach vast swathes of the planet's population. But as a publisher of b-to-b minutiae you don't want to reach vast swathes- you want to reach the teensy-weensy swathette of the population that (1.) Gives a crap about your minutiae and (2.) Has the money to pay for it. Using Google to do this is like trying to fill a cup by peeing into it from a zeppelin-impractical, if unintentionally amusing.

Factor in the cost of working with these companies (Apple charges publishers an outrageous 30 percent of anything it sells) and the case for these services is anything but clear.

Countdown to Reality

All of this shouldn't be earth shattering analysis for those who have tried to exploit other consumer Internet technologies to support their publishing business; for every company that claims to have used Twitter or Facebook to drive revenue there are at least another 99 who haven't.

But this raises another interesting fact about the latest Internet technology: It takes an awfully long time for people to admit when it doesn't live up the hype (half a dozen years, from 1993 to 1999, in the case of the first Internet bubble). So who knows, maybe the Apple/Google syndication programs will attract b-to-b publishers in 2011-just be prepared for fallout sometime after that.

Stephen Saunders is the managing director of DeusM, a marketing
services company specializing in the creation of online communities
targeting any combination of industry, geography or profession. He can
reached at saunders@deusm.com

 

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Stephen M. Saunders

Time To Raise Your Editorial Standards

Stephen M. Saunders Editorial - 12/07/2010-10:12 AM

Internet publishing today may seem complicated but in fact our industry is governed by a simple paradox: the easier you make it for people to publish information, the lower the quality of the information they produce, and the smellier the audience that reads it.

This trend reaches its nadir-or, apex, depending on how much pre-IPO stock you own-in social networks like Twitter and Facebook, where the door is always open (welcome, Internet loonies!) and there are no restrictions on what you can post, regardless of how annoying or how vacuous, with the corollary that most of the content found therein is as valuable as an old tea bag, with audience demographics to match. (It's not a coincidence that LinkedIn, which at least nods in the direction of organizing its audience along business lines, has marginally better demographics than either Twitter or Facebook.)

For b-to-b publishers whose job it is to help their advertisers reach qualified buyers, the lesson is simple: Stay away from Twitter and Facebook, focus on your core competency of publishing high value proprietary information on your own sites; the ones that attract the ‘haves' rather than the ‘haven't a clues'.

The problem is that while Internet publishers know what they should do, their customers want the opposite and are clamoring for programs which hinge on these giant consumer social networks.

In fact these days it's almost impossible to sell someone an integrated marketing campaign that doesn't come festooned with widgets connecting to and from, yes, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. This is a dangerous game because, in so doing, publishers risk ending up with some very unhappy clients.

Full disclosure: I run a company that offers a service for advertisers which includes building and curating their social network presences on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Does this make me a big fat hypocrite? No, because being an honest person (unusual, for an Internet publisher) I've made sure that we disclose the limitations of the service-which are, not coincidentally, the aforementioned limitations of the social networks themselves.

What we tell people is that if they are looking to generate leads they should keep walking. But if they just want to quickly and easily build a bridgehead on these social networks, well then yes, we can do that (rather well, if I do say so myself).

There are two main things advertisers should be aware of: First, watch out for people trying to sell you equivalent services and claiming they can deliver an abundance of highly qualified customers just itching to spend their money with you. (That, or buy their service, and brace for disappointment.)

Second, stop fixating on Twitter and get back to doing some real work. Start developing content the old way, using, like, editors and a copy desk, and a freelance budget and so on. As a rule of thumb, your editorial standards will need to be inversely proportional to those of Twitter. Use that prime content to attract and register the cream of whatever industry you work in and sell access to that audience to customers through advertising, Webinars, etc.

Why? Because b-to-b publishers can't make a living off the back of other people's communities. They still need to develop their own.

Feel free to Tweet this big news.

Stephen Saunders is the managing director of DeusM, a marketing services company specializing in the creation of online communities targeting any combination of industry, geography or profession. He can reached at saunders@deusm.com.

 

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Stephen M. Saunders

Marketing: Time to Play the Long Game

Stephen M. Saunders Sales and Marketing - 10/05/2010-09:50 AM

As the world begins its long slow spin from one decade to the next, the spin (or marketing) industry also is undergoing a marked transformation-from "impact" to "information." In the 20th century the focus of marketing was on advertising-specifically on making a short, sharp impression. Advertisers' print creative had to pass the three second test-imparting as much positive information as possible before a potential customer quite literally turned the page.

The Internet, of course, is different. And when the World Wide Web happened, everything in marketing *should* have changed. But it didn't, and I blame the advertising agencies. As anyone who works at an agency will tell you, agency people know "everything."

But when confronted by a new medium, the Internet, about which they knew zilch, those agency types were uncomfortable giving up everything they knew about creating print ads, not to mention the fat fees associated with them, and instead opted to take the print model of advertising, with all it's flaws, and force fit it onto the Web.

Take banner ads, for example, which run in rotations with multiple other advertisers on a Web site, effectively emulating the experience of a reader flipping through a magazine. Brilliant! (Stupid!)

Convincing to Buy Takes Time, Not Banners
Finally, though, CMOs and other marketing execs are cottoning onto the notion that using advertising to grab someone's attention for a few seconds is probably going to be incompatible to selling products to people whose decision cycles may be measured over a somewhat longer period of time.

This is especially true of b-to-b marketing, where customer-buying cycles are often measured in years. So while it may be relatively effective to use a short, punchy message for peddling dishwasher detergent to consumers, trying to do the same with the CTO of a broadcast network who is evaluating which million dollar MPEG-4 Part 2 video codec to purchase is going to be a waste of time and money.

What customers like this want from their vendors is not an advertising message, but "information" And as a rule of thumb the amount of information they want increases in proportion to the amount of money they have to spend. And of course, this places the marketer in an entirely new role: that of "educator."

You can see evidence of this trend in the huge upswing in the number of white papers posted by marketers on trade sites, allowing companies to place in-depth educational materials right next to the articles that their customers are reading.

And the trend reaches its apex with single-sponsor editorial sites, where the advertiser launches and runs its own Web publication, underwriting the edit content, surrounding it with its white papers and case studies, and positioning itself as the ultimate educator or authority.

I'm currently running two such sites for billion dollar companies, and I see such a huge demand for single sponsor edit sites that this month I launched a company that does nothing but build these sites for advertisers. (In a sign of demand we pre-sold six more before we even launched.)

Who wins in this new marketing market? Primarily, publishers of original content, who have the content know-how and user databases to quickly roll out edit sites for advertisers.

Who loses? That's easy. In the switch from advertising style to educational substance there won't be much call for help from the advertising agencies.


Stephen Saunders is the Managing Director of DEX (www.dexnation.com), a marketing services company specializing in the creation of online communities targeting any combination of industry, geography, or profession.

 

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