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Andrew Gaffney

New Insights Into How Content Is Accessed, Consumed and Shared

Andrew Gaffney Lead-Generation Insights - 06/05/2012-13:19 PM

Publishers have always known the foundational role content plays in engaging an audience. However, with content now playing a starring role for all digital strategies, as well as demand generation campaigns, clients and agencies are beginning to ask a lot more questions about content.

Marketing executives are looking to build their own content libraries and are turning to their publishing partners for guidance and support creating the right content, and distributing it successfully to support both their branding and revenue initiatives.

To better understand how emerging technologies and media options influence audience behavior, our DemandGen Report publication recently conducted a survey of more than 100 executives and found some interesting trends.

Here is a look at some of the study highlights:

1) Access Points: The majority of our DemandGen Report readers are business executives in sales and marketing roles, so our sample skews more towards b-to-b. Traditionally, business publishers have focused on reaching their audience in their place of work, but one of the realities of the mobile explosion is that “work” is no longer confined to a desk or the four walls of an office.

When asked what device they use to access business-related content, 84 percent indicated they use a laptop most frequently, 70 percent said they use a mobile phone, and 49 percent use a tablet. Conversely, only 36 percent cited a desktop computer as their regular device for consuming content.

In looking at how their content consumption habits have changed over the past year, 32 percent indicated they prefer mobile-optimized content for access on a tablet or mobile device.

2) Setting Preferences: Given DemandGen Report’s focus on engagement trends, our survey focused primarily on content used for lead generation, lead nurturing and sales enablement.

When we asked executives which content formats they had used to research a business topic or solution, the white paper was the dominant response (88 percent), followed by webinars (73 percent), case studies (67 percent) and blog posts (63 percent).

While those content formats have been established as “tried and true” for publishers and brands alike, the survey also show rapid adoption of newer formats that wouldn’t have made the list two years ago. For example, 51 percent of respondents cited E-books as a top resource, 44 percent referenced videos, 38 percent selected infographics and 28 percent named interactive presentations.

3) Content As Currency: The other major trend underscored by the survey was the growing influence content now has on how customers perceive the publishers and brands that supply it.

When asked how their content consumption habits have changed over the last year, 57 percent of respondents said they place a higher emphasis on the trustworthiness of the source creating content.

There is also more openness to receiving content directly from brands, as 25 percent said they are willing to consider vendor-created content as trustworthy, and 35 percent saying they start their search for content addressing business topics directly on vendor websites.

The growing influence of peers also came through loud and clear in the study. When asked which content they give more credence to in the research process, 52 percent cited peer reviews/user generated feedback, followed by 33 percent who selected content authored by a third-party publication or analyst.

4) Share And Share Alike: Despite their busy schedules, business executives take time to share content they find valuable. While email is a primary sharing mechanism (88 percent), the survey found that more than half (53 percent) of executives share content using LinkedIn and 39 percent share via Twitter.

In addition, 25 percent indicated they are getting more content through social networks or recommendations, and 23 percent said they now start their search for content on social media.

In addition to these four key trends, the survey looked at other shifts in behaviors, such as willingness to share contact and business information in exchange for access to content, as well as asking how long an executive is willing to commit to reviewing different content formats.

Andrew Gaffney is the President of G3 Communications, Inc., a Hasbrouck Heights, N.J. firm specializing in digital media and custom contnent. G3 Communications publishes DemandGen Report, Retail TouchPoints and Channel Marketer Report. In addition to its digital publications, G3’s Content4Demand marketing services division creates custom content optimized for lead generation and lead nurturing campaigns for more than 100 different clients ranging from Fortune 100 firms to venture-backed startups.

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John Parsons

Quark Ups the Mobile Publishing Ante

John Parsons Design and Production - 05/31/2012-14:07 PM

 

Remember Quark? Not so long ago, when InDesign was just a rumor, it would have been unthinkable for a publisher to design and create a print magazine without QuarkXPress. Those who clung to PageMaker were scorned as being hopelessly behind the times. Even some at Adobe were privately worried that Quark’s hegemony could not be challenged.

Fast forward to the print/web/mobile/tablet/whatever era. InDesign rules in many publishers’ minds and budgets. Quark—both the company and its products—are disregarded, even disdained. “That’s just the way it is; some things will never change,” as the song goes.

Nothing is permanent, least of all in publishing technology. On Tuesday, Quark announced the acquisition of Mobile IQ, the UK-based developer responsible for PressRun. The latter is an app-creation environment very similar to Adobe DPS, WoodWing and Mag+, giving page designers the ability to add rich media and publish to the App Store or Google Play. (In fact, PressRun uses InDesign as one of its starting points. XML-based Content Management Systems are another. The most awkward moment of my interview with a Quark spokesperson followed a question on whether QuarkXPress and its App Studio feature would be part of the PressRun workflow. Quark has not announced any such plans, but did not rule it out.)

Where the story gets interesting involves the company’s attitude towards dedicated apps versus browser-based (but still app-like) publications. Mobile IQ has plenty of experience building custom apps—notably the BBC News app for iPhone. Both its custom and PressRun-based apps use a robust HTML5 presentation layer, and officials from both companies expressed the view that tablet publications will break out of the constraints of proprietary reader apps in the fairly near future.

Others share this view, of course. Many publishers would like to break free from Apple’s constraints, and still more are not convinced that the print page metaphor is the best model for an engaging mobile/tablet app. With that in mind, Quark is about to beta test a mobile publication—based in HTML5—that is purportedly more flexible than the page-like apps we’ve come to expect.

For now, consumer magazines may still want to stick with the more design-intensive world of InDesign page layout—in which Quark is now, perhaps ironically, a player. For b-to-b, however—an area where Quark has increased its focus—the situation is not as clear-cut. Mobile IQ has a strong play with STM and other structured publications, where managed content is a strong component. Business publishers may want to broaden their search for tablet publishing platforms that integrate well with a CMS. Neither Quark nor Adobe have an absolute lock in that respect.

Who knows? Publishing technology seems to follow another song lyric, “big wheels keep on turnin’.”

 

 Former Seybold editor John Parsons is an independent publishing analyst, based in Seattle.
 

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Elliot M. Kass

Make Your Content Marketing Relevant

Elliot M. Kass B2B - 05/31/2012-12:25 PM

 

It’s sad but true, Virginia—less than half of IT decision makers consider the marketing content they receive from the vendor community to be of any use. How do we know this? We polled them of course! Surveys never lie, but there’s reason to believe that this one was particularly accurate. For one thing, the sample was quite sizeable—over 860 corporate IT buyers. For another, its conclusion is supported by droves of anecdotal evidence: Literally dozens of formal interviews, casual conversations and email exchanges that we’ve conducted with corporate IT managers during the past year echo this view. (A survey and whitepaper, “Tech Marketing Best Practices: The Complex Purchasing Process” can be downloaded here. )

So how do we get on the right side of this equation and ensure that the content we deliver to this audience is both useful and well received?

If you chat with an IT executive, and ask what sort of content he or she finds useful when researching a new project or purchase, that executive will generally mention three things:

1. The information has to be credible. In other words, it has to be derived from information sources that are recognizable, verifiable and respected.
2. The information has to be relevant. More on this in a moment.
3. The information has to be accessible. In other words, if your prospective buyers can’t find it quickly and easily, it doesn’t matter how relevant and credible it is; it’s just not going to do them any good.

Of these three concerns, the second is the most pivotal. After all, if an IT decision maker isn’t interested in the topic you’re discussing, then he is not going to care whether he can locate the information or trust its source. So the more closely your marketing content is aligned with the immediate needs, concerns and perspectives of the prospects, the more relevant they will find it.

In our experience at UBM TechWeb, the chief reason so many IT buyers are turned off by vendor content is because the material is presented from the vendor’s point of view—not the IT buyer’s. This is a very easy sort of error for a marketing department to fall into. Companies, like people, get caught up in their own dealings and end up seeing the world through their own prism. It may be a perfectly valid viewpoint, but it tends to reflect your boss’s priorities—not the buyer’s.

Instead, tech marketers, or any other brand marketer for that matter, need to develop content that deliberately and explicitly addresses the buyer’s viewpoint. Here are some key things to consider:

• Are you speaking to the right audience?
Different segments of buyers in a market vertical look at the same issue differently. For instance, in the IT market, it’s often much easier for small to medium businesses (SMBs) to outsource certain services, since they have smaller IT departments and fewer legacy systems in place. Enterprises, on the other hand, often have much higher thresholds for governance, regulatory and security requirements that have to be met. Your content should reflect the concerns of the group you want to target.

• Are you answering your buyer’s most important question?

Nine times out of ten it’s this: Why is the product or service being promoted important to the prospect? In other words, what business benefits will the buyer receive from the offering? Do a good job of answering this and the content’s relevancy goes way up.

• Are the prospects' most important concerns being addressed?

What’s the current business environment like for the target buyers? What are their biggest challenges? What opportunities are they trying to seize? Addressing these questions puts the message in a context that really matters to the prospects.

• Are you providing data and analysis your audience can’t easily get someplace else?
This is a great way to provide unique value that will engage prospects. Conducting a survey is one way to get this kind of information. It gives a report credibility and the opportunity to collect data that’s specific to a target market.

If you want your content to be useful, it has to pass the buyer-perspective litmus test. Once it does, then you’ve taken an all-important step towards attracting and engaging with your target audience.

 

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John Parsons

Adobe’s Creative Cloud and Team Licensing: Let's Wait and See

John Parsons Design and Production - 05/24/2012-15:06 PM

 

In my May article, Creative Suite 6 and the Bottom Line, I described Adobe's new Creative Cloud (CC) approach-licensing its applications under a subscription model as an alternative to a traditional shrink-wrap license. Benefits include convenience, early access to incremental releases of Creative Suite (CS) applications, as well as access to newer applications not part of CS. What was discussed but not fully defined was the concept of "team licensing."

In a nutshell, CC team members have the same access to Adobe applications as individual CC subscribers, plus additional benefits, including more online storage, increased access to the Typekit Web font library, greater access to one-on-one technical support and troubleshooting, as well as mutual file sharing and collaboration. These benefits are described in the company's Creative Cloud Team Ready offer. However, as of this writing, many of the team program's particulars-contrasted with individual CC licenses-are still unclear.

Perhaps the most important aspect of CC team licensing is the ability to transfer a license or seat from one authorized team member to another. Whatever the other advanced features of CC team licenses may be, transferability of seats is a huge benefit for large organizations with a fluid freelance component.

That brings us to the issue of price. An individual CC subscription costs just under $50 per month, while a team subscription will cost just under $70 per month per person. When asked, Adobe spokespersons asserted that the additional benefits of a team subscription (e.g., collaboration features) would be worth the $20 difference. This is an untried assumption, to say the least, given that the full feature set for team subscribers has not been clearly articulated-much less tested for ROI.

When pressed, Adobe officials gave assurances that volume discounts would be part of CC team licensing for large enterprises-including publishers and agencies. Indeed, Creative Suite volume licensing is already a practice for traditional CS licenses. The unanswered question-still-is how large a team must be to quality for Creative Cloud team licensing discounts, and how steep those discounts will be.

The Team offering is scheduled for release this fall, so we expect to see more answers to these questions. Untl then, however, publishers and agency CFOs would be well advised to wait and see.

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PJ Gurumohan

Don’t Kill Your App: Five Rules for Getting iPad Publishing Right

PJ Gurumohan Digital Editions - 05/24/2012-10:48 AM

Jason Pontin, editor of MIT’s Tech Review, recently announced that, after much pain and expense, the Tech Review is abandoning native apps for the iPad and other mobile devices. Describing the publications experience with app development—which involved spending $124,000 on software development and selling only 353 iPad subscriptions—Pontin reports that, “Like almost all publishers, I was badly disappointed. What went wrong? Everything.”

It didn’t have to be this way. Tablets like the iPad offer rich possibilities for telling engaging stories that take readers well beyond the print experience, with the portability to enjoy that experience anywhere, anytime. But to fully realize that potential—without the high cost and frustration seen by Tech Review—publishers must think more holistically about their long-term strategy for delivering a fresh, high-quality experience across all mobile devices. A few simple rules can guide you to the right strategy for your publication and readers.

Rule 1: Remember the business you’re in. Publishing is supposed to be about content—not code. If you find yourself hiring separate development teams or agencies to create your HTML website, iOS apps, and Android apps, then something has already gone wrong. The right digital strategy will allow you to focus your resources on creating great experiences for your readers, not paying an army of developers to replicate those experiences in different languages for different form factors.

Rule 2: Don’t settle for static pages. Like many publishers, Tech Review began with the approach of replicating its print edition page by page in PDF form. The whole point of digital media is to do things that aren’t possible in print, using interactivity, rich media, social sharing, and other web-like capabilities to engage readers more deeply. And what reader wants to sit around waiting for an entire 96-page PDF to download before they can start exploring its content? As with a desktop website, publishers should curate their content for mobile engagement and focus on delivering the right experience for the right device at the right time—instead of trying to turn tablets into a paper delivery device. Tech Review realized their error and have since taken the PDF replicas off of their app and now have live streaming articles.

Rule 3: Don’t chain content to design. Editors shouldn’t have to deal with design code or the mechanics of layout—especially when that layout will have to change depending on the device a reader uses to access an article. Instead, designers can create templates in standard web protocols that allow editors to choose whatever layout they want, without the risk of breaking the design. This allows editors to focus on editorial, and designers to focus on design, while providing unlimited flexibility—and creativity—to present each article in the best way for each platform.

Rule 4: Think about the day after launch. A digital edition is never truly “put to bed.” A mobile app needs to be updated constantly with fresh content, enhanced usability, and new features. How will you get this done and who will do it? If you hired a development firm to build your app, then will you have to keep paying them for every change? If you build it in-house, will your editorial team be constantly at the mercy of your IT department’s workload? Find a simple, cost-effective way to flow your content everywhere your readers want to experience it or you’re likely to find yourself sharing in Tech Review’s misery.

Rule 5: Make friends with the cloud. The platform-independent nature of the cloud is a precious gift for publishers. Instead of having to create, update, manage, and analyze separate apps for iOS , Android, and HTML5 apps in addition to their mobile website and desktop website, a cloud-based strategy makes it possible for content to be published once, and then enjoyed on any device. Similarly, updates can be performed once in the cloud, and propagated automatically at the same time across both smartphones and tablets. The same is true for monetization and analytics, which are unified in the cloud rather than being fragmented in platform-specific silos. The cloud could have saved Tech Review a lot of time and money—and saved its native apps from their impending demise.

The iPad and other tablets were supposed to be a boon for the publishing industry, giving content creators new ways to connect with and engage readers. This potential still exists—in fact, it’s stronger today than ever. By learning from the mistakes of the first wave of PDF replicas and development-intensive app strategies, publishers can find the mobile success they’ve been looking for--in the cloud.

PJ Gurumohan is the co-founder and CEO of cloud solution provider GENWI.

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Warren Bimblick

Writing for the Web, and Other Journalistic Hardships

Warren Bimblick Editorial - 05/22/2012-10:50 AM

Journalists get a bum rap these days if they don’t “write for the Web” in an optimized manner, or if they write stories that are too long and detailed (I still miss the twenty-page profiles of Amazon butterflies in The New Yorker from decades past).

There are just too many rules about writing, these days. We have all of the Twitter-pated editors and publishers spewing out 140-word stuff, which is sometimes nonsense (I am guilty of this, too—felt kind of dumb last weekend, so I tweeted about the weather).

So I guess—as a businessperson with a J-degree—I pity the journalist who is being bombarded with figuring out ways to make a buck. It used to be that they could write smart things and the sales folk would sell blank pages. Agencies demanded far forward or negotiated being opposite something; it didn’t much matter what was on the blank ad pages. Audience relevance was assured because the editors filled up the edit well with relevance, and there was a BPA audit that assured they got to the right people (disclosure—I am on the BPA board). Now, they have to be contextually relevant and all that jazz.

Then they have to tweet, Facebook and Link In (out?) to the community that isn’t necessarily the community that they used to write for; who took an annual subscription to the magazine but have been acquired through SEO, nurturing and mollycoddling but are, alas, anonymous. That is, until you convert them to register, which they are loathe to do as they found you by mistake. But they can be counted and even audited, and even though they won’t mail IN a bingo card, they fill OUT bingo cards (you hope) online. And then, Gadzooks, you have a lead that someone has to follow up on, but not by a salesperson—but by a technological something or other.

Which gets back to the LEAD (not the lead)—that journalistic introduction to 200 words or 20,000 words.

How about a new kind of lead that can be repurposed to social: The combined Twitter and Haiku lead. Perhaps a Twitku?

Warren Bimblick is senior vice president, strategy and business development, at Penton Media. Follow him on Twitter @wbimblick.

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Stefanie Botelho

A Curious Commencement Speech, Brought to Butler Students By TIME

Stefanie Botelho Editorial - 05/17/2012-14:42 PM

On May 12, TIME managing editor Rick Stengel spoke at Indianapolis’ Butler University graduation ceremony. While such a large media presence likely excited the recent grads at first, some of what Stengel said must have left the crowd a bit...perplexed.

As FOLIO: sister publication min points out, one quote shows promise for an insightful speech, as Stengel reflects on the difference between information and knowledge: “Information is data; knowledge is understanding. Information is statistics; knowledge is insight. Information is foreground; knowledge is background.”

But then he quickly takes a strange turn as he says, “Information is everywhere, and it’s largely free…[knowledge] is scarce and valuable — and you might just have to pay for it.”

The paid content jabs don’t stop there, as seen in the following quotes:

“Information feels like it’s free because it comes to you in a frictionless way with a click on your keyboard. But the information – the knowledge you get from a TIME story about the Middle East—comes at the cost of keeping correspondents in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Jerusalem. That’s not free. And those people are often risking their lives to bring you that information and knowledge.”

“A comment on a blog is free. But you will have to pay for the insight of [TIME columnists] Joe Klein or...Fareed Zakaria, for there is a deep investment that has been made in their experience, their talent, their contacts, their perspective. That’s worth a lot."

While getting consumers to pay for content is a hot button issue in the publishing industry, I wonder exactly what Stengel was hoping to accomplish by broaching the subject during his speech. Were his intentions to convert graduates to subscribers? Perhaps Stengel should have saved his paid content woes for an op-ed, and used this platform instead to demonstrate what actually makes TIME worth paying for: wisdom from a trusted, researched source.

Sadly, this marks a missed opportunity for Stengel, TIME and the magazine industry overall. Educated youth should be enticed to become readers of legacy media brands, not guilted into a subscription purchase.

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Imran Suleman

Piano Playing Cats And Engagement Strategies For The Modern Advertising Age

Imran Suleman Sales and Marketing - 05/15/2012-14:29 PM

Piano playing cat viral videos, engaging TedTalks on renewable energy, killer blogs and real-time information feeds are creating a transformational shift that continues to redefine the boundaries of advertising. Agencies today are actually spending money in the hopes of creating the next cheap-looking viral video, as shown in a recent episode of The Pitch on AMC. But these are short term tactics, with an inherently short shelf life in many cases; one that can be quickly replaced by the next viral video. These strategies don’t build a cohesive brand or identity – something that you want to be remembered for.

At UBM TechWeb, we share many of the same challenges most marketers face. But we are in a unique position in that we have to satisfy two audiences: business technology users who consume our information, and our marketing customers. Our clients are looking to create deeper engagement with prospects that can be measured, beyond clicks and views, through innovative products like lead nurturing and thriving communities. Our audiences are seeking practical, intelligent information to make smart decisions. The question reveals itself: how do you engage a mass audience, create greater brand loyalty, while also working toward and fulfilling the goals of your clients?

At UBM TechWeb, we have found that the optimal way to engage the audience for the long term is by exciting the user intellectually by giving away educational, intellectual pieces of unbiased, premium content that only we can produce. These pieces of content can take weeks to create given the careful research that goes into them and has monetary value attached to it. We decided to create an annual budget for the creation of these special reports and give it away as a reward to our audience. Our engagement trends are more promising than ever before.

How do we do this? A typical scenario goes like this. The user, we’ll call her Lisa, is presented with an email offer that is relevant to the types of content she consumes and actions she has taken. We know Lisa is a cloud professional who routinely attends our cloud webcasts, frequently downloads our whitepapers on the subject and has also attended a live event dedicated to the topics a year ago. As we reward our audiences for their loyalty to our offerings, it has become apparent that Lisa would be more interested in a premium report that we would offer for free, like the “5 Steps to building the Private Cloud,” priced at $99.00. By offering Lisa a report at no cost, one that is directly relevant to her, we have constructed an opportunity to create an even deeper and more loyal relationship with her.

As publishers, what is it that you can do to reward your audience intellectually and emotionally to make them more loyal to your brand? Is there valuable content that only you can produce, that your audience will cherish? There has to be, and if there isn’t, you have not thought hard enough. Remember this: only your company is able to create and share expert content like no one else. If you don’t have that talent, seek that talent and start producing now.

Imran Suleman is a digital marketer and content strategist for technology companies looking to evolve their brand and products into world class entities through the power of astute content marketing.

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Bill Mickey

TIME's Boob Job

Bill Mickey Consumer - 05/10/2012-11:19 AM

 

If TIME's latest cover sets the newsstand a-buzz as much as it has the social web it should have a hit on its hands. The May 21st U.S. edition touts a cover story about "attachment parenting" by featuring a young mother nursing her 3-year-old son who's standing on a chair and attached to her left, mostly exposed, breast. Both stare straight into the camera with practiced ennui.

With the main cover lines shouting "Are You Mom Enough?" the cover is casually confrontational while subtly daring you to judge the concept itself.

Media writer Jack Shafer quipped on Twitter that TIME has "Businessweek cover envy," alluding to a steady stream of provocative covers from Bloomberg Businessweek. That magazine's recent cover story on private equity was illustrated by an "American Psycho"-inspired, chainsaw wielding financier and was called out for misrepresenting the pro-private equity piece. Similarly provoking, but really more funny, a February Bloomberg Businessweek cover features fornicating jetliners. Hey, sex sells. But a Continental-United business merger? Not so much.

The Economist is another weekly title that has used its covers to make its readers think, and sometimes chuckle, rather than bashing them over the head with the obvious.

Envy or not, the newsstand is becoming a grim place to do business. The temptation to be eye-catching by tickling a funny bone or challenging a single-copy buyer's social or moral boundaries is high. But it's a fine line between nudge-nudge-wink-wink and this. One step over that line and you've abandoned wit for poor taste.

Done right, however, and with some consistency, you can serve up a level of anticipation among readers and an added layer of personality to the brand—especially those with a weekly frequency.

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Stefanie Botelho

Seventeen Under Fire

Stefanie Botelho Consumer - 05/04/2012-14:35 PM


As long as there has been celebrity culture, there have been women griping about the unobtainability of airbrushed perfection. The latest controversy is led by 14-year-old Julia Bluhm, whose online petition asking Hearst’s Seventeen to publish one Photoshop-free spread a month caught the attention of the nation. The petition on change.org now has over 49,400 signatures, and the crusade culminated in a protest outside Hearst Towers yesterday.

In response to a request for comment, a Seventeen spokesperson emailed, “We’re proud of Julia for being so passionate about an issue – it’s exactly the kind of attitude we encourage in our readers – so we invited her to our office to meet with editor in chief Ann Shoket this morning. They had a great discussion, and we believe that Julia left understanding that Seventeen celebrates girls for being their authentic selves, and that’s how we present them. We feature real girls in our pages and there is no other magazine that highlights such a diversity of size, shape, skin tone and ethnicity.”

One can only imagine the conversation between Shoket and Bluhm, and whether Bluhm felt as if her concerns were properly addressed.

Regardless of Seventeen’s resolution, the rest of the industry is slowly addressing the “real women” controversy. Conde Nast International announced the 19 editors on its international Vogue editions will “not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder,” reports the Wall Street Journal. PEOPLE opened its “Most Beautiful” Issue to reader submissions; though only those between the age of 20 and 59 are eligible for consideration. Ladies’ Home Journal continues the trend of “real women” integration into its pages, with audience contribution featured in the majority of editorial content.

Setting impossible standards for the everyday woman is a crime media is often accused of, be it magazines, television or movies. But on the other side, one has to wonder if those women demanding realistic depictions on glossy covers would continue to buy products if this came true: Fantasy is a large selling point for consumer magazines, whether readers realize it or not.

Blaming Seventeen, Cosmo, Vogue etc. for creating impossible stereotypes strikes me as an oversimplification of a complex matter. Expecting corporate-produced products with ad page and circulation quotas to serve as moral compasses is as silly as expecting pop stars to behave as role models.

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Michael Biggerstaff

I Hate VC Firms

Michael Biggerstaff Editorial - 05/02/2012-10:10 AM

As it was reported by FOLIO: on March 29th, our long-time competitor, Texterity, has been acquired by Godengo. That same day, actually hours later, a venture capital firm contacted me and asked if I had heard the news. They then wondered if they could help me "keep up with the great things that Texterity and Godengo were going to do together." The question made me pause and take stock in what indeed had happened. Then it brought a smile to my face.

In my opinion, venture capital is definitely one direction a company can go when you need money and are growing a company. Many great companies have started that way and went on to do great things. However, I also believe this same strategy is a reason many companies have failed over the years. What follows the influx of cash from VC firms is generally a call to grow the company via customer acquisition, with little regard to making a profit. The model dictates that if you only get more customers, the rest will take care of itself.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Profits are really what allow that company to pay back investors or make the company so profitable that the venture capital people will get the payday they so desperately seek. If and when that doesn’t happen, then you are expendable and subject to a merger, with the goal of the repackaged asset looking more valuable than it was before.

My partners and I determined long ago we were going to grow our business organically; taking anything we made and pouring it back into the company to grow Nxtbook into what we know it could be. It’s not always easy to do that, given the promises of easy cash that can be achieved now through VC funding.

Since 2003, I have received calls or emails from 27 different VC firms, most of them multiple times over the years. These calls hit a frenzy in 2008 when we were named 303 on the Inc 500 list of fastest growing companies in America. Calls ranging from, "I just wanted check in and see if Nxtbook was ready for an investment yet," to "We will stay out of your way and let your team run the business" and my favorite, "You won’t even know we are around." Each time we turned them down because we knew what the investment would ultimately mean; we would lose control over our own business.

Like any industry, but especially prevalent in our industry, most of our competitors are funded by venture capitalists and seem to work hard at customer acquisition while not working at all to generate a profit. I draw this conclusion based on how many are providing software almost for free or charging very little for their product. Obviously customer acquisition is paramount to their play, since they long ago abandoned profit as a core to their business.

This lack of profit translates directly into a lack of customer service. How can you have any customer service, much less good customer service when you aren’t making money to pay the people who provide it? Over time, this results in the changing of what was once a feared competitor. That change begins when the people who were the core of the company leave or are asked to leave because the company can no longer afford their talents. These people leave and the knowledge they have about the company and the industry is lost forever. Who sees it most are the customers who expected certain service levels to be maintained, yet those levels certainly erode over time.

I strongly believe that as a company your business life is made of choices, what you do and how you grow is all part of your business, your core fundamental belief in where you will travel as an organization. We as a company are here to make a profit. Not a crazy rich profit but one that provides an ability to grow as a company and keep up with the demands of the rapidly changing technology sector. We make that profit simply because that profit allows all things to be. Without it, we would be just another failed digital supplier being combined with another company with the hopes of something relevant coming out the other side.

We know that we are relevant right here and right now. Our customers depend on us to have a great product backed up by service that is second to none. I’m not saying we always hit the target exactly in either area but I assure you we have and will continue to do our best in both regards. That is what makes us a great company, always striving to be the best partner to our very valuable clients.

Our employees depend on us to be around a long time and provide great benefits and good solid living potential for each and every one. This is a responsibility that we don’t take lightly. They commit to give us with their best and they certainly deserve the same consideration in return.

Lastly, our community depends on us to be a light or shining example of a technology company right here in Lancaster, PA. We have no intention of shying away from that responsibility. We work in the community to show young people what is possible in technology without having to move away from home. We provide students job-shadowing opportunities, fund classrooms, and provide speakers to classes or invite teachers to Nxtbook to see us for themselves.

We feel all of these things are important to us as an organization but most important to us are you, our customers. We want you to know that we will continue providing strong product offerings backed up with customer service that is the best in the business. We are built for the long haul and I want to personally assure you that we will be here for you as our industry continues to move and shift. We won’t let you down.

Michael Biggerstaff is the chief inspiration officer at Nxtbook Media.

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Bob Cohn

Misconceptions About the Homepage

Bob Cohn Editorial - 05/01/2012-13:42 PM

Does the homepage really matter? Yes -- but not, perhaps, for the reasons you may think.

The homepage is the single best way for editors to convey the sensibilities and values of their websites. Everything about the page – the design; the selection of stories and images; the treatment of features and widgets; the language and cadence of the headlines; the typeface; the frequency with which the page is updated; even the ads – is a statement about what matters to the publication. With one glance at the page (literally, a 10-second glance), a reader can get answers to these questions:

• What’s this site about? News? Analysis? Service? Gossip?

• What’s the sensibility? Serious? Playful? Quirky? Geeky?

• What are the subject areas that matter most to its editors? Washington? Wall Street? Hollywood? Silicon Valley?

For these reasons, the homepage is, as the marketing team would put it, the ultimate brand statement. And, by the same logic, all this is true for the home screen of a magazine’s tablet app, too.

There’s one thing, though, that the homepage is not much good for: driving traffic. While I don’t have data on this, it’s my sense, anecdotally, that many editors continue to believe that one of the primary goals of the homepage is to guide readers to the articles on the site. I know that’s what I long believed. But the evidence – and here there is data – suggests the homepage is overvalued as a mechanism for generating visits to interior pages.

Across The Atlantic sites, the fraction of visits that begin on the homepage is surprisingly small. About 13 percent of visits to our flagship TheAtlantic.com start on the homepage. That figure is about 8 percent for The Atlantic Wire and 10 percent for The Atlantic Cities. That means, of course, that roughly 9 in 10 sessions begin on an article page or, much less frequently, a channel or author landing page. 

It is the case, of course, that getting promoted to the homepage can give a boost to an article. Just not as much as we might have thought – and not the way we imagined. In the ongoing cubicle game to puzzle out the Google algorithm, our editors have noticed that a story that gets a big burst of traffic in a short period of time tends to fare better in search returns. The overall number of readers to the piece may not be huge, but if they come to the article within a narrow band of time, that may be enough to affect search returns, even days later. And, naturally, a story that does well in search tends to attract a larger audience.

So here’s a traffic lever: a homepage tease can, in certain circumstances, generate a concentrated burst of readers to an article, which can tickle the Google algorithm and improve the story’s performance in search. This peculiar bankshot is one way that a story’s placement on the homepage can bring substantial traffic.

Still, with 90 percent of visits starting on a page not considered the homepage, one conclusion is obvious: Every page is a homepage. However readers arrive at our site – from a Yahoo link or a Facebook post or a Google search or a mention on YourMomsBlog – we need to find ways to keep them there. That means designing article pages to drive the next click: related content headlines, video boxes, most popular modules, most shared modules.

Many sites are good at this, but, paradoxically, being too good can be a problem. I’ve seen article pages on popular and respected sites with pop-ups, oversized social buttons, and right rails that look like Times Square. Don’t forget why the audience came in the first place: to read the article.

For big media companies, all this can be scary. As powerful as the brand may be, it’s disconcerting to realize that each article lives out there by itself and has to succeed on its own. This is more true than ever in the atomized world of social media, where the individual post, photo gallery, and infographic is untethered from the brand and shared as an independent unit.

You can post that unit to your home page – and if it’s good, you should. But that’s not how readers will find it.

Bob Cohn is editor of Atlantic Digital. In this role, he oversees all editorial components of The Atlantic’s digital and mobile properties, including TheAtlantic.com, TheAtlanticWire.com, and TheAtlanticCities.com, as well as the print publication’s integration on digital platforms.

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