What B2B advertisers really want from media

I’m not an advertiser, but I’ve spent the last 10 years selling to them.

I think my first day selling was the last day of the golden age in B2B media — back when magazine people spent all day bending over to pick up money, and then marveled at how hard they were working.

On my second day the balance tipped; customers by-and-large stopped looking for reasons to advertise, and started looking for reasons not to advertise. This has been documented and discussed. What’s missing from the discussion is why industrial advertisers might actually want the trade media to fail.

Start with the assumption that as much as buying marketing, these advertisers were buying security.They followed a  simple formula, perfect for the engineering mindset that drives these companies. It was this: Advertising with trade media is the only reliable way to reach a targeted audience. So by doing whatever the competition does you will achieve similar results.

Feeling aggressive? Spend a little more and you’ll do a little better. There were few variables, like the strength of your creative, and the novelty of your logo-ed novelties. It was neat and simple and let companies get back to the business of making stuff — which was their true DNA.

Then came the Internet, which replaced measurement by lead-generation with measurement by click-throughs and unique visits. It put a premium on speed and courage; and it created so many variables that there was no longer assurance you could match your competitors’ results by matching their spend.

Suddenly, buying print meant spending a lot of money without getting any security.

That would be enough for marketers to resent the media. But there’s another piece.

The traditional media model is sponsorship: Media creates content, which advertisers sponsor to reach a targeted audience. As friend and former boss Teri Mollison now at F&W Media, likes to say, this is the “We talk, you listen” model of marketing.

The Internet? That’s more like, “No, you listen.”

This is an uncomfortable thing in industry, where blunt and scratchy feedback didn’t always have to be tolerated. Nonetheless, it emphasizes how little feedback print really offers. That’s troublesome because of print’s other historical value proposition: distributing product information.

What good is that function in the Internet era if the information takes a a month to get out; doesn’t provide a lot of feedback compared to emerging alternatives; and inevitably gets filtered by a team of trade press editors.

It’s not news that cuts in ad spending have been offset by increased expenditures by industrial marketers on videos, articles, e-books, blogs and other original content. The Internet empowers them to do something the trade press won’t: get information to the market quickly, with no strings attached, and without a filter. There’s no begging, no pitching, no sending of gifts (which never really works, by the way), no threats to the publisher. The media’s old customers like being able to do their own media work. They don’t want to give up the flexibility and the freedom. They don’t want to see the power move back to the edtors.

Media companies are suffering terribly in this recession, but I’m not sure if many of them really understand why. It’s not just because there are too may other choices. It’s because industrial marketers aren’t interested in their survival.

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