I moved from the editorial side of the publishing business to the money side in 2000 and my timing couldn’t have been worse.
In my first month of selling advertising, it was my job to convince would-be advertisers why they should select my products as opposed to anybody else’s.
By the second month, I was answering a much more difficult question: Why they should advertise at all.
Even in 2000, at the height of the first internet bubble, marketers were figuring out how to use digital technology to disintermediate the media – in essence, becoming publishers themselves. That forever changed the nature of the publishing business and it led to my own nine-year journey that eventually resulted in my decision to leave the publishing industry behind.
Here’s just one piece of evidence: A blog from Alan Mutter, the self-proclaimed Newsosaur. He says big retailers have gone much further than disintermediating their former publishing partners; now they’re competing with newspapers by selling advertising on their own e-commerce sites.
Today, every company needs to think like a publisher. Here’s what that means:
Content: Publishers develop content that’s meaningful to their audience. For companies, this means creating content that’s useful to customers and prospects. In the business-to-business world, that shouldn’t be difficult. No matter what product or service you provide, you’re likely to have more technical expertise about it than any trade journal.
The challenge is purely cultural. Most companies rush to say what they want prospects to know. Those that are successful content marketers instead provide information prospects want to hear. There’s a difference; while the marketer’s first instinct is often to load up on features and benefits, the prospects are really looking for solutions. Business-to-business marketers who can figure out how to help prospects solve problems first will quickly gain permission from those prospects to provide judicious and thoughtful sales messages too.
Audience: Publishers spend a lot of resources to develop audiences for their content – and more important, for the advertising messages they carry. Companies now have the capability to develop their own audiences through social media, skilled distribution of valuable information, and dedication to keeping their contact databases current.
This isn’t magic. It’s not easy and it’s not free; the reason companies have been cutting back on advertising over the past decade is to divert funding to become successful publishers themselves. And those that do are succeeding in a world where target audiences play a more active role in the marketing process than they ever did in the heyday of newspapers and magazines.