On the web, marketing and communications has shifted from the one-way, one-size-fits-all approach of TV advertising to delivering just-in-time and just-right content to consumers and internal audiences. Successful web marketers understand that online, content sells ideas. It brands an organization as worthy to do business with. Companies, non-profits, political campaigns, and rock bands are the new publishers, delivering ideas and stories just like traditional media companies--and RSS needs to be part of the publishing plan.
For marketers, one of the coolest things about the web is that when an idea takes off, it can propel a brand or company to fame and fortune. For free. Whatever you call it—viral, buzz, or word-of-blog marketing—having other people tell your story drives action.
So what does a publisher get when the editors choose to purchase an “exclusive” piece of content? How about when it’s baby pictures and the price tag is several million dollars? From a marketing perspective, People Magazine in the U.S., Hello! in the U.K., and New Idea in Australia invested to secure the rights to Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt’s baby pictures in order to build tremendous buzz. Sure, print copies of People Magazine jumped off shelves, generating revenue. But enough to pay the tab for the rights to be the first to show the world Shiloh’s plump baby lips? Probably not.
Before the web created micro-markets for virtually any business niche or quirky hobby, people were without information and places to do business. Not anymore. Yet while most content executives understand that there is now information available on the web on any topic, many are still unsure how to take advantage of the opportunity.
The big takeaway for me is the perception that our industry faces a new content cannibalization scare. The old scare, “free information will cannibalize fee,” which was intense for much of the early 2000s, is still simmering on the back burner. The new scare, the idea that offering micro-content will cannibalize subscription sales as well as the sale of large reports, now tops many publishers’ lists of professional neuroses.
Communicating with target audiences through Web content initiatives is also an extremely cost-effective form of marketing. If you’ve got an hour or two a week to devote to it, a blog is virtually free to produce. Contrast that to, say, an expensive direct mail campaign. Other forms of marketing also take time to produce, but cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to execute. As much as I rant about Web content as a viral marketing tool on the speaking circuit and riff about it on my blog, I’ve never had detailed insight into the specific metrics around one viral marketing effort using Web content—until now.
In our dynamic industry, new companies form all the time. Start-ups in the content technology business as well as online publishing ventures appear at such a rapid clip that it is difficult to keep up. Imagine what it’s like for the executives of a new company in this business to get their brainchild noticed in a crowded field. A typical launch involves months of planning, lots of hard work, and often a substantial budget for PR, analyst relations, and advertising I found it remarkable, then, that a new company called Squidoo was successfully launched in late 2005 without any of the traditional marketing and PR techniques.
It’s been fascinating to both observe and participate in the debate about blogs and wikis in the enterprise. Just like the hand-wringing over personal computers entering the workplace in the 1980s and echoing the Web and email debates of the 1990s, enterprise IT executives and content professionals seem to be getting their collective knickers in a twist about blogs and wikis these days. Remember when executives believed email might “expose a corporation to its secrets being revealed to the outside world”? How about when information professionals worried about employees freely using the public Internet and all of its (gasp!) “unverified information”?
With the number of blogs now in the tens of millions and the availability of niche blogs on virtually any topic, attention has shifted to the hot space of blog search. The simple truth is that it isn’t easy to find a blog post on subjects of interest. Some nifty new tagging features are beginning to make a big difference for users, but the dark side of marketing may hamper the growth of tags.
So what’s with all the nonsense words being thrown about by well-intentioned marketing people at econtent companies? Nearly every Web site I look at and almost all the press releases I receive are laden with meaningless jargon that’s just plain annoying. As I was cruising around looking at econtent company sites and press pages while serving as part of the EContent 100 decision-making group, it became clear that most companies in this business just aren’t communicating well.
I witnessed on television what I’ve often been critical about in Web multimedia use in business: the inability to search and quickly click to the precise part of content that I’m interested in. I’ve tried messing around with podcasting for things like listening to conference panels and keynotes that I missed, but my efforts always ended in frustration because I couldn’t go directly to the spot in the audio that I was most interested in. In other words, I couldn’t search on a big fat audio stream.
Analysis of free versus fee content invariably focuses on content that must be paid for by consumers in its original form (such as newspaper and magazine articles) but that is often offered for free at an advertising- and sponsorship-supported Web site. Many pundits believe that if content is offered for free in one medium, it will cannibalize another, and that’s all they obsess about. Yet despite all the debate about free and paid content business models, market observers have largely missed the flip side of free content: valuable information that individuals are eager to give away for no charge and that smart companies then aggregate for profit.
With my new book Cashing In With Content: How Innovative Marketers Use Digital Information to Turn Browsers Into Buyers soon to be released, I decided to check out the book’s new Amazon.com page. Well (I thought), as long as I’m here, I might as well click my name on the author link and pay a long-overdue visit to my first book, Eyeball Wars: a novel of dot-com intrigue. OK I admit it: I was deeply into a therapeutic session of vanity searching. Heck (I justified to myself) all I’m doing is listening in on a conference call. Being a multitasking sort of guy, I might as well poke around a bit while others are talking away.
I’m sick and tired of the media elite bitching and moaning about their diminishing role in society. There’s lots of blame and finger-pointing going on at big media these days: people don’t watch network TV news “because they work long hours”; newspaper and magazine revenues are down, which is “the advertiser’s fault”; and everyone’s favorite scapegoat—blogging—is “not real journalism.” That’s the world according to traditional media. I disagree. The news cycle has changed, and with it, so must many of the rules of the game.
Marketing people in technology companies don’t know what winning looks like. It’s not that we marketers don’t want to win. We do. But we have a collective difficulty aligning our departmental goals so that they are in sync with the rest of the company. Think about the goals that most marketers have. It usually takes the form of an epic to-do list: let’s see, well, we should do a few trade shows, maybe create a new logo, produce some T-shirts, and oh yeah, generate some leads for the salespeople. Well, guess what? Those aren’t the goals of your company!
As I evaluate and use information products and services, one thing I look for is evidence of right-brain thinking—in products and services offered as well as in companies’ marketing and communications approaches. Sadly, we are primarily a left-brain industry. This obsession might seem trivial, but I guess my right-brain outlook on life causes me to take a holistic view of the information marketplace.
It seems like every week there’s an announcement about yet another Internet mainstreamer like Google or Amazon making a foray into the world of scholarly content. What’s going on here? Why are broad-based, general-purpose companies moving into the rarified atmosphere of academic search? Perhaps they see an opportunity to help users in an area that many of the proprietary online services have not done well with: facilitating browsing. Our friends at Google and Amazon figured out long ago that consumers don’t just search—they also love to browse.
With consumers in control, the digital content industry is thriving. Today, businesspeople integrate information into daily work seamlessly, salespeople see news about customers when they’re ready to pick up the phone, and individuals control how they search and browse for content.
With all the political blog hype during the 2004 election cycle, many observers missed the quieter emergence of blogs in the business world. My guess is that we're just getting going here and that business blogs will grow rapidly in numbers and importance. I'd predict that before long blogs will displace many existing KM technologies for information sharing inside businesses as well as communication tools used by organizations to reach external audiences.
The influence of business and political blogs has become too large to be dismissed by the econtent industry. Blogging provides experts and wannabes with an easy way to make their voices heard in the Web-based marketplace of ideas. Companies that ignore independent product reviews and discussions about service quality found on blogs are living dangerously; information aggregators and distributors need to do some soul searching to determine where blogs fit in to their offerings; and info pros should be prepared to advise their organizations on the impact of blogs on a day's work.
The things that make an egoless company will also make a remarkable company and maybe even one that makes the EContent 100 list.
December 2004 Issue
Posted Nov 29, 2004
Search engines aren’t just popular, they’re indispensable; almost one-third of respondents said they couldn’t live without Internet search engines. And business people, in particular, are open to experimentation as new search tools emerge.
While the core business model remains virtually unchanged, the new wave of content being syndicated today comes from non-publishers like organizations and corporations.
Other than improved business, what are companies talking about this year? Based on decidedly unscientific measures, solutions and anything XML are hot.
I’m a diehard news junkie. My particular interest? Anything at the convergence of politics, business, and the media—especially the way the media covers itself.
Understanding information arbitrage affords intriguing opportunities worth exploring, if you’re on the sell side of the econtent business, or exploiting, if you’re an information consumer.
With the traditional financial newswire, if you don’t think to ask, you won’t likely stumble across something uniquely useful unless you stare at all 50,000 stories passing by in a typical day.
What role does marketing play in the econtent industry? Marketing is developing and positioning an econtent product so that someone will actually want to buy it.
Back in the days of print domination, there were basically two choices an author had to publish content: Try to garner the interest of a big publisher or do it yourself. But times have changed and so has the definition of publisher.
For decades, the econtent world had been rather unaffected by changes in laws and regulations—at least in the U.S. Mostly, it’s been business as usual… but not any more.
Thinking about the strange phenomenon of surfing your inbox, I was struck by how many other bits of econtent are best viewed in applications far removed from the original user interface
We’re in the econtent business, people! We’re not buying and selling something that can be touched and held. Instead of the visible stuff, we’ve got to focus on communicating how our services facilitate people doing their jobs better.
Finding one-off statistics and stock photography used to be a pain in the butt for marketing professionals, but times they are a-changin'.
What’s really at stake with the over-hyped concept of branding—in fact, what branding’s really about—is a focus on the customer.
The consolidation of vast amounts of information into simple visual representations is one of the best ways to communicate and emerging visualization tools have potential to alter the way we navigate information.
Before the Web brought real-time information to everyone, there was a dramatic distinction in what was considered financial news and information. Now the separation simply doesn’t exist.
The Columbia Shuttle disaster demonstrated that digital content is simply the best tool available to understand a major unfolding news story.
Anyone who thinks the econtent industry staid and boring needs to get up and fly to Japan immediately. There, you’ll witness an econtent revolution so profound it impacts even before the cabin doors open at Narita Airport.
The creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the biggest re-organization of the U.S. government since the creation of the Department of Defense some 50 years ago, is really all about Information Technology. Let’s just hope “CIO” Tom Ridge has caught on to that fact.
Econtent professionals have a unique opportunity to take a leadership role in our organizations by working directly with marketing and sales people to offer compelling content directly to customers. And, in an increasingly competitive marketplace, all businesspeople are searching for the elusive key to success. Look no further.
It seems to me there are exactly two ways to use and deploy econtent. As econtent professionals, I think we’ve focused too much effort on one way: answer my question, while not spending enough energy on the other: tell me something.
Data security and backup company CMS Products, Inc., has announced that its BounceBack Ultimate software package has been certified by Microsoft for use with Windows 7.
Posted Jan 01, 1753