Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Future Of Print: Thrust Engine For Developing Online Communities

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Ah, print, the darling of trade publishers everywhere.

It's still a potent weapon in today's B2B marketing wars, but with trade events and online publications soaring in their revenue mixes today's B2B publishers are oftentimes perplexed as to how to deal with the shifting strategic role of print.

Photo credit: Tsunei M

Just as yesteryear's battleships and today's aircraft carriers had to adapt their strengths to new types of missions, B2B print publications can find important roles in today's business marketing mix - if they cede their former glories to new types of strategic and tactical roles.

After all, how many things does an executive get in the mail these days that they really want to open?

Photo credit:

The run-up to World War II saw Germany investing enormous sums in modernizing its navy. The culmination of this effort was the launching of the battleship Bismarck in 1939, a huge and powerful vessel that dominated the oceans in the early days of the war. But in May of 1941 the Bismarck's fate was sealed by an attack by a squadron of outdated Swordfish biplanes launched from a British aircraft carrier and armed with torpedoes. When the Bismarck sank to the floor of the Atlantic so did the era of battleships as the focus of naval supremacy.

Enormous battleships played a key role in the remainder of WWII, but the use of battleships shifted to ground support for amphibious invasions, floating artillery stations used to pummel coastlines with huge shells and rockets.

Photo credit: Trinkets to Treasures

Aircraft carriers became the flagships of modern military fleets in place of battleships, but even their roles are shifting as new forms of automated munitions delivery take hold.

So it is with some interest that I read a curious quote in BtoB Online regarding the ABM Financial Trend Report from The Jordan, Edmiston Group, a great report highlighted at last week's American Business Media's Top Management Meeting in Chicago. In reaction to the report presentation Robin Ashton, president of Gill Ashton Publishing and publisher of Foodservice Equipment Reports, said that "The print product is basically an aircraft carrier you fly everything off of," adding, "There is no question that keeping the aircraft carrier fueled is a challenge nowadays." The data from the report (PDF) seems to underscore the fueling issue. While many B2B publishers have wrestled their way to print profitability again, the growth is all in online and events revenues: with online boosted 29 percent 2003-2004 and events 17 percent in the same period, while print revenue slid 1.4 percent in the same period. Trend data offered up by ABM via a Forrester study (PPT) looks no more encouraging for print: it indicates that by 2008 most B2B advertisers will see their own Web sites by and far as their most important marketing channel, with events, online marketing and online advertising all more important than trade print.

The "aircraft carrier" of print may still play an important role in generating revenues for B2B publishers, but unfortunately many publishers still seem to mistake its role as focal rather than as "ground support" for other more strategic lines of business.

Print will survive as an important component in a publisher's arsenal, but only when they accept that it's gunning for different targets.

Here are a few thoughts for all B2B publishers to consider when adapting print publications to strong support roles:

Shape your print publications as executive status toys.

Photo credit: Jaroslaw Miarka

Just as admirals can fall in love with the firepower available from a battleship or aircraft carrier, it's easy for a prestigious publication to fall in love with the ability of print to blanket mass audiences.

Yet every trend points to print becoming a far more precise tool to reach very elite B2B audiences who still have the time and outlook to read print publications.

With online delivery taking the place of print as the mass delivery medium of choice, print publications have the opportunity to position themselves with more narrow audiences much higher up the executive food chain who can be targeted with much higher-value messages.

Making print more rare, more personalized and more specialized as an outgrowth of events and online publications will provide it with a more much appropriate - and profitable - production role.

Focus your online presences on interests both broader and narrower than print.

Photo credit: Kristian Rasmussen

The long-standing tradition for many B2B magazine publishers has been to create standalone online sites that correlate closely with a print title.

This can be a risky strategy, especially for small publications that lack the capital for a sophisticated Web presence.

Industry webloggers and search engines looking at corporate Web sites will pick off more narrow topics and more real-time coverage than your magazine's niches while the reach of broader audiences will elude your advertisers.

It is far more effective to align your online presence with more broadly defined audience roles, into which materials from specific high-value publications can be drawn into a matrix of online services that's both broader and more narrow through personalization tools.

Online users will be able to get all of the print-branded content that they want online and click through your broader porfolio, but the unique combination of content that represents a print title can still stand alone offline. Reference ALM's brilliant site for a case study in making this concept work.

Change your payload mix to suit your readers.

Photo credit: Filipe Frade

While there is all manner of physical media that has been blown, sewn and glued into magazines through the years by marketers, the product as a whole is still conceived of editorially as words on paper from a fixed set of writers with nice graphics and fixed ads. A magazine that an executive cares about is one of the very few physical things from outside their organization that will make it into their hands in the course of a week: what else can you make of your publication physically that will make a difference to your readers other than traditional editorial and marketing materials?

Think also of all of the electronic materials that have little chance of making their way through corporate firewalls and spam filters: personally selected online materials on CD-ROMs or flash drives can be a key draw as well.

Think of your print outlets as an opportunity to be a branded delivery agent for a far broader array of physical materials customized to specific readers than may have been imagined to date.

Many strong publishers in the ABM crowd understand the importance of the new role of print and are moving aggressively towards a new role for print as a key support service for building powerful online communities. If you want print to be more unique, make it so.

Otherwise, your fleet of flagship publications may wind up in mothballs a lot sooner than you'd like.

John Blossom -
Reference: Shore [ Read more ]
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posted by Robin Good on Tuesday, November 22 2005, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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