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Disintermediation: Part 2

by Matt Manning

In Part 1 of this post I discussed the possibility of content aggregators becoming less viable as the corporate and government owners of large valuable datasets start making their data available directly, free-of-charge, and/or via new cooperative aggregation models. In Part 2 I look at the rise of corporate content.

For over 70 years—certainly since the launch of Norman Cahners‘ Modern Materials Handling—the business-to-business magazine has reigned supreme as the place where buyers and sellers in very specific market segments “meet” and interact. Readers come for the articles’ insight into their industry and their competitors, while advertisers hawk their wares to an audience of qualified buyers. Over the last several years, however, the sellers have moved to create content themselves and to establish a direct connection to their prospective buyers.

This disintermediation was initially contemplated when the ROI on magazine advertising drifted lower and budget money moved into direct marketing. It accelerated with the rise of the pay-for-performance ad delivery model. Even “advertorials” (ads that are formatted to look like a magazine or web site’s editorial content) couldn’t answer the looming question for B2B advertisers: Why should we pay to run an ad in a publication that goes to a random subset of our customer base when we can reach out directly to the exact prospects we want to reach?

A direct relationship with existing customers is a relatively established channel of communication (think of corporate newsletters to clients and customer-focused annual events), but a direct relationship with prospective customers, or a “CRM-centered” approach, means content tailored to emphasize the positive aspects of a product also needs to include valuable, objective information as well.

That’s where corporations stumble with their “content marketing” efforts. They can produce corporate blogs, whitepapers, webinars, and newsletters and they can distribute them through web sites, email, and third-party partners, but most struggle with creating compelling unbiased content.

They don’t need to act exactly like a B2B magazine, but if they copy the publishing business’s general strategy (providing a mix of short pieces, long pieces, long-form analyses, data visualizations, etc.) and add some things that publishers can’t, then there’s every reason to believe that B2B content marketers can effectively attract industry eyeballs:

  • Interviews and reports with in-house experts
  • Respected consultants as guest bloggers
  • Webinars where questions can be asked
  • Proprietary research with wide appeal
  • Market analyses supported by open data
  • Data visualizations of market trends

According to Blue Nile Research, 46% of content should be data and statistics, there should be as much video content as blog content, and customer case studies need to be part of the mix. Usable, shareable content is key, I think, for two reasons: content needs to include practical information that can be put to immediate use and social virality is as important as SEO.

If corporate media can produce this range of content and provide enough hard-to-find information on industry challenges and developments, they should be able to both bring value to readers in the industry and influence their current and prospective customers. Content marketers will, of course, face the same SEO, editorial, and design challenges that traditional publishers face in building an audience for their output but there’s no reason to believe they cannot accomplish this.

One final note: “Pure” B2B journalism has always been a bit of a myth since B2B journalists couldn’t ever afford to offend advertisers (who are also valuable event sponsors and speakers) with unvarnished editorial. So, in an odd way, because corporate content isn’t neutral by definition, it allows readers to more clearly understand the authors’ perspectives and motivations. This trend toward embracing an author’s “known bias” is a larger one in the media as a whole (e.g., the recent Boston Herald’s recent front page editorial) and it provides a kind of philosophical underpinning to the ongoing disintermediation of B2B media.

posted by Shyamali Ghosh on April 21, 2016

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