B2B Publishers Find Success Selling Human Expertise
In a recent political debate with a friend, I claimed that I talk daily with leading experts across a wide range of industries. Who? Publishers of B2B media.
Coincidentally yet unrelated, someone asked me how many B2B publishers are truly experts about their markets. I thought a moment. “All of them?” I said tentatively, realizing as my own answer sunk in that I do believe that. The exceptions to the rule tend not to last long.
B2B media sells knowledge in an increasingly diverse number of ways. Traditionally it was displayed on paper or in pixels and surrounded by ads. Business information companies sell knowledge in the form of market reports, books, training, webinars, and many other products. What these have in common are scalability -- market knowledge, statistics, opinions, and/or research delivered in a package.
Thinking about publishers as experts reminded me of the ways some are using human assets as information products. Global big data competitors can out-technology you, but they can’t out-human you. These ideas seem the perfect differentiator in positioning how closely intertwined B2B publishers can be with their markets.
Who needs IBM’s Watson or a quarter million dollar Gartner study when you’ve got Robin Ashton? Coming up in the old Cahners Publishing company (now Reed Business Information), Ashton says it is ingrained in him to “own the data.” He was involved in market forecasting for the food service industry since 1982.
Now, as publisher of the monthly magazine Foodservice Equipment Reports (FER) since its in 1996, Robin Ashton is synonymous with industry knowledge. FER has been holding annual meetings for more than ten years where they reveal industry sales projections. There are more than 360 categories, so they focus on “the nine big ones.”
“The President’s Preview” is held in early August each year at the Westin O’Hare outside of Chicago, easy for quick in-and-outs for industry heavy hitters. Ashton presents detailed macro and end-user and international trends to an eager audience. They bring in a commodity expert to cover how that will affect the business. Upwards of 50 manufacturers and other industry leaders pay $999 to be first to hear the latest reports. FER is planning additional, scalable distribution modes to leverage this valuable knowledge without having to clone Robin.
“It’s foolish if publishers are not tapping the knowledge of their audience,” believes Kevin Carmody, group publisher of V1 Media. “It builds brand loyalty and makes them feel more connected.” V1 is a fast-growing media and education company covering the GIS market and global infrastructure projects and technology. They are finding success in organizing panels of readers to deliver valuable market information cost-effectively to marketers.
The first reader panel was like an interactive focus group, moderated by staff. V1 brought in a highly qualified group of civil and structural engineers. Only those actively involved in designing stormwater systems were invited. This helped the advertiser refine marketing plans and learn what messaging might resonate in the industry. Those in attendance also gained from interacting with peers.
Currently V1 is doing a digital Risk Assessment analysis for another client. They send 200 qualified respondents 15 questions via Survey Monkey about evaluating RA on construction sites. “The data is amazing,” Carmody added, and will be used for articles and editorial guidance. In both cases, the panel and the survey, V1 delivers a white paper with results and analysis. At a $20K price point, both provide high value and a great way to show importance to large advertisers.
There is a wide gulf between scholarly journal publishing and commercial business media, from workflows, to deadlines, to advertising, and more. One publisher that walks the fine line between both shares this example, though prefers not to be named.
You probably know all serious journals are peer reviewed, especially those in the medical field. There are “very stringent” rules about the process. This B2B magazine creates “Special Reports” packaged within certain issues. They are advertorials in a journal-like package. The content consists of two-page sponsored article spreads, written by staff and based on interviews with the advertiser.
The centerpiece is the opener, a two- to three-page article written by a key opinion leader such as an academic or lecturer associated with the sponsor. The publisher puts the article through a double-blind peer review for quality and accuracy. I doubt anyone without the gravitas of a respected publisher could pull this off. Now the featured piece is essentially certified as beyond reproach.
Social media, big data aggregators, and digital native brands have unleashed a tidal wave of competition against traditional B2B media. The human touch may be a subtle yet powerful weapon to reinforce the value of true “readerships” and the trust branded media has taken years to earn. Consider creating high-value products from the unique juncture of expertise and market access the humans who write and read your content comprise.
I do believe in the knowledge of B2B publishers. This makes me think of a trade publisher I competed with years ago. I disagreed with his industry analyses at times and may have called him an idiot, but I never thought he was not an expert in our market.
Andy Kowl is a journalist and entrepreneurial publisher with more than 30 years developing, marketing and growing publishing companies. He is senior vice president of publishing strategy for ePublishing Inc., the leading enterprise publishing system (EPS) provider which manages content, audience data, workflow, newsletters and e-commerce for hundreds B2B online publications. He helps publishers increase reader engagement and response by integrating behavioral data with contextual content, and shows them direct ways to monetize the results. Andy writes the B2B Beat blog for Publishing Executive magazine. His background in B2B includes publishing, editing and/or owning magazines and information products covering specialty retail, horse breeding, real estate, credit unions, Wall Street compliance and wireless technology.