Category Archives: Business Rewiring

Content Marketing: how to think like a publisher

Content Marketing Think Like A Publisher The Original Michelin Guide Rouge 1900

Content Marketing Think Like A Publisher The Original Michelin Guide Rouge 1900

In a recent blog post for Smart Insights, the UK’s premiere digital marketing portal, I asked the question: “Why might a company that sells goods or services want to act like a media company?”

The point I was trying to illicit was that all non-media companies now have the chance to embrace content creation to attract, win, convert and retain customers.

Compelling content attracts and retains customers 

Yet most businesses plod on with old school marketing, churning our content that is neither compelling nor relevant to their audiences. Audiences have become adept at filtering out messages that are irrelevant to them.

I’m conscious that if thinking and acting like a publisher were easy, then more businesses would be doing it by now and the discipline would move into the mainstream. Instead content marketing, despite being the new marketing muscle, is only used by innovators and by a handful of very early adopters (visionaries) who understand that customers will more willingly be attracted and “pulled” toward a brand, product or service if the content is helpful.

Why do so many businesses fail with content marketing and which businesses succeed? 

The problem is that most businesses today are not resourced or structured appropriately to enable them to develop carefully crafted, relevant and timely content that supports prospects and customers along the buying cycle.

Yet some non-media companies have successfully used content marketing as their core marketing strategy for decades even centuries. In 1954 Guinness printed 1000 copies of The Guinness Book of Records. The book was a marketing tool or give-away, rather than a money making venture. Similarly, the first edition of Michelin’s Red Guide was published in 1900, originally to help drivers maintain their cars, find overnight accommodation, and eat well while touring France. The “Guide Rouge”, as it is known, included the locations of petrol stations, mechanics, and tyre specialists, along with tips on tyre and car maintenance. Michelin only started charging for the Guide in its twentieth year of production, when the Michelin brothers realised that copies of the Guide were being use to prop up workbenches in garages.

Content marketing is not new. Those non-media companies understood that people are willing to be ‘pulled’ towards a product, service or brand if they see that its providers are offering them something entertaining or of value which fulfills an informational need or desire for entertainment.

Content marketing: from specialty to ubiquity 

Those were companies with vision and publishing in those days was not core to their business. Today though, the tools for publishing are ubiquitous and are central to all integrated marketing communications. That’s because the obstacles of media production and distribution have dissipated. But to be effective and to win a return on investment, businesses which produce compelling content need watertight methodologies if they are to succeed in a crowded ad noisy marketplace. To be successful in content creation, businesses need to think in a joined-up way that ensures all their efforts and resources are geared toward providing compelling content that sticks, that is shared and which attracts (pulls) the bees (prospects) to the honey pot (brand). Achieving this outcome in support of sales requires both resources and process. What follows is a summary of both.

Content marketing: resources and process 

Content marketing needs to ensure both resources and process are leveraged to perform the following with consistency:

- Identify the needs and personas of its target audience

- Audit and categorise its content assets and sources

- Put the right people on the right task (sadly too often content creation and social media are pushed down to the most junior people in the business)

- Define the roles and responsibilities of the people in content creation, editing and production needed to fulfill the business objectives and maintain the editorial activity over the long term

- Understand and support the customer along their journey at the varoious touch points and negate their pain all along their journey

- Ensure content production is scheduled and fulfilled (editorial and production calendars)

- Provide the rules and guidelines for the team and the contributing authors, designers, editors etc.. to abide by

- Plot the above onto a milestone plan

- Create a content/editorial calendar – define the strategic orientations, formats and frequency of output

- Design the layout of content

- Copy edit and guide internal and external contributors, experts, authors

- Control production

- Provide keywords and ensure all posts are optimised for search (SEO)

- Metadata tagging and image selection

- Style corrections

- Resource and manage the production and delivery (video, webinar, ebook etc)

- Distribute the content though all appropriate channels and measure effectiveness

- Cost, budget and allocate resources for and to the above

- Negotiate terms with contributing authors/ experts/freelancers

- Develop customer relations via social content

This process  is no mean feat, and when content marketing fails, it’s mostly because process fails.

Ensuring the content marketing process works

Below I have reproduced a glimpse of a milestone plan I developed for a client in the technology sector.

Content marketing milestone plan

Content marketing milestone plan

Content marketing  resources

The internal coordinator or manager of the process oversees this process from A to Z to ensure that all tasks and goals within the plan run smoothly and that the plan delivers the marketing goals. The same person manages the resources for editorial and production. In turn editorial and production manage content creation and production. Thus the content creators (employees and contributing authors) are given clear guidelines to work by so that their time can be dedicated to creating the content.

If you visualise this workflow as a critical path plan like the one above, you can begin to see how the workflow for the team is shaped and how resources need to be allocated in order to deliver the volume of content needed, with the frequency of output and to ensure distribution is achieved in all marketing channels.

Help with content marketing

If managing the content marketing process is something your business finds challenging, I work independently, and with some of the best digital agencies in the UK, to ensure your business develops the content marketing methodologies and disciplines needed to accentuate sales. If you’d like more information on my approach, please contact me.

You can also view my LinkedIn profile here 

Entrepreneurship: Like Minds With Luke Johnson

Entrepreneurship: Like Minds With Luke Johnson

Entrepreneurship: Like Minds With Luke Johnson Photo credit: Adam Tinworth Flickr

Big business stifles creativity and innovation

At this year’s Like Minds Autumn Conference, I attended a talk by Luke Johnson @LukeJohnsonRCP chairman of Risk Capital Partners and a former chairman of Channel 4. Luke’s the guy who popularised Pizza Express, taking it from its origins as a fab and distinctive restaurant in Coptic Street (London) and turning it into a (sorry Luke) rather sterile but successful chain of 250 eateries.

Luke spoke from the heart and shared lots of stuff about what he’s done throughout his career, which he openly admits would have been harder to do without the benefit of education.

 A Spirit of independence, freedom, tenacity and risk-taking 

In his talk, Luke emphasised the entrepreneurial values of independence, freedom, tenacity and risk-taking; qualities most often found in people who own their own businesses (for example amongst foreign nationals who do not have the required qualifications to enter mainstream employment in the UK) and not very often amongst the leaders of large enterprise who are “entombed in the cosy, airless coffin of big business” (quote from Luke’s article describing leaders of big business).

Whilst I found myself not always being able to agree with the large, sweeping over-generalisations Luke made about entrepreneurial qualities, his point about how large corporations kill employee motivation, personal drive, confidence and creativity did resonate closely with my own experience of corporate directorships.

Robots not mavericks 

His talk was peppered with references to the sorts of vacuous and uninspiring directorships I’ve held myself within large international corporations, be they UK, French or American. At their heart one major cause is responsible for the problem: large corporations that are not founder-run, very often replace humanity with robotic and sterile management, and become compressor machines that clone people and preclude the sort of maverick qualities businesses need.

Furthermore, large corporates are rarely anchored in community, they have no affinity with place, region or country and only seek to impose standardised work and culture models that emanate from their own home markets, which means they end up ignoring the local differences that make a business unique, innovative, creative, differentiated, appealing, genuine, personable and successful.

Sheep not shepherds 

The trouble with the big fat corp model is that it breaks everyone’s balls (excuse my French) and imposes a skill set that is closer to that of sheep than it is to that of shepherd, making every employee tow the line, and not innovate. This breeds leaders that lick the bosses proverbial “a”, and it suits people who, in their childhood, spent their lives doing what their parents expected of them because this, not being free-spirited and different, was the only way they could successfully gain their parents’ love. How sad it is that these people end up in positions of leadership, stifling the motivation and innovation of their staff.

Broader insights 

These are my own views and I am conscience that, not unlike that which I accused Luke of: making generalisations about leadership qualities, I am in danger of making similar sweeping generalisations about working for corporates, which stem only from my own personal view.

Anyway, Luke’s engaging talk struck a chord and resonated deeply with me, I am thankful to him for providing me with food-for-thought on my walk today on the wild, windy moor.

However, if we’re to avoid stereotyping good and bad leaders, innovative and sterile businesses, I’m keen we open up the discussion and aggregate the views of others, so please share an experience you’ve had of working for a big or small business, or perhaps owning your own.

Digital Marketing: Why Brands Need To Act Like Publishers

Digital Marketing:Why brands need to act like publishers

Digital Marketing:Why brands need to act like publishers (photo credit Nils Geylen, Flickr)

When liking was as easy as a first date

Not long ago, everyone was talking about the power of “Like” and nothing seemed easier for a brand than building a tribe of followers (Godin, 2009); people who declared they liked your company, its brand or product.

This lazy approach to digital marketing led brands into thinking, falsely, that they had found a cheap and easy way to build a network of brand advocates online, the type of people who would enthusiastically follow a brand’s daily posts and pass these on, regardless of how dull or self-centred the updates were, to their friends and followers.

Then came the social break-up

Recent research in a paper entitled “The Social Break-up” (subscribe to download), shows that people are more fickle than that. The paper by ExactTarget demonstrates that social marketing with Tweets and updates that resemble press releases or ad copy (broadcast messages) doesn’t build tribes and that lazy, sloppy social media marketing turns people away in droves.

Part of the problem is that brands are using online channels the way they do broadcast channels, when in fact online channels are interactive.

It takes more than a like to build a strong, lasting relationship online 

In my work advising clients on best-practice in social content creation, I work using a detailed process that helps pint-point the needs of the audience, the brand’s differentiation (where it can make a difference) and on defining content that bridges the gap between audience expectations and brand messages, using content that is relevant, authoritative, timely and that employs calls to action (CTAs) that shifts interaction up a gear from casual acquaintance or occasional visitor to regular follower and ultimately brand advocate, ensuring content meats the needs of audiences and that items are passed on virally. In essence this intricate and detailed process of content creation and distribution ensures fans don’t just “like” a brand, but that they care enough to share it.

Great content is all about great process 

If brands are to be successful with digital marketing they need to identify, plan, create and schedule the production and distribution of meaningful and relevant content that will engage audiences not once, but again and again, over time and in ways that are different at each stage of their journey: through discover, consideration and decision making.

Just as the ExactTarget research highlights, brands need to move away from posting one way marketing messages and focus their attentions and resources on tooling up properly for media production.

Why is acting like a publisher so key for non-media companies? 

Why, I hear you ask, might a company that sells products want to act like a media company? For that matter, why might a customer be attracted to a company that is creating content? These questions are good and they were debated at a this autumn’s Like Minds conference where I joined three fellow experts from the technology and media sectors for a panel discussion. In a plenary entitled “Is every company a media company?” we debated these questions and analysed the sorts of changes non-media companies need to make if they are to create content that attracts, builds and maintains relationships with their customers in social, email, print, in-person and a multitude of other communications channels.

The nitty gritty of content marketing 

If non-media companies are going to emulate media companies they need to embrace a number of core skills, including

1. Process

To deliver quality content media companies use process. That includes a forward planning process that plans 6-18 months out. This process includes inventory, gap analysis, graphics, layout, photography, outsourcing and the rigorous discipline of budgeting. If you don’t have a tight process, then content won’t get produced. An editorial calendar ensures the content you plan to publish fits with a key objective, matched a tactic (white paper, webinar, blog, newsletter blast, etc.) and gives the task an owner.

2. Skills

Producing content relies on specialist skills. It relies on people and is therefore a serious and disciplined management task, usually for a content manager, who will need to know writing and blogging styles, keyword selection, proofing, correction, tagging and much more. Bringing the skills in-house to project manage the content creation process is essential. Alternatively, agencies need to demonstrate they have seasoned publishing and editorial people.

3. SEO

Content needs to be search friendly or it won’t rank in SERPs. Journalists and editors are trained in SEO these days and they get feedback on the impact their writing has. Brands need to make their agencies have SEO as a goal and they will be judged based on this.

Conclusion

Marketing has to change if it’s to resonate with today’s consumers. The placement of editorial in marketing is not about adding another layer of content to persuade customers to buy things. The editor exists to help customers find information, get inspired and feel good. I believe that through this process, you help customers with the information they need and they will reward you with their business.

Please leave a comment if you share / don’t share this view or just to say hi, I read your stuff. Thanks for reading.

Where do publishers need to invest now to be future ready?

 

Where do publishers need to invest now to be future ready?

Where do publishers need to invest now to be future ready? Photo credit seanmcmenemy Flickr

I’ve been prompted by Korash Sanjideh, the Creative Industries iNET Broker, to think about a series of workshops that would strengthen the regions publishing brands and safeguard their future in the post digital age.

The Truth: Digital revenues will not be enough to compensate shortfalls 

Dan Franklin, Random House’s digital editor, says that the publishing industry is looking “into a void . . . heading into the unknown”.

It’s an uncomfortable truth, for most UK publishers revenue from their traditional revenue streams is tailing off and revenues from their lower priced digital products is not sufficient to compensate the shortfall in cash.

But publishing needn’t look into the void and a series of workshops that put the real dilemmas in publishing at the heart of the debate will help publishers be better informed and better equipped to refocus theirs businesses in the digital age.

Hence, a program of workshops designed to help publishers strengthen their businesses for the digital age will need to consider some of the following critical issues:

  1. The value chain. Has your position in the value chain been altered? Are the critical success factors that once defined you as pertinent as before? Are your specialist skills in editorial, print buying, time to market, content editing, content creation, manufacture, distribution and marketing as valuable as they once were? Read more on this question here
  2. Author needs. Are your authors or potential authors or subject experts still relying on you as an intermediary (connection to readers/users) or are they exploring their own direct relationships with readers via blogs and online social media? What bundles could you offer your authors to remain relevant?
  3. Content for social community. Beyond traditional authored content, what other ‘user generated content’ could you aggregate and leverage into your publishing model to provide discoverability for your online community of interest? This content needs to be relevant, social and sharable.
  4. Content affiliation. Which commercial stakeholders share content needs online? Are there any publishing partnerships to be forged with non-publishing companies seeking content for marketing and sales and to enhance their customers’ experience online? The budgets that brands are willing to spend on great content are significant and worth investigating. A high turnover of refreshed content is needed online.
  5. Relations with online distributors. How should you manage your relations with the large online distributors? How can you grow these relations whilst building direct-to-consumer relations?  Now that customers are identifiable, contactable and trackable online, publishers need to build their businesses around customer knowledge and proximity.

Cultural shift

Undoubtedly the biggest and most powerful change in publishing needs to be cultural. The cultural shift involves moving the focus in the business away from product (book or magazine) to consumer / reader.

From a focus on content to a focus on community 

So, if you’ve been a gardening publisher for 15 years, you need to reinvent yourself as the provider of gardening know-how, expertise and solutions to all stakeholders in the world of gardening.

Refocusing a publishing business in this way means no longer considering ones business to be publishing but rather to be a key player in the industry of gardening and building and maintaining a brand community around gardening. That means focusing the key assets (human, IP and technological) on the brand community development. The Harvard Business Review looks at getting brand community right in more detail.

Viewing the core activity through the lens of community is the route to longer life expectancy. Core transformation in the genes of the business creates a new and essential vibrancy that breaths new life into publishing teams, providing much needed vital energy and dynamism to build a stronger business future. I’ve reported on my own experience of driving and managing this kind transformation in publishing here

Publishing businesses that transition to community in this way will discover that they have many new revenue streams to embrace. It means that dependency on their eroding books sales vanishes and is replaced by a new range of opportunities.

Evolving the revenue drivers in publishing 

Andrew Davies, a friend and colleague at idio Platform provides a useful “ABCD revenue driver framework” which I’ve used on several occasions to help clients think through strategies for their publishing businesses. Briefly the framework looks like this:

Audience revenues: This category covers revenues that are a function of the audience size: purchase price and advertising and sponsorship revenues.

Brand revenues: This category denotes brand extensions such as events and new products in which the brand name is strong enough to develop new products in other categories. A publisher specialising in photography can develop, promote and manage photography field trips.

Content revenue: This is the opportunity for supplying the asset to other stakeholders. Magazines and book publishers can use their writers and their specialist knowledge to create branded content for other companies. Air France commissions Gallimard to do this in France.

Data revenue: As direct-to-consumer relationships increase, data becomes a more valuable asset for every publisher. This might be in the form of selling on marketing lists to interested brands, building insightful research from aggregate data, or selling through ancillary products to the current audience.

If I were to devise a program of workshops for publishers in the South West it would look something like this:

The focus would most likely be on implementation rather than idea generation because participants would need actionable takeaways.

My Approach

I would develop a list of possible topics  and invite publishers to whittle down the list to three or four core subjects to be the focus of deeper debate and exploration. The list would most likely include the following topics:

  • eBooks marketplace / impact
  • New publishing paradigm
  • Marketing and sales
  • Getting and making use of data
  • Exploring revenue streams
  • Exploring paid subscription services
  • Reuse and recycle content
  • Build partnerships with Key retailers
  • Online community management
  • Develop new distribution channels

Putting detail around the topic and asking businesses in the target group to rate the topic for relevance on a scale of 1 to 5 would help shape a program of workshops relevant to the needs of the target group.

What other topics would you expect to see on a workshop list of this kind?

 

How semi-automated curation helps niche publishers stay relevant

idio have the means to supercharge content

idio have the means to supercharge content

Print publishing was built on specialist skills in editorial, design, production, reprography, print sourcing and buying, shipping, B2B relations, promotion, pricing and distribution. All these were high value specialist skills that publishers could charge a premium for. They gave access to the market and thy were the sole route to market. There was no other way to get un front of an audience.

But that scarcity has been removed by the Internet and replaced by tools that are free at the point of entry. So where does this disintermediation leave specialist publishing businesses that occupy intermediary roles?

In the past, brands relied on the skills of intermediaries such as custom publishing companies to connect them and their advertisers with their audiences. These providers of custom publishing services fulfilled a content marketing role and  designed, edited, produced, printed and distributed content on their behalf. They effectively managed the content and the relations and interactions around that content.

But I see more and more large non-publishing companies hiring editors, content strategists and community managers every day. I see an increasing number of brands thinking and acting like publishers. I see more and more non-publishing companies producing their own content and operating their own CMSs. I see an increasing number of non-publishing brands controlling their own personality through the media and doing it at lower cost. Having digital content expertise in-house is now critical to every non-publishing business. But that’s a big ask. It’s still a complex business.

Content still builds relationships for brands and more brands know that their content has to be relevant, helpful and at the heart of more of their brand interactions. They don’t want their content just to inform as it did in broadcast media; they want it to engage. And every business is seeing their competitors engage their audiences and customers. That’s why being an expert in this area, or working with a content provider that has the edge, will give non-publishing businesses a genuine competitive advantage.

The editorial skills that were once the value proposition of publishers are coming in house as a multitude of business functions face out to customers.

So, if content marketing was once your core value proposition and that skills is being brought in house, where does your business run to? And how does it reinvent itself to provide the critical success factors that mean clients continue to need your services and which allow you to attract new customers?

Faced with this situation, your business is going to have to become an even greater expert in digital media management. It will need to turbocharge the processes that build competitive advantage. And since it can’t provide competitive advantage in low-cost, non-scarce commoditised digital publishing skills, it will need to significantly improve its value by managing the editorial chain faster, more cheaply and with greater effect. If you work for PE, then you know this means more for less and jumping over an ever higher bar.

Well what if you could be better, smarter, quicker, more nimble and more effective at building the mass of relevant content, using community, external and internal sources, and then lead it with well-planned and executed premium content?

How about if this using a semi-automated process allowed you, the editor in chief to offer the brand a voice rather than just be its content creator?

How about if the content was other peoples’, curated, and some of it was original?

How about if the solution provided value to readers, and thereby built influence and authority in the market?

What if the process I’m describing using community-generated and syndicated content allowed for a much higher content volume and a much stronger voice? And what if the variety of content types and sources also helped meet the individual needs of the audience members, providing snippets, links away, full reporting, and varying opinions?

And what if the reduction in time taken to create new content lowered the average cost of an article dramatically? That would be good news for those trying to make a publishing P&L balance again.

This solution exists and it has been developed by idio platform. This semi-automated approach to content creation and curation in niches has been developed to integrate with the existing content management systems of a number of publishers and brands developing and maintaining niche audiences and communities in a variety of sectors, at considerably reduced cost and with all the above benefits.

To view their specialist publishing process in simple diagrammatical form and to discover the technology behind it, read on.

 

How specialist magazines can drive value from brand community

Brand extensions are a new revenue stream for magazines

Brand extensions are a new revenue stream for magazines

It was interesting to be a visitor at the Specialist Media Show.

On the journey to the show I swiped through the quotations on my iPhone to find this one: “No man is really happy or safe without a hobby, and precious little difference the outside interest may be – botany, beetles or butterflies; roses, tulips or irises; fishing, mountaineering or antiques – anything will do as long as he straddles a hobby and rides it hard.” I made a note of this quotation which resonated with me when I first saw it carved in wood in the reception of Krause Publications, Inc in the US.

From the moment I arrived at the show in Peterborough, I recognised the ossification I’ve experienced before when viewing production in the special interest publishing sector. Somehow the sector seems to suffer more than others and seems blinkered to the opportunities of digital innovation and partnership. Yet, with community at its heart, the special interest publishing sector ought to be reinventing itself and embracing digital. Why isn’t it?

As Joseph Schumpeter said when he observed the arrival of the railways in the UK in 1936, “it upsets all conditions of location, all cost calculations, all production functions within its radius of influence; and hardly any “ways of doing things” which have been optimal before remain so afterward”.

That’s how I feel about old media categories like special interest magazines, for which the business models, labels and cloistered culture no longer make sense. To think like the stereotypical specialist magazine is tantamount to suicide. It must be reinvented.

As I looked at the magazines in the racks, I thought of my boys. At 15 and 19 respectively, they’ve already consumed more media than I have in my lifetime. Yet they’ve achieved that without a single magazine subscription and despite growing up in France, where magazine readers are only second in number to the US!

What we’re seeing with digital media is a shift away from medium to content and audience.

Therefore, I question whether publishers of special interest magazines can any longer afford to believe that they work in an industry or a sector? Would it not be wiser for them to think of themselves as the doyens of community and to serve their community in every which way they can?

After all aren’t the new entrants and start ups already wooing the brand account managers and media planners who look after the advertising and sponsorship decisions for brands? Will savvy app developers not soon command larger communities of special interest than the magazines and aren’t the interactive advertising techniques available on mobile devices more appealing and more relevant to their audiences?

Let’s be frank, magazines are now competing with the brands they once hosted on their pages.

Rather than be protective of their audiences, publishers need to realise that future value lies in their brand communities, and that they need to experiment with new ways, marketing models and partnerships that leverage community.

Clever publishers in the special interest sector will reinvent themselves and see that their business is community not product and this new way of defining themselves will inform their investment decisions.

In the long run the winners in publishing will be those who understand they can build stronger, more dynamic communities by broadening the media experiences of their members beyond an approach that is cloistered and outmoded. To do this publishers must move fast to build savvy and exciting partnerships with digital innovators who share a passion for their communities but who have invented new models to align with changing times. Only by embracing a more collaborative approach to serving communities will publishers be able to hang on to their title of “doyen” of community. And only by retaining this title will they retain the sympathies of account managers, media planners and buyers.

 

Creeping Normalcy: Fact Not Fiction.

Boiled Frog. Creeping Normalcy. The Future of Book Publishing. Concentricdots

Boiled Frog. Creeping Normalcy. The Future of Book Publishing.

If you’ve read the boiling frog story you’ll know it’s a widespread anecdote describing a frog slowly being boiled alive.

The premise is that when a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water, then slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

The story is often used to demonstrate how a major change, if it happens slowly, in unnoticed increments, can be accepted as the normal situation.

I first came across the metaphor when reading Charles Handy’s The Age of Unreason (1988). Of course, despite the theme of change leadership, there is no mention of the internet as the disruptor, since it wasn’t envisaged when the book was written.

I suppose the modern equivalent of Charles Handy’s book would be Simon Waldman’s Creative Disruption (2010).

The Reality: Penguin A Victim of Trade Publishing

How many of you noticed the comments about Trade Publishing in Pearson’s latest interim management statement on 28 April 2011?

It said:

“After a particularly strong 2010, we expect Penguin to perform in line with the overall consumer publishing industry this year, while we continue to adapt the business to significant industry change driven by the growth of both digital sales channels and digital books and by the resulting pressures on physical bookstores.”

Penguin is a well managed company which can afford the best brains and the best advisors. But is the company adapting fast enough to change? The leadership team would, I believe, say “no” to that question. That’s because, like most other publishers, they didn’t move fast enough early enough. They thought about it. But, like the frog in the slowly heating pan of water, they were the casualties of creeping normalcy.

Elsewhere, The View is Grey and Ashen

If you’re a book publisher (especially if you’re an under-resourced, slow-to-get-it, stuck-in-the-mud publisher), the landscape outside looks ghastly and, depending on your strategy, it’s potentially as dismal as the one in Cormack McCarthy’s The Road: Grey, Ashen and Terrifying.

Things In Your Field Of Vision

This is what you see:

1. Downward spiraling sales of UK fiction, decreasing by 8.8% in the first 3 month of 2011 with sales of Non-Fiction in similar decline with only food and drink books showing any resilience (largely because these sales are linked to premium TV or celebrity brands)

2. Waterstones (HMV) struggling to keep book shops open.

3. British Bookshops and Stationers in receivership.

4. Further on the horizon and across the pond, you will have spotted Borders, the second largest bricks ‘n mortar book retailer in the US, going into bankruptcy.

5. More terrifying still, you will notice the leading chain, Barnes & Noble, switching to non-book product and merchandise that is more resilient to digital alternatives.

6. Here at home, you can feel the unabated downward pressure on book prices as frugal, cash-poor households turn to their local libraries and charity shops for their children’s books, novels, gardening titles and travel guides.  The charity shops in Exeter, incidentally, are creating some excellent window displays from the increasing numbers of books donated by families who see no value in keeping books for a the next generation who prefer to read on electronic devices.

7. Wherever you look you see Apple, Google and Amazon driving change (read Simon Waldman’s book to understand this better). These digital heavyweights have first mover advantage in eCommerce, customer relations management (CRM), digital marketing, one click-purchase and they manufacture and sell their own bespoke reading devices. They are the platform for self-published authors.

8. Once again, looking out over the pond, you see the first signs of bestselling self- authors without any previous or current affiliation to a publishing house leading communities of their own.

9. YOU SEE DISINTERMEDIATION. YOU SEE THE LANDSCAPE BEING REDRAWN.

What you fail to see is how fast a new breed of digital consumer’s are opting for convenience and simplicity and flocking in droves to Smart Phones, Tablets and eBooks.

Publishing is cooked.

The Future.

Many new players will be quicker at identifying the gap and responding. Barriers between magazines, books and video will blur and community will be the new Commercial Opportunity. Publishers will need to turn their businesses inside out, occupy niches, develop communities, embrace new digital skills, new methods of creating, curating and managing content and new styles of sales and marketing practices, with community at the centre point.

In my next post I will explain where I see the opportunity for the future of publishing. In the meantime, leave a comment or a look at the posts I’ve written in the category Business Models or Community about how best to adjust to the change, align with the digital online market to future proof your business.

 

The new rules of digital publishing

Perspectives for authors in the post digital age- welcome to disruption – a talk I gave to an international audience of cross-media professionals in March 2011. Inspirations for this talk were Simon Waldman, Seth Godin, Forrester and the talented entrepreneurs breaking with old models and pioneering the new rules of digital publishing.

Less is more: how a tighter focus can improve business bottom line in 2011

Less is more: a strategy for sustainable growth

A focus on core, not more

A recent post by Julie Urlaub, Founder and Managing Partner of Taiga Company, entitled “What is the Best Top Growth Strategy for 2011?”, got me thinking hard about what constitutes a viable growth strategy for businesses in 2011.

And, based on my own experience of combining efficiencies, cost reductions and rapid, tangible results, the most effective growth strategy I can see for business in 2011 is a an even greater focus on achieving “more from less”.

This might seem like an oxymoron but its not. Growth in tough times can only reasonably be achieved by divesting poor performing activity and focusing harder on core activity. So, for instance, if you’re a book publisher publishing into a multitude of categories (say gardening, cookery, art, motoring and several others), it’s vital you recognise the categories in which you make and can sustain the biggest growth. Viewed from this lens, a publisher’s core activity is not publishing but being profitable in verticals.

Focusing in this way makes sense because in tough economic times consumers make better informed purchases, push aside mediocrity and only spend scarce cash on the most essential, best value products. That means fewer pounds chasing an oversupplied market. Hence, every business must reduce waste and focus on core activity, to be leaner, meaner less wasteful and more profitable organisations. That’s an economic, social and environmental reality. Any business leader who fails to drive this change is negligent.

So, how and where do you start? Here is a framework that has served me well:

  1. Figure our what works best, use internal and external data to identify your best drivers: best categories, communities, brands
  2. Crunch the numbers, figure out where a category or community focus will beget fastest/ best growth, do the same for the divest categories
  3. The devil’s in the detail. Getting more from less is brave; it means unifying and concentrating resources around best communities, brands, channels, platforms, markets, teams. If not planned from the market opportunity up, it can result in chaos and loss.
  4. When you’ve figured out the plan, be ready to tell a story that rallies the troops behind a clearly articulated vision which shows where the growth will come from and how this future-proofs the business.
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate, again and again, across every level of the business. Meet people collectively, individually, in teams to drive the message home and get the vision understood, shared, advocated.
  6. Put your best people on your biggest opportunities. This process is an aggressive reshuffle that puts the strongest people in the most influential roles.
  7. Everyone must be ready to stretch like elastic bands as the business adjusts and transitions. Night and day jobs will be the norm as teams start to implement the change. It’s leaderships role to ensure the resources are managed and the elastic fibre in the business does not overstretch and break. This is the hardest part and success relies on every individual person knowing exactly what is required of them. This relies on everyone having a granular understanding of their individual goals dovetail and join up with the bigger collective and team goals. The people closest to the customer groups need to be given autonomy and control to push and pull the levers of growth. Leadership must distribute leadership that cuts across departmental boundaries. People must be empowered to make business decisions.
  8. The plan needs to deliver on the planned “quick wins” which reward, empower and build successful teams.

Getting more from less in a world in which resources are scarce and globalisation is intensifying the need for sustainability is a very special achievement and it requires very special people to drive it. When performed properly, a focus on more from less benefits three bottom lines of Profit, Planet and People. Unfortunately, any rightsizing will result in lost positions and casualties, but this strategy that puts the interests of community and business first, re-energises those fortunate enough to stay in the organisation with a renewed sense of purpose and focus.

These are challenging times and I empathise with those leading transformational change in 2011.

About the author: Stephen Bateman advises a number of special interest publishers on their digital strategy. He is Director of Interactive Marketing for the 60 Mile Publishing Company and co-founder of iGlimpse Limited, a digital media startup serving the needs of outdoor enthusiasts. If you’d like to discuss how your special interest publishing business could improve its profitability, please contact us for an initial chat.

From push to pull: How digital interaction is changing marketing

Push & Pull Marketing Tactics

When push comes to shove, it might be time to pull

Reinvent or perish: no one gets out of here alive.

If you’re a mainstream media business facing internet-induced decline, you will need to overcome huge challenges as your circulation, reach and influence are marginalised by new entrants chasing and responding to your customers’ needs online.

To survive in any form (most likely as a smaller, tighter entity) you will need to reinvent many of your business practices. To achieve this, you will go through many restructuring exercises before you hit your optimum operating configuration and size. Even then new market entrants will disrupt your market further, making it a perpetual process of readjustment. And finally, very few of the things you were once expert in will be relevant to your business in the digital online world.

No more wallflowers

People are no longer the wallflowers they were, sitting idly and waiting to be told what to buy and how to behave. The internet has changed that forever and people can choose what they buy and consume from an infinite range of sources. People are resisting being broadcast to and are preferring instead to gather information for themselves. So it stands to reason that if people (prospects and customers) are more discerning and communications channels are more fragmented, marketing, the discipline that is responsible for identifying and satisfying customer needs and desires, profitably, will need to reinvent its practices.

Recasting marketing

The first challenge is cultural and demands a shift from transactional to relationship marketing: what is sometimes referred to as the shift from “push” to “pull” marketing. Influencing and persuading prospects to join communities and embrace brands in a world of intense competition and infinite choice online requires the deployment of specialist new marketing skill and deep-seated relationships.

For a discipline that has learned to push messages through mass, one-to-many media channels, there is a danger that the widely used marketing techniques of old will be used in new channels instead oflisteningempathy and the granular one-to-one practices of niche marketing. Like Eric Qualman says in his “Socialnomics” video, today’s successful companies “act more like Dale Carnegie and less like David Ogilvy: listening first, selling second.”

Community spirit

Traditional sales and marketing people are used to exploiting rather than co-opting community and they will find it hard to resist the temptation to revert to the kind of sales and marketing hyperbole they have been trained to use in their copy for B2B trade audiences. Successful community building is all about building and maintaining trust which takes patience and persistence. It requires participating in conversation (which includes a big dose of listening) and helping community members to express themselves.

This is a significant reversal of the traditional “one-to-many” broadcast model. The challenge is not to talk about how great your product is but instead focus on understanding the lives and challenges of your community so that you can help them lead easier lives. Empathy, patience and authenticity are the new marketing and you must show you understand in order to be understood.

It’s good to talk

The business objective for marketing in a digital online world has not changed: it exists to convert non-interest and casual interest toengagementapprovalendorsement purchase and repeatpurchase, profitably.

However, the means of achieving this outcome requires a radical rethink of marketing practices and a shift from transactional to relational marketing. And because successful community engagement requires attentive management and empathy 365 days 24/7, genuine community engagement strategies and tactics can not be owned, managed and implemented by marketing personnel alone.

A healthy, engaged community requires everyone whose job is dependent on the livelihood and satisfaction of a prosperous community to engage with it. Simply put, engaged customers require engaged staff. As Paul Gillin says “Growth will be focused around conversation-based tactics”. In my experience there are many people in editorial, customer services able to use the tools of social networking to grow and retain community.

Some tips for building a digital marketing framework for engagement

Change in culture, strategy, practice starts at the top – share the ownership

Marketing actions need to have roots in a larger, joined-up business development strategy – share the vision

Ban the word “consumer” from the business vocabulary – replace it with “community member”

Share the workload – ensure business-critical time being social is distributed

Social marketing is by nature impulsive and disorganised – marketing can introduce process to structure the activity without dampening the enthusiasm

Online community benefits from real life meeting – create events that bring community together in a physical space and allow people to build connections

Don’t talk at members of your community, converse withthem and accompany them with empathy – they will pay you back many times over.

What has been your organisation’s marketing response to the digital media shift?

This article was originally posted by me on The Media Briefing a real-time news and information resource for the media industry.