How Content Marketing Will Change Business Media

by Dan Blank on May 3, 2010

"Content marketing" is the latest buzzword to describe the future of media, of marketing, of publishing and of B2B. Here’s the gist: instead of companies blasting their target audience with obtrusive advertisements, they will instead provide helpful content. So, in essence, they become publishers, trainers, educators, and partners.

And that’s kind of nice. I’d rather have helpful information than another ad that promises me the world in big bold letters.

All kinds of industries are co-opting the term ‘content marketing.’

The good news is that some of the results of content marketing are kind of cool. The theory and intention behind it is nice, and I think it’s moving things in the right direction at least. Let’s explore what it is and what it means for business media…

How Content Marketing Will Affect Business Media

There are lots of ways (positive and negative) that content marketing can affect business media, but this is the most interesting:

Let’s say you run a magazine called Rubber Band Enthusiast. For 75 years, you have successfully aggregated this community, providing useful information, and the top rubber band companies have looked to you in order to access this audience. In each issue, they advertised for the latest and greatest rubber band products. And all was right with the world.

But now, content marketing means that those who were formerly your advertisers & partners are now your competitors. Why? Because the internet made it cheap and easy to publish, and it made reaching a community – even a tiny little niche community that loves rubber bands – easy to connect with and serve.

An advertiser for Rubber Band Enthusiast magazine can create compelling, helpful content and reach their target audience directly. Smart companies are not just using these tools to blast out info on their products, but sharing helpful tips, information and advice that their intended audience loves. And this, you know, sort of cuts out the magazine, and the magazine’s brand extensions online.

For small industries, this is especially compelling because these companies employee passionate experts. When you go to a conference – who is on all the panels? People who work at these companies. So it only makes sense that they extend their expertise and value into other content areas.

You may be thinking that you would never trust a message that came directly from IBM, you would want to hear it from CNET… but … what about when it’s Brad Phillips, 20 year veteran of computer engineering who is featured in IBM’s content, and he just happens to work at IBM. Suddenly, there’s credibility, trust and connection there. Because IBM is full of people like this. People who are passionate experts in a niche market, just like their intended audience.

And this builds trust between people formerly known as ‘advertisers’ directly to the community they serve.

But What About Trusted Third-Party Resources

Clearly, the first question here is: but what about trusted third-party resources – what about the objectivity that business media provides. People NEED a resource like that.

100%. Absolutely every industry does. That’s why business media is by no means going away, it is simply evolving.

But there is an issue that sometimes isn’t talked about as much as it should be: editorial objectivity. I’ll give two examples to illustrate. Please note: I am just sharing personal experience, I know that I can’t just generalize too much here. These examples clearly don’t apply to every industry or every brand:

  • Small town newspapers.
    I am always dissappointed in my local newspapers. I have lived in small towns all over New Jersey, and they are always about the same. The goal of the local newspapers often seems self-serving – to put the best foot forward for the town, to validate homeowners’ beliefs that they invested in the right community; That the tax dollars are well spent and their town is desirable.

    So often, I see too many stories with smiling kids and pets. Meaty topics are described by not explored. And sometimes, news is left out entirely. I remember the police blotter in one town I lived in rarely matched up to what actually happened. Stolen cars, business break-ins, etc – unreported.

  • Niche magazines.
    I am an audiophile, yet I can’t read Stereophile magazine. Why? Because they don’t seem to be serving my needs, but instead, the needs of the big players in the industry – their advertisers. It is in their best interest to promote the latest products, and make it seem like everything new is great. Why? Because the brands they cover are the only things supporting the business model of the magazine, for the most part.

    Online, I have other choices, such as online forums that offer a wider variety of info and opinions, talk about the value of older gear that is as good or better than new gear, and people can talk openly about controversial issues, regardless of which companies are vested in them.

In each of these examples, no one is trying to be evil. Everyone at the newspaper and the magazine are doing the best they can with limited resources in an industry they are passionate about. But when an editorial team has a few key sources at a few key companies, and these same companies account for most of the magazine’s revenue… well, you do the math.

These magazines need to operate profitably within tiny niche markets who are often controlled by a handful of large operators and industry organizations. So they have to play nice to get sponsorships, partnership deals and advertisements.

Now – before you think I’ve gone all sour on business media, let it be known that I have not. I LOVE business media. But I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t challenges. In fact, I think these challenges offer a lot of opportunity on how to move forward.

How Business Media Can Leverage Content Marketing

For many business media brands, they are already creating courses, online events, in-person events, sharing white-papers, and creating print publications and a variety of content streams through websites & social media. So where is the opportunity as their advertisers do the same?

Well, make them your partners. Raise the competencies of businesses in your industry to BECOME content marketers. Get in front of the parade. Invite others to join and help them do so. Become the leader and share the stage.

Likewise, you can help your audience judge what is valuable and what isn’t in the content marketing coming from elsewhere in your industry.

It’s all about enabling both ends of the spectrum.

Richard Beckman shares a different approach to B2B:

"It’s about becoming B2I—business to influencer—as opposed to B2B. That’s where the real resonance will be created. B2I trades aren’t just for the industry; they’re for the people that shape behaviors, the tastemakers that set the trends in motion."

(thanks to Folio: for the link)

Lastly, let me know how I can help you. I’m happy to brainstorm or just chat about your goals: dan@danblank.com or @DanBlank.

Thanks!

-Dan

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