Climbing b-to-b's second curve

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The transformation that we're all experiencing in b-to-b and in most other types of media is caused by the collision of traditional media with new technologies and the new behaviors they bring. But there is light at the end of the tunnel if you know how to find it.

It's at this intersection of traditional media and new technologies where value is often destroyed—and where new businesses are born. For many b-to-b media companies, this dynamic has resulted in initially decreasing business value. But during this period in which value declines, new products and services can be unlocked, so that this declining “first curve” of traditional business can be followed by an eventual offshoot of a new, “second curve” of growth.

What kinds of companies successfully climb this second curve? History shows that the common thread is an ability to reach out to their core audiences at a granular and interactive level and truly listen to find missing opportunities.

Often audience behaviors change due to an expectation (why wait for print when I can search and use online sources?) that initially does not get met (users don't find the content they want). That leaves a situation where the audience has rejected the old curve, but the new curve isn't yet working.

That is exactly the moment for you to re-engage with your audience. Have your staff live a day in the life of a key audience decision-maker, conduct focus groups, launch experimental campaigns or products—cheaply and quickly—all with the goal of understanding the reaction of the end-users to this upheaval in media usage.

The fastest way to launch products and experiments is to break down the traditional silos, bringing together audience development, editorial, marketing, sales and technology into one war room. This is where you interactively discover where audience needs meet technical abilities meet monetizable products meet marketable launches.

As b-to-b evolves in today's marketplace, your success clearly requires a rethinking of how you view, value and interact with your end audience. It demands a rapid succession of experimentation, analysis and decision-making to enhance or kill new products at Internet speed.

In many instances, print will still be the core of what is evolving into a broad portfolio of brands and solutions. Print provides the best opportunity for brand recognition, for establishing and promoting new digital brands and for crosspromoting from one platform to another.

Taking this portfolio management approach will enable bto- b media companies to fund experimentation and justify it in a broader context. This approach will help ensure both revenue and profit growth across a portfolio while you experiment with new channels. It will provide the opportunity to extend existing brands, launch new brands and create self-feeding synergies across channels and brands.

Over time, this approach drives change into everything we do, leaving no sacred ground. It will require change in editorial process and structure, sales organization, strategic planning and the culture that ties this all together. And while this approach will ultimately deliver success, at times, it will feel like a journey without a clear destination.

At American Business Media, we are putting in place a new, invigorated approach to help our members envision the art of the possible and journey up the second curve. We are delving into the substance of what can be monetized, examining how transformation is created and managed, and building a broad knowledge of how to drive change. ABM is an increasingly member-driven organization, where members, through their own direct involvement, have ownership of helping to identify the tangible solutions that we will provide.

The community we are building enables us to have a unique view of the whole picture, including data and information services, face-to-face and virtual events, online and mobile media, print and marketing services—and an understanding of how to manage these as an integrated portfolio. I find this a tremendously exciting time and set of challenges and opportunities, and I welcome your thoughts.

Clark Pettit is the president-CEO of American Business Media. He can be reached at

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