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The Great Brand Extension Experiment

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There seems no end in sight for b-to-b media brand extensions.

B-to-b publishers began extending their print magazine brands in earnest back in the early 1990s, adding trade shows to diversify and stave off the effects of advertising recessions. When the Internet came along, they developed Web sites that are finally yielding real revenue.

But businesses have to continue growing and, with b-to-b print ad pages still slumping, b-to-b media companies are experimenting with creative brand extensions that go beyond the mantra of the day: "in print, in person and online."

Among the brand extensions b-to-b media companies are dabbling in are:

  • Education programs.
  • Rich data offerings.
  • Consulting agencies.
  • Research arms.
  • Industry associations.
  • Speakers bureaus.

Driving these expansions are b-to-b marketers, which are increasingly buying into and putting into practice the concept of integrated marketing. "It's really a response to marketplace demands," said Geoff Dodge, VP-associate publisher of BusinessWeek, where the brand extensions include "BusinessWeek TV," a syndicated show that reaches 80% of U.S. households. "It's no secret that advertisers want more integration. They're asking, `How can I take my message and your brand and reach more people?' "

The bottom line is that b-to-b media companies aren't just settling for ad dollars anymore. They want their fair share of the entire marketing budget.

CMP Media, which is owned by United Business Media, has taken an unusual approach to brand extensions with its flagship property, InformationWeek.

Of course, the information technology weekly has launched its own standard-issue brand extensions, such as InformationWeek.com and the InformationWeek fall and spring conferences, which are held at tony locations such as the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Fla.

But the magazine has also lent its brand name to several other publications in the CMP Media stable. Last year, CMP Media formed the InformationWeek Media Network. It placed under the InformationWeek brand umbrella a handful of niche IT publications: Wall Street & Technology, Insurance & Technology and Banking & Technology. The IT Web site, TechWeb, also falls under InformationWeek's oversight.

Additionally, new products receive the InformationWeek imprimatur. Optimize, a publication aimed at CIOs and other top IT managers, launched as a sibling to InformationWeek. The flagship publication also oversees InformationWeek Research. Currently available on InformationWeek.com is InformationWeek-branded research on viruses called "An ounce of prevention." The rich data report sells for $195.

The thinking at CMP Media is that, as a rule of thumb, strong brands make strong brand extensions. InformationWeek is a powerful brand known for its editorial strength. "In a tighter economy and looking more toward efficiency and results, working with a proven winner can lead toward more partnerships with the bigger players in terms of getting more value and marketing results," said Tyler Schaeffer, senior VP-director of brand media planning at Foote, Cone & Belding, New York.

Michael Friedenberg, VP-group publisher of the InformationWeek group, said the strategy is working for InformationWeek. "It has absolutely made the publications stronger," he said.

Banking & Technology and Insurance & Technology are leaders in market share, Friedenberg said, and Wall Street & Technology is second in share of its market. At the same time, InformationWeek, according to figures from IMS: The Auditor, is up about 100 ad pages through July compared with the same period last year.

Not everything has worked, however. Healthcare Enterprise, a quarterly print publication InformationWeek launched in November 2003, is now a Web-only property.

CMP Media isn't alone in using umbrella brands to present a unified front to a particular market. McGraw-Hill Cos. recently rebranded its commercial construction division as McGraw-Hill Construction in an effort to emphasize to the marketplace that its strong brands-including Architectural Record, Engineering News-Record, Sweets and Dodge-were part of the same company and could help marketers integrate their communications programs. The result has been integrated programs for b-to-b marketers such as Sloan Valve and Turner Construction.

Connecting assets

"We were sitting on these assets, but they weren't connected," said Norbert Young, McGraw-Hill Construction president. Now, McGraw-Hill has taken one step further to link its construction brands with the Web-based McGraw-Hill Construction Network. The subscription product offers access to Architectural Record and ENR content, plan data from Dodge and product information from Sweets.

In the residential construction market, Hanley Wood, which publishes Builder, is also looking to extend its corporate brand to take advantage of the integrated marketing trend. Out of its Idea Factory, a program to encourage new concepts for generating revenue, the company has developed the Summit Account Program.

In this program, Hanley Wood will approach 35 accounts that are either already top advertisers or the company thinks should be. On the list are current advertisers such as Andersen Corp. plus companies that Hanley Wood believes should be marketing in its products, such as Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp.

The idea is to create integrated marketing programs for these accounts that use all of Hanley Wood's properties-print, online, events, marketing services and data. "We're not going to get all 35, but if we can get eight or 10 of our targets to spend more money with us, I'd be happy to generate $5 million in brand-new business," said Frank Anton, Hanley Wood president.

Granular-level expansion

While Hanley Wood is trying to extend its corporate brand, most companies are encouraging their individual media brands to expand on a granular level. Most publications have already developed Web sites and conferences, so they're looking for new avenues.

Among the most aggressively innovative is CMP's Technology Solutions Group, which publishes CRN and VAR Business, oversees ChannelWeb and produces the Xchange conferences. Earlier this year, the group quietly started a speakers bureau. Allowing CRN and VAR Business editorial staff to address conferences and associations is nothing new and was actually something that was encouraged internally as a brand-building mechanism. But recently, the company has started charging for speeches by its editors.

Additionally, CRN has launched an education program for computer resellers called the Institute for Partner Education & Development. Borrowing from the continuing medical education model, the technology solutions group charges as much as $2,495 for IPED courses, which are held in locations from Cambridge, Mass., to San Diego, Calif.

"IPED was cash flow positive in year one, and this year we'll return a nice margin," said Robert Faletra, president of CMP's Technology Solutions Group. "It's not like the old days when you could say that four or five years down the line we'll start making money."

Education initiatives

Cygnus Business Media is also exploring education-oriented initiatives. The company's Firehouse is launching this fall a series of Webcasts featuring prominent fire chiefs from around the country. One Webcast, "Firefighting Strategy and Tactics," is being led by Fire Department of New York Battalion Chief John Salka.

Another Cygnus property, Aircraft Maintenance Technology, will begin offering Federal Aviation Administration-approved training via the Web beginning in October. Such training is necessary for the mechanics who are the readers of the magazine, and the Web format reduces travel, expenses and time. "Education and information is what we do at all b-to-b media companies," said Paul Mackler, chairman-CEO of Cygnus.

At Reed Business Information, the company's Variety has experimented with a range of extensions for its powerful brand. The magazine leverages its renowned reporting by licensing its content to new organizations. It has also moved to extend the brand internationally, launching a version of the magazine in China earlier this year in conjunction with International Data Group. Variety last year launched a consumer-oriented, lifestyle publication, Vlife.

Another Reed Business publication, Construction Equipment, is combining the Web and custom publications/reprints in what it is calling eBooks, according to the magazine's publisher, Rick Blesi. The concept is to create e-mail reprints of stories that appeared in the magazine and accompany them with a digital video of, say, an earthmover in action. The format should help dramatize the advantages of massive construction equipment more dramatically than a print ad could.

Ziff Davis' Baseline has built its brand on hard-hitting editorial that deeply analyzes the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of IT projects. The magazine leverages that expertise by providing online calculators, tutorials and planners for determining the return on investment of IT initiatives. It charges $199.97 for five downloads of these tools.

Baseline Business Information Services functions as something of a consulting arm to the magazine and can create custom tools for executives analyzing IT system deployments.

Perhaps one of the most innovative brand extensions is the In-Store Marketing Institute, a for-profit association launched by Hoyt Publishing Co., the publisher of P-O-P Times and producer of P-O-P Shows. The association competes with the established trade association Point of Purchase Advertising International.

"There was a time when getting into the trade show business meant challenging the established trade shows run by associations," said Peter Hoyt, president of Hoyt Publishing, pointing out that b-to-b media companies eventually got over that.

Membership in Hoyt's In-Store Marketing Institute includes access to a Web site that, among other things, archives point-of-purchase displays. The organization, which launched late in 2003, has about 200 members, and Hoyt expects to reach the break-even point of 500 members in the near future. Already, however, the association has paid off in providing greater access to top executives at companies in the industry, Hoyt said.

Although he points out that publishing and trade show businesses require different approaches and business models, Hoyt is an enthusiastic backer of brand extensions. "Any business, especially the publishing business, which is filled with creative people, has to continue to grow," he said. "They're like sharks. If they don't swim they die."

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