To: Ronald L. Sargent, CEO, Staples
From: Paul Gillin, New Media Strategist
You've seen the latest numbers and they aren't pretty. U.S. newspaper circulation is down a record 7% in the last month. Magazine newsstand sales fell 12% last year. The cost of reaching a customer on television has more than tripled since 1986 in constant dollars. Direct-mail response has been declining for years, and the Postal Service is about to add insult to injury with yet another rate increase.
Faced with the historic collapse of traditional media, you can continue to pour money into increasingly ineffective channels or you can approach the problem differently. Instead of using media to deliver a message to your key small-business constituency, why not become the media instead?
I don't mean adding a few throwaway tips and a couple of blogs to your site. I mean committing yourself to being a major resource on starting and running a small business.
The opportunity has never been greater. The implosion of media sources has left your customers with fewer options than ever for trusted advice. They can turn to the unpredictable ranks of self-proclaimed experts online, or they can put their faith in a brand that they trust.
Trust, after all, is why you buy media in the first place. Media brands have used their credibility to build circulations that command premium prices. But now their lists are not only shrinking but losing their value. Take a look at the magazine promotions your kids bring home from their school fundraisers. Publishers are all but giving away their product today in a desperate effort to prop up their circulation numbers. Are these heavily discounted readers really the ones you want to reach?
So shift the equation. Build a really useful how-to Web site. Hire some top business journalists to run it for you (they're cheap right now). Build a social network around your membership and promote your stuff via low-cost viral marketing and search optimization. You don't need presses, paper and mailing permits to build your brand these days. Deliver something of value and your customers will take care of the rest. If you want to launch a magazine later, why the heck not?
Don't look at this as an opportunity to sell. That will come as you build trust. Think of it as a way to create an unassailable position as a partner in your customers' success. Your biggest competitor has “elfed itself” to success with a campaign of great entertainment value but little utility. There's plenty of room for someone to step up and deliver a different kind of value to business customers. Why shouldn't it be you? M