In the weeks since Crain Communications Inc. announced that BtoB would be folded into Advertising Age, many people have told me that they feel like they're about to lose an old friend. It's always sad when a publication gives up its physical form, but that story is all too common these days. While BtoB's printed edition will be missed, Ad Age will continue to carry on the mission. I hope that BtoB's transition will offer some lessons to its readers, for the forces that drive magazine publishing are not all that different from the ones that drive corporate marketing these days.
My former boss and mentor, International Data Group chairman and b-to-b publishing giant Patrick McGovern, used to say the relationship between a publication and its readers is like a longtime friendship. A magazine represents the shared interests of a community in a bond that's based on trust and commitment. People rely on it to advocate for their success, and a good publication always puts reader interests first.
The great shared reading experience that magazines and newspapers used to offer has been displaced by Flipbook, personalized front pages and the primacy of search. But the role of the publication brand—no matter what the size, format or topic—is no less important than when media giants walked the Earth.
I've been fortunate to write the New Channels column in BtoB for the last seven years, and the philosophy of this column hasn't changed since day one. I believe that the Internet has democratized media and invested each and every one of us with the power to build audience, trust and enduring relationships. Google changed the rules when it decreed that content mattered more than brand, circulation size or marketing budget.
What we have to say matters more than the size of the megaphone with which we say it. That's awesome. Marketers who understand this power are in a position to build bonds with their audiences that transcend market cycles because those bonds are based on shared values and interests. How powerful is that relationship? Consider that Wikipedia lists 54 current U.S. newspapers that were founded before 1900. How many businesses can you think of that boast that longevity?
The important thing is never to forget your priorities. Many b-to-b companies are now embracing the concept of "content marketing," which seeks to attract an audience by publishing useful information that people share and search engines discover. Content marketing is a great idea, but remember which word comes first in that phrase.
Understand your audience, advocate for them and celebrate their victories. Become their friend and they'll stay with you for a very long time.