I've been asked to share my thoughts on what the future of b-to-b media will look like. The request reminded me of advice I'm sure you've heard before: If someone insists they know what the future will be, politely say, “Yeah, right,” and walk away.
If the past decade, let alone the past five years, has taught us anything, it's that it is impossible to predict with certainty what the next big new things will be, what might fundamentally change our media and information consumption habits, and what new ideas, products or business models will be driving our conversations and capturing our fancy. Today we live in a world where we can't get enough of what Apple makes, social media is everywhere and, due to smartphones and tablets, we are both entertained and on the job 24/7. It is mind-boggling to imagine what business tools and consumer toys we will have five years out.
I cannot predict the future, but I will offer my advice on what I believe b-to-b executives and media companies will need to pay attention to now if they intend to be serious players going forward. I will start by posing a question and then offer a long sentence in an attempt to answer it.
The question: What skills and focus must b-to-b publishers have now to ensure they will be relevant down the road?
My answer: Successful b-to-b information companies will understand the nuanced intersection of content and software-based tools and apps; they will know their content needs to be “must-have,” address user “pain points” and plug directly into user work flow; they will also know that everything they offer must be platform-rich and platform-agnostic, and that everything must be delivered with brilliant user interfaces that create not just user satisfaction but indeed user “delight.”
Add to the above the ability to hyper-aggregate large, highly qualified audiences—and have those audiences exhibit behavior that is both loyal and high-frequency in nature—and then one has a b-to-b media business that matters and that is both scalable and sustainable.
Underpinning what I just said above, I see six mega-themes that we all need to focus on and master:
Build platforms, not just products: Your content, services and apps must be platform-agnostic, and you should be on every platform that your user audience is on: Web, mobile, tablet and discrete standalone apps.
Focus on work flow solutions: Your content must be viewed as “must have” and essential to the work flow of your target audience.
Vertically specialize: Wherever possible, create segment-based service and audience packages (i.e., for verticals such as electronics, energy, transportation, etc.) as applicable for your category.
Be an expert at analytics and big data: It will be increasingly important to be able to organize, mine and harvest all the data that flows through your business and then package it into dashboards that offer data visualization and crisp, insightful answers for both your internal teams and your customers.
Master social media: Whether you like it or not, your customers, prospects and competitors are talking about your products, your service and your brand; you need to be there with them, using all the social media channels to proactively monitor and interact with your audience.
Your salespeople no doubt need new skills: In today's competitive, multiplatform environment, your sales teams need to be both fluent and proficient in all of today's media platforms as well as in “media economics”; they must be able to talk ROI and defend your value propositions all the way up to the top of the C-level.
What the b-to-b media/technology landscape will look like in five years, let alone 10, is difficult to predict. If we simply look back five to 10 years, it is safe to say that the future will dazzle and amaze us, but it should not frighten us. I hope you are energized like I am with regard to what is likely ahead.
Jeffrey M. Killeen is chairman-CEO of GlobalSpec, which was recently acquired by I-H-S. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.