Making 'Business 2.0' fly

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AOL Time Warner's purchase of ailing technology publication Business 2.0, and its announcement that it would be merged into its existing eCompanyNow property and launched as a new and hopefully improved version in September, raises interesting brand and marketing questions.

How will the new Business 2.0 differ from the previous model that stumbled so badly this year? Will it serve both the technology readership of Business 2.0 and the entrepreneurs who read eCompanyNow? How will it differentiate itself in a cluttered environment? Most importantly, how will the title establish its relevance when it is so closely linked to the dot-com/technol- ogy carnage of the past year?

The most obvious solution is to establish a unique and sustainable positioning for the hybrid publication that clearly communicates what it stands for, what it will deliver to readers and where it is headed. If it reappears as a "me too" publication not strong enough to take on the Forbes, Fortunes and BusinessWeeks as well as the Red Herrings, Fast Companys and Industry Standards of the world, its life span will rival that of a Mayfly.

Needless to say, differentiating a publication is no mean feat. Nor is generating positive publicity. To do so, the powers that be at AOL's Fortune magazine group might cast a glance at InformationWeek's strategy.

Seeking to differentiate itself from Computerworld, CIO and Info-World as well as the more mainstream business book powerhouses, InformationWeek created a positioning that emphasized its unique perspective: "the only media brand that understands how technology drives business innovation."

InformationWeek backed up the positioning with fact: Its editorial was driven by proprietary research gleaned from scores of surveys, 200 industry events and partnerships with Stanford University and Cap Gemini. It staked a claim to knowing as much, if not more, about the confluence of business and technology than any other magazine. In fact, in positioning the magazine's editors with those of national business media such as CNN, we likened them to industry analysts possessing a unique insight into what just happened, why it happened and what was likely to happen.

In assessing the difficult path that lies ahead, should the new Business 2.0 emulate The Industry Standard, which expanded editorial coverage and changed its tag line from: "The Newsmagazine of the Internet Economy" to "Intelligence for the Information Economy"? Should it ride out the economic downturn a la Upside and Red Herring, which announced layoffs but stayed the course from an editorial standpoint? Or is there another alternative that might uncover a sweet spot, such as InformationWeek's, that could be lev-eraged in new and distinctive ways?

The way to start is with a positioning program. In developing a positioning, it is critical to gather research from both internal and external constituents. It's not enough to say, "This is who we are." Business 2.0 must survey readers and advertisers of the merged publications, as well as take a sampling of prospective customers and subscribers to learn their needs and wants. At the same time, management needs to explore the competitive landscape and chart exactly who has claimed what positioning space, and where there might be an opportunity to break through. Based upon the findings, they should be able to determine where the opportunities are and what readers and advertisers need.

It should also explore whether maintaining the Business 2.0 name does, in fact, make sense. What are the advantages? The disadvantages? While the continuity and stability that comes along with maintaining the old name is important, so, too, is relevance. And many people associate the name with yesterday's news. On the other hand, if a new name is chosen, can readers and advertisers be confident that a second market correction might not prompt yet another name and editorial content change?

Whatever course it chooses, the new Business 2.0 needs to overcome some obvious baggage. It must convince advertisers it will be around for a long time and that it warrants their investment. The magazine needs to convince incredibly busy readers it will have a unique value proposition. The editorial must distance the magazine from its "start-up dot-com" roots and prove relevant to a mainstream business audience.

LURING SUBSCRIBERS

To reach its predicted relaunch goal of a 550,000 circulation, Business 2.0 will have to maintain existing readers of eCompanyNow and Busi-ness 2.0 while luring new subscribers away from established competitors. How? Through an aggressive positioning program that drives a strategic public relations and marketing campaign that addresses relevant issues of the day with a unique perspective. They must identify the sweet spot and then drive home their unique perspective by commenting on trends and news of the day, providing thoughtful analysis and staying closer to the readers than any of the competition.

Relaunching a publication and its image has to be viewed as a continuous program underscored by a strong commitment to readers and advertisers.

Business 2.0's tagline has been "Where business is going." Today, industry observers and readers alike are awaiting the answer to the question, "Where is Business 2.0 going?"

Mr. Cody is managing partner of PepperCom, New York and San Francisco, a public relations agency that has developed positioning and public relations programs for Global 1000 companies. Its clients include CMP Media's InformationWeek.

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