Control vs. innovative chaos

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Ten years ago, the technology b-to-b publishing industry had a stellar year: about 140,000 ad pages and predictable profits. Publishers had defined audiences, built print vehicles to reach them and charged advertisers for the right to promote their products.

Today's tech media world looks nothing like this. Print ad pages in 2008 fell almost fivefold compared with a decade ago. New competitors emerge with dizzying regularity; audiences are not waiting for information, they are finding it or creating it themselves. And while traditional media companies struggle with tumbling revenues, younger and faster competitors are taking precious ad dollars.

Nobody knows who the winners and losers will be in the next five years. IBM Global Services Media & Entertainment Group in a recent white paper predicted that the advertising industry will go through more change in the next five years than in the last 50.

But this state of chaos offers tremendous opportunities for those willing to experiment.

Of course, most of this innovation is happening online. We are entering the fourth phase of the Web's evolution, where power has shifted from ISPs to portals to search engines and now to real-time information. This is fed by the startling rise of social media and its impact on society. In a world of search, users are in control. In a social world, content finds users all the time and moves across the Web. There are an estimated 200 million blogs; people spend 8 billion minutes with Facebook daily and share 2 billion pieces of content every week. B-to-b publishers with deep expertise in their categories, respected content, and an ongoing, insightful understanding of readers can create order and be successful with the new social Web.

Innovate: If you are not launching a new product that advertisers or readers are excited about every quarter you should be. Publishers must try new things—experiment, learn, succeed, fail and move on. IDG in recent months launched three new ad units, new mobile apps, a new online small-midsize business center and social ad programs.

Links: Social media creates value with pass-along links. Users are sharing content with their social graphs or networks all the time. So if I sign into with my Facebook Connect profile, I can comment on or share links to a story in real time. The site receives a flood of traffic and engaged users. Recently a story and interview in cited comScore numbers that showed HuffPost had passed the, and in traffic. This growth was juiced when HuffPost launched social news with Facebook Connect. The impact: 15% of comments now come from Facebook and 3.5 million visits in September came from Facebook (a 500% increase from January for HuffPost).

This concept also applies to advertising, encouraging readers to respond within ad units and share with their followers or friends.

Think services: It's clear from the financial ruin of recent years that publishers must move from a product orientation to one that features research, advice and services to help a marketer shape programs across media. Increasingly, clients will expect their media partners to act as consultants and integrators of content, technologies and media platforms inside and outside of the provider's company. The most successful IT vendors have been doing this for many years. While I do not believe services replaces all lost ad dollars, service businesses typically enjoy higher margins—in the 30% range—compared to advertising. So there will be lower volume but higher net contribution. In addition, services can drive the ad sales business. Marketers will partner with media companies that feature services and strong brands, not just strong brands.

A few months ago, IDG Corporate Sales became IDG Strategic Marketing Services to reflect this fundamental evolution in the media and marketer relationship. We are offering social media services to clients that do not have to buy IDG media. It's the first step in a dramatic shift.

2009 is the polar opposite of the heady days of 1999. But when you put it in perspective, those controlled and predictable days had an IT ad market of about 140,000 pages. Ten years later, in the midst of one of the worst recessions ever, the online computing ad market alone is worth almost $2.5 billion. Tech marketers and IT readers are experimental, and they accelerated the print-to-Web transformation in our industry. What we have learned is that out of dramatic change, and some chaos, come more profitable opportunities. Matthew Yorke is president of IDG Strategic Marketing Services. He can be reached at [email protected]

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