Thursday, February 19, 2015

5 Trends Marketers Should Consider in 2015

(This post originally appeared on CommPro.Biz:
Each year on Groundhog Day, “Punxsutawney Phil,” known as “Prognosticator of Prognosticators,” makes a prediction about whether we’ll have a short or a long winter. It doesn’t really matter if he’s wrong or right. In that vein, here are five trends that will marketers should consider in 2015.
  • Content management remains king. Companies need to continue to promote themselves as thought leaders through social media, blogs, videos, bylined articles, infographics and more. This content needs to be produced and updated on a regular basis; you can’t post a blog in January, and think you’re done for the year. Even smaller, niche B2Bs are realizing they need to publish more. You can’t rely on a press release from last March to show you’re still active. Establishing a content or editorial calendar can help companies take a more systematic approach to the content they publish.
  • After a couple of more-or-less stable years, 2015 will be a rough year for print media. Publishers are finally accepting that they can’t charge as much for online ads and subscriptions as they once could get from print. So expect more buyouts and layoffs at print media. This will push print media to adapt their brand of journalism to include more “listicles” (articles that are primarily lists – like, um, this one) and more native advertising. (How you feel about it depends on whether you call it “native advertising” or “clickbait.”) Marketers need to consider adjusting their content to map to how print is adjusting its online content.
  • There’s always going to be a new site generating lots of buzz, but those may not be the ones to reach your customers. Yo, an app that allows you to only say “Yo” to your friends, generated a lot of buzz in 2014 but even if your customers use it, Yo may not be the best app to engage with them. Some brands are finding success on Snapchat but it will be difficult to generate traction if you’re continually jumping to a new app or social media site. Instead, look at your customers and make sure you have a strong sense of the social media sites they actually use. In other words, you need to consider saying no to Yo.
  • Wearable tech will allow new ways for marketers to interact with consumers. Beyond smart watches, smart clothing and the Internet of Things will provide new platforms for branding and customer engagement. Based on new kinds of sensors and apps, your smartphone knows much more about you than your spouse or doctor could ever know. And that data is being aggregated by the phone company and its marketing partners to offer content that’s more targeted and useful – and that can be a bit creepy.
  • The temptation for marketers is to be everywhere all the time – but more Americans will try to disconnect, if only for a few hours or the weekend. This tech sabbatical isn’t about cutting the cord on cable service to save money. It’s about realizing that being constantly connected makes us more stressed and less happy. This will get more intrusive when we get low on milk and our soon-to-be networked refrigerators start offering up “You Might Also Like” suggestions of other foods to buy. Marketers may be more successful if they show they respect consumers’ boundaries, including privacy, such as by making it much easier to opt-out from email lists.
While there are, of course, many more trends that may affect marketers in 2015, the theme that links the ones included in this article is the need to publish new content on a regular basis, to tweak the content to how people are consuming content (because we don’t just read) these days, to determine where your customers are online, and find ways to really engage with your customers which may mean knowing when to not engage with them. A lot of these suggestions may seem simple or obvious but too many businesses overlook these suggestions. By the following these suggestions, companies can be more effective marketers.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What the Selling of Forbes Tells Us about the State of Business Media, Part II

(This post originally appeared on The companion piece can be found here)
Forbes Media, publisher of Forbes and other magazines, is running into roadblocks as it seeks to sell the company. Working with Deutsche Bank, Forbes was pursuing international companies to purchase one of America’s premier business publications. The problem: Germany’s Axel Springer SE says it is no longer involved in the bidding process while Singapore’s Spice Global Investments Pvt has “removed itself from the process” and China’s Fosun International Ltd. hasn’t held active talks for “some time,” according to a recent Bloomberg article, a Forbes competitor.
At the time when bids were due, New York Times media columnist David Carr, provided some insight in a column entitled, “Foreign Buyers Eying Forbes Magazine, a Chronicler of the World’s Wealthiest.”
Given the limited interest in acquiring a well-known global brand, here are some lessons learned, gleaned from the article and our experience:
  • Establishing a strong brand is important but outsiders may not find enough value in it. Unquestionably, Forbes has a strong presence and brand awareness, including its annual Forbes 400 issue in October. Its journalism is respected and the magazine and its website continue to be relevant. But brand may not be enough – certainly at the price Forbes’ current investors and family are searching for. It may be worth noting that McGraw-Hill sold BusinessWeek to Bloomberg for a reported $5 million along with the assumption of $10 million in liabilities in 2009; and Newsweek, a once equally strong media property, was sold for $1 and the assumption of $40 million in liabilities in 2010.
  • Standalone magazine companies are at a disadvantage to conglomerates that can spread costs and profits across a family of magazines, according to Carr. For the most part Carr is right — but Forbes actually publishes several other titles — ForbesLife, Forbes Europe, Forbes Asia as well as 29 international editions. (It’s probably not a good time to purchase advertising in Forbes Russia, Forbes Ukraine.) Forbes also runs a very popular website (more on that below) and family of website. Our point is: it’s not just publishing a range of publications — it’s publishing magazines that reach a range of readers. After all, if you put all your eggs in one high-value Birken bag, when advertisers pull back on your demographic, you could get hit 29 times.
  • Sometimes selling isn’t a matter of making money but in preventing additional losses. The estimated asking price for Forbes is between $250 and $400 million. Elevation Partners paid $264 million for a minority stake — so their portion is likely underwater. Carr says the Forbes family is unlikely to make money from the sale. The question becomes: why sell? Seems clear that the reason is that it continues to be tough for media companies to build value.
  • The value shoring up Forbes is not its popular website — but its conference division. The publication is probably generating tons of revenue from its growing number of conferences, including luxury cruises offering insights and access to top stock pickers. Conferences have re-emerged for Forbes and other publishers as a profit generation tool. Conferences may have been a difference in the valuation of BusinessWeek for $5 million (and the assumption of debt) when it was acquired by Bloomberg. The same for Newsweek, which had no conferences and was sold for $1 and the assumption of debt. The bottom line lesson: perhaps leverage a successful conference series and turn that into a multimedia property (which is what TED is doing).
  • Forbes could generate more money by establishing a paywall around its content. Carr makes the point that others news outlets — including the Times and Wall St. Journal — have successfully boosted revenue by establishing paywalls around their content. Yet aggressively promotes the website in a bid to generate views that can translate into higher revenue. It has been very successful in developing a community of columnists (many of them people trying to position themselves as thought leaders). The bottom line here: there’s still no single, accepted way to generate sustainable revenue online — neither free access (and higher revenue from advertisers) or paywalls (and subscription fees from access) are really replacing print advertising revenue that will never return to pre-mobile/digital levels.
  • Circulation is holding steady but it may not generate steady revenue. Last year, Forbes was offering print subscriptions for $10 — that’s a steep discount from prior years. Keeping circulation high is important to advertisers (and the amounts you can charge them) but discounting clearly hurts profits. And constantly discounted subscription offers tell advertisers the circulation figures may be clogged with subscribers who don’t spend much time reading the magazine.
  • Forbes is very creative in finding revenue. It’s been a leader in pushing advertorials. It can sometimes feel like a 1/5th of the magazine is devoted to advertorials. But more significantly, Forbes is a pioneer in native advertising through its BrandVoice section on the website and in the magazine. Here’s how Forbes describes itForbes BrandVoice™ is an integrated and by-invitation content-sharing platform …(that) is an innovative approach to integrating marketers’ content with Forbes’ editorial and users’ content — allowing marketers to demonstrate their thought leadership on the Forbes platform using the same tools as content creators.” What does it take to receive an invitation to be a Forbes BrandVoice partner? We’ve heard estimates of $800,000 in annual advertising just to get to the point of discussing BrandVoice. (In other words, BrandVoice spending is on top of a company’s annual advertising buy.)
  • Not all ways of charging access are reader friendly. While Forbes doesn’t charge to access its website, it does charge for iPad access even if you’re already a print subscriber. Print subscribers still have to pay $9.95 for an annual iPad subscription.  When you consider Forbes’ $10 print subscriptions price, charging $9.95 to access the iPad version is the equivalence of a 100% tax increase.
Carr makes the point that it’s ironic that a magazine with a strong heritage of America-first is now being sold to an international company. I agree — but I also think that the sale (likely to an Asian company) makes sense because Forbes is more likely to be seen as a trophy property for companies based in Asia than anywhere else in the world. And yet, so far, interest from any part of the world seems less than anyone might have expected.
What Carr doesn’t discuss or speculate is how an international owner will change Forbes. For that, stay tuned.