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Sunday, February 06, 2005

Branding and B2B 

Michael Crichton? He's Just the Author

Very interesting article from the NYT, unrelated directly to b2b, but definitely related to my thinking about some of the issues we in b2b media should be addressing. When I rant about my thinking that ancillaries and trendy 'non-core' offerings to our advertisers can and do hurt us, I'm not arguing against creatively solving the problems of our customers. But I worry about ignoring the fundamentals.

Perhaps HarperCollins' approach to branding the book publishing house (explored in the article linked above) gets to the heart of the matter. Disney can spin off myriad things to sell kids and parents (perhaps less effectively recently than in the past) because the Disney brand represents something. It's a guarantee of quality, built over years of delivering quality.

How many of us in b2b have a true brand, built the same way? When you have that, you can spin off many ancillaries, without much risk (unless the ancillaries stink and don't ultimately support the brand). When you don't have a true brand, you're just hiding that lack with a smokescreen of new ways to extract cash from your advertisers--the same advertisers who eventually question the value of trade advertising or b2b media in general, for example.

I've been lucky enough to be associated with a few true brands in my career. min, The Media Industry Newsletter, was one. As far as I could tell from the subscriber list, everyone who was anyone in consumer magazine publishing got their copy of min every week. When I visited the Conde Nast building, and excitedly watched the elevator zip past the New Yorker floors, I was even more excited to watch a fellow-elevator-rider reading her copy of min. So it made sense to see if we could expand the brand, first with a magazine, then with a b2b-focused newsletter. The team which runs min has done an excellent job of continuing that expansion, with events, advertiser-focused news products and more.

We had the same luck with CableFax, a daily (then-faxed) newsletter which was being read by the big dogs of cable (and the wanna-be big dogs). Ted Turner would speak at conferences and mention CableFax in the midst of his other 'I'm a billionaire so I know I'm right' ravings. This little newsletter generated a lot of advertising money--faxed banner ads. It then generated an annual magazine. And it now brands a magazine (CableFax's Cable World). Who cares that it's not faxed to anyone any longer? The value of the brand transcends the meaning of the name.

In both cases, these newsletters started with a brand, built over time. They were read and valued by the most important decisionmakers in their businesses. They were, and are, brands.

Brands help people make choices. If HarperCollins succeeds with its branding exercises, it will help consumers make choices of books to buy and read, and should make the company some more money.

Does your b2b media company have true brands? Must-reads? Have-to-attends? Or do you have middling products which struggle to achieve their revenue goals, and are surrounded by a swarm of offshoots and ancillaries which aren't supported by a brand, and do little to help build one? (You may have both if your company is large enough).


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