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Thursday, February 10, 2005

Uh, Oh...More Dangerous Quotes, and Dangerous Thinking 

Publishers ask: Is it time for a new business model?

I like Reed and Roland a lot, and think DeSilva & Phillips does a fine job. So my insistent harping on some of the dangerous thinking brought to light in the media coverage of their M&A Conference isn't meant as a slam. (And again, since I didn't attend, I have no clue whether the soundbites--this time from B-to-B magazine--that I'm going to slam hide a more well-thought-out position or not).

But let's assume I'm a b2b marketer, reading this article. Am I getting the right message about the value of b2b media for my message?

But here are a few grabs: "We’re not a b-to-b publisher," Goodenough said. "We’re an information company."

And

Nancy McKinstry, chairman of the executive board at Wolters Kluwer, told the conference that her company’s goal is not simply for professionals to read the information in the company’s products but to "embed our content in what our customers do."

Ah, where do I begin? You're an information company? Really? Isn't that a bit broad? Can I look to you for information on quantum mechanics and who served as Pope in 1492? Or do you provide specific information about a market or technology? Or submarket or subtechnology?

And let's take it a step further. You're an information company? The web, searched by Google, is the product of an information company. Are you going to sort through the 3,880,000 returns you get from a broad Google search on quantum mechanics to find what you're looking for? Information is everywhere, and almost entirely useless in its raw form to a busy human being. Imagine a library without a cardfile system (computerized, of course) and no organizational methodology to its shelving. Just stacks of books on miles of shelves. There's a heck of a lot of information there. But how do you find it? And how do you benefit from it?

Instead of positioning yourself as in information company, you might want to be a knowledge company or an understanding company. Knowledge and understanding (and foresight and intelligence) all have value. Information by itself is just so much noise.

I don't know Mr. Goodenough, and don't know if he was 'underquoted.' He does refer to deep databases: deep databases are good. B2b publishers with strong databases win. But a database, by definition, isn't a pot of information. It's information organized, and further organizable. Out of which emerges the potential for knowledge, insight, understanding and action.

So I'll move on to Wolters Kluwer. Do you really want to 'embed content,' or do you want to embed understanding, in what your customers do? Content, a word I misuse as much as anyone, isn't good enough for a successful b2b media business. What b2b does or should do is present information, tastefully selected, along with analysis and opinion about that information, intelligently sought, in order to foster understanding and potential action or inaction from its audience.

Without the two latter parts of the equation, there are no barriers to entry. I can publish press releases (which contain information) just as cheaply as you can. But the b2b media company which creates knowledge, understanding and intelligence is much harder to compete with. They'll have the loyal audience, which they can monetize in any number of 'ancillary' ways.

Splitting hairs? Maybe. But if you believe mission statements should mean something, then you should look at your mission statement--your philosophy of doing business--and ensure it's right. More important, you should ensure that your output and actions support and enhance that philosophy. Our once and maybe-future advertisers are watching.


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