Online Content Success Factors

As a salesperson, you know you’ve really got something when word of mouth exceeds your direct marketing efforts.

Judging by the overwhelming response we’ve had to the Smart Content conference, it appears we have touched a nerve.

When Seth asked me to assist him in development and marketing of his conference, I jumped at the opportunity because I realized market education isn’t something any single company can do alone.  Our backgrounds are in the same industry, but my focus is in sales and marketing.   The more I thought about it, the more I realized how substantially business models have changed in response to technical developments.   If only businesses could have some idea of the changes about to occur in the content sector, the better they could be prepared to effectively monetize these upcoming developments.

For some perspective of the business model changes to content, let’s review the major milestones before we take a look at what’s coming.

Twenty years ago, online content met the modem and subscription based content models struggled with how to make use of online media.  The greatest fear was whether online subscriptions would cannibalize traditional subscriptions.  Note that I say online subscriptions:  people occasionally chose to pay to go online to read their favorite publications.

The next milestone pitted publisher vs. publisher as some brave content providers opted to offer their services via dial-up services like AOL and CompuServe and be paid for actual usage for being part of a larger content offering.  It was the “walled garden” approach, and the fear was that online usage would erode the print model which was supported by traditional advertising.  Online advertising hadn’t yet taken root.

I was one of the first on-line ad sales representatives.  By 1999, the ad agencies had yet to believe in the online media model.  I remember being laughed at by venerable agencies on Madison Avenue when I had to lead their account managers down the hall to the mail room.  I actually had to use the fax machine line to dial out and demonstrate my service because, believe it or not, there was no internet access anywhere in the building!

There were two major tipping points that validated the online advertising model, creating the incredible “about face” in online advertising.  The first was when business and sales people began to have conversations about things like demographics and impressions instead of pixels and baud rates.  Understanding the vocabulary of your prospect and changing the pitch and retrofitting the metrics of your business model is essential to selling and evangelizing a new technology to a traditional audience.  When I could liken my online property to the demographics and impressions of a popular television show or print magazine, sales began to flow.  The other, equally important tipping point was to articulate what the new model could do for them.  When I explained that the oft-quoted adage by John Wanamaker was no longer true:  “Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted.  The trouble is, I don’t know which half.”  We could now measure clickthrough and see which advertisement was working.  No other medium had that capability.

The online content providers who were most successful at this point were those who had the following:

  1. A compelling demographic and story about the difference between the online users and the print consumer.
  2. An understanding of the best online “real estate” (i.e. locations for most impressions and clickthroughs)
  3. Something beyond the print model, i.e. message boards or forums to encourage online participation.  (We called it “stickiness”)
  4. A willingness to test and rotate an advertiser’s creative, to optimize clickthroughs.

If you have a “war story” to share about this era, I’d love to hear it.  We’ll be addressing the evolution of the content business models in future segments, including:

  • How “Search” based advertising scuttled the “Prime Real Estate” model
  • How “Social Media” has taken us back to relationship marketing – and whose content is it, anyway?
  • What technologies are coming in Web 3.0 and what they remind us of in other business models.

We won’t have time at the conference to address the history of technology and monetization in detail, which is why this blog exists, to give some context for the future.  Let us know what you think about the historical references we all need to have before we move into Web 3.0 technologies.

Laurel Earhart, for the Smart Content conference

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.