Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Niche and Local Will Grow in 2010

I hesitate to climb aboard the 2010 Prediction Train, so let me just say that – amid much handwringing in the newspaper, magazine, and direct mail industries -- niche and local seem to be carving a spot. Meaning what?

An article two weeks ago in the Baltimore Sun reported that “Niche E-Newsletters are Healthy and Happy.” What the author, Gus G. Sentementes, was talking about are centrally-produced, but niche-slanted, electronic newsletters like those produced by SmartBrief. I first became familiar with SmartBrief six or seven years ago, when I noticed that the International Franchise Association was sending out a fabulous electronic newsletter every week. How were they doing such a professional job with no increase in staff? By signing on with a publisher that figured out how to mass-produce industry specific electronic newsletters, that's how! Today, Sentementes notes that SmartBrief has 100 employees, does 150 email newsletters, and has been profitable since 2002.

Into that smart mix, I now must toss publications like Local Kicks, a terrific e-newspaper that serves the Alexandria area in Virginia. Not only does this little newspaper have terrific journalism and an appealing “insider” writing style, it seems to enjoy its share of advertising, too.

Local goes beyond publishing, of course. Websites like LocalHarvest encourage people to buy food from local farmers, with great listings of “where and how.” But publishers also are doing well with the local angle. Researcher/consultant Greg Sterling reports that even Google is interested in local. Sterling also says, “..2010 is going to be all about leveraging social media in the local space.”

The best evidence may lie in the 2009 success of Groupon -- the “deal-of-the-day” website that is localized to major markets in the United States. In early December, Chicago-based Groupon got a $30 million financing infusion, and “the company is going gangbusters,” according to TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington.

There's no real surprise here: The Internet both decentralizes the outreach, and lowers distribution cost... which is why smart publishers will find more ways to capitalize on niche and local in 2010.

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

So Far, No Information Model Beats Print Because ...

A really excellent blog post by Bruce Hendrickson addressed the certain death of print publications – trade magazines, specifically.

No denying Bruce is right, and he hit upon something that’s been troubling Marketing Brillo for some time. With print evaporating into the ether, what will become of information communications generally, and business communications specifically?

At this point, major newspapers are the only business communicators who seem to be “getting it right.” Perhaps that's because communicators like The New York Times, The Washington Post, the LA Times are on-screen replicas of their print selves (only better). How so?

At major online newspaper sites, information presentation features the layout readers love. Like their print counterparts, the information is categorized under easy-to-find tabs and indices. Articles have bylines and terse headlines; they are carefully researched and full of facts, parsed interviews, and background references. Articles are beautifully written and as long as they need to be. Best of all, articles proceed from an understandable point A, to a conclusive Point B. Truly .. can we yet say the same for most electronic publications?

Reality is, electronic newsletters and publications, generally, are still climbing all over themselves to figure out what they should look like. Should they be one short email with two-sentence headers, linked to a longer article? Should they offer the first paragraph, and then link? Should they have photos or no photos? Should they include “read more” jumps or not? Nobody knows for sure, because nobody agrees.

In addition to going electronic, some organizations are eschewing editorial totally, and switching to video to communicate with readers. Have you ever watched the stuff some of these videophiles are putting out? For one thing – unlike journalists who make it their living to write well -- the people featured in videos are generally amateurs in front of a camera... which means their thinking may be fuzzy and the content may not get to the point quickly enough. Moreover, from the title and the intro (which is usually infused with upfront advertising), you don’t have any idea whether the content will be good, bad, or horrible. In fact, until you’ve already invested time, there’s no gauging the value of what’s “in there” at all. Not so, with The New York Times. In fact, not so with any print publication. These you can evaluate in a glance.

I hope I’m not one of the ‘monkey-fisted” folks Bruce was talking about in his article. I know he's right about the future of high-overhead print: It’s the old architecture and it’s going to crumble.

What I am saying is that nobody -- yet -- has certainty what the new architecture should look like. In figuring that out, I hope we analyze carefully the underlying value that most information seekers find in print.

Stats do report that people, generally, are watching more video every day. But, when people want informed opinion, apparently, they still are reading gray matter like Wikipedia and online newspapers and blogs – especially blogs. They also are searching out hefty online articles and white papers—the stuff that’s not necessarily pretty, or short, or entertaining … but IS where the content meets the seeker.

Personally, Marketing Brillo loves the “thumbability” of print. For busy people, that must surely be a key feature of any new information architecture. Digital magazines are very good at allowing readers to quickly flip through content, so perhaps there's a model there.

Entertainment is a whole different subject, of course. But, if information and analysis are the point, well, the easy-digest that’s trending now may not work so well in the long-term. As we adopt the new architecture, I'm betting (hoping) we'll figure out how to include some elements of the 550-plus-year old print model.

p.s. In the meantime, check out what print can still do to knock off your socks.

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Podcasts: The Under-Appreciated -- But Powerful -- Communications Tool

Gene Del Polito, president of the Association for Postal Commerce and very likely the direct mail industry’s premier postal expert, has a podcast. Gene has been doing his podcast since October 2006. Over the years, Gene has interviewed a host of experts from all sides of postal matters: USPS representatives, mailers, Postal Union reps, Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) members, etc. Gene’s podcasts aren't a scheduled item, but always appear when there’s something important to talk about.

The useful thing about this industry podcast -- and effective podcasts generally -- is that Gene interacts with interviewees as though the listener knows very little about postal matters (for example, he asks interviewees to define their acronyms). This sensitivity to listeners defines a good podcast. But don’t take my word for it ...

Software developer Bruce Eckel who blogs at Computing Thoughts lists dos and don’ts for podcasting. I was struck by Bruce’s tip: Don’t use Video if Audio is Enough .. which got me to wondering why more marketers don’t do podcasting.

Seasoned (since 2003, for heaven’s sake) podcaster Nick Marino’s post at AudioShocker partially answered my question. As with video production, sound is not only a critical element of quality, it’s one of the most difficult to control. If you're still interested in giving this under-used strategy a shot, though, start here, with John Nolt’s Podcasting Pointers.”

How many marketing-related podcasts are out there? An Odeo search of the words “direct marketing” turned up 881 podcasts, but almost nothing of interest to marketing professionals. In addition to Gene's, Marketing Brillo suggests the following five podcasts for a serious marketer's iPod.

• Like all things Duct Tape, John Jantsch’s Duct Tape Marketing podcast has the pulse (and makes the money).
The B2B Marketing Podcast from Voices in Business features interviews with top business professionals.
• CC Chapman’s Managing the Gray podcast looks at new (and social) media.
• Bob Knorpp’s The BeanCast covers the ad industry (and its Mad Men and Women).
• John Wall and Christopher Penn’s Marketing Over Coffee podcast takes a broad view.

Looks like there’s room for more great marketing podcasts. Thinking about doing it? For a free primer on podcast marketing, download Christopher Penn’s ebook.

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Business Video Grows, Improves, Advances, and Influences

Last week, Mashable featured some eye-popping numbers about video use. To wit: 84.4% of U.S. Internet users watched at least one online video in October and the average person watched 10.8 hours of video. Indeed, online video continues to grow and the end is nowhere in site. In fact, video is fast on its way to becoming the radical (for now, but not for long) human learning tool.

BVo supports that notion. Created in the spring of 2008 in association with IBM, BVo founder Anthony Gell says: ".. quite frankly, we got tired of scrolling through online video sites looking for business inspiration, only to find some very strange homemade movies. So we launched The Business Voice (BVo) - world leaders at your desk."

BVo interviews business leaders and vlogs the clips. American Express Open Forum does much the same thing. Both are excellent learning tools, well-funded, and exceptionally well produced. Efforts like these are raising the bar on online education. Expect more of the same.

-- scrubbed by marketing brillo