Much of my time these days is spent working on a new B2B site for About.com, now a unit of the New York Times. The site covers the online advertising industry. And I'd urge anyone who works online to take a look. Everyone in the industry -- including those of us on the editorial side -- would do well to understand the money part of the content game.
You can check out the site here.
We launched a few days ago, and things have been going well. We got some press coverage (here and here). And we're getting the sort of search-engine placement at which About excels.
But the thing that excites me most about the new site is that it's a chance to work on a product that is similar to -- although not exactly part of -- a growing trend in online content. And I expect many of you will also soon find yourselves part of this trend.
Allow me to explain.
The About Online Advertising site has two business purposes. First, just like any other commercial site, it exists to make money. We sell ads on the site to generate revenue. But far more interesting is the site's second purpose. About Online Advertising is aimed at entry-level media buyers -- the people who buy ad space for a living. By offering a guide to the industry for newcomers, About hopes to build awareness of its larger brand. In other words, the hope is that media buyers who become readers of About's Online Advertising site will some day become customers of About's hundreds of consumer-focused sites.
Here's why you should care
In the August issue of Folio magazine, Joe Pulizzi, chief content officer for Junta42, wrote a guest column called "Are Corporations the New Kings of Content?"
Joe is talking about the rise of "content marketing" -- in which manufacturers, retailers and others "are jumping with both feet into the province once deemed the sacred right of publishing houses."
Content marketing, as Joe points out, has its roots in custom publishing and branded content. But there is a notable, fundamental difference. When done correctly, "content marketing" involves the creation of exactly the sort of material that is the traditional domain of journalists, not public relations folks.
Or, as Joe puts it, content marketers have "have hired some of the best journalists around, looked for, found and paid for authoritative experts to inform their audiences, set editorial and graphic standards that surpass those of many publications. And, perhaps one of the most critical components, have launched stringent measurement analysis to both determine and improve the content they are sending out.
More importantly, many content marketers seem to have mastered some of the basics of Web publishing -- search-engine optimization, evergreen content and user communities.
Didn't we used to do that?
In another article in that same issue of Folio, Chuck Cordray, general manager of Hearst Magazine's digital media unit, talks about the difficult competitive environment his magazines face online. He mentions two of the kings of content marketing -- a retailer and a manufacturer that have morphed into publishers. "The Kraft foods site is a great site and The Home Depot has the number-one home improvement site,"Cordray said.
And he ain't kidding. Take a look at Kraft's product, and compare it with Good Housekeeping. Then look at any of the buyers guides on HomeDepot.com, and see if you can find anything better written, better designed or just plain better on Better Homes & Gardens.
In the world of consumer publishing, content marketers are proving again and again that they can create Web sites that are just as compelling as anything produced by editors from traditional publishing companies.
And of course the content marketers have a remarkable advantage over the rest of us -- they don't need to make a profit from their sites. A content marketer site isn't a profit center, it's a marketing expense. It exists to serve the larger brand.
In other words, although content marketers are content creators, they are not in the content business.
Want to see some other examples? Check out WeightWatchers.com -- a content- and community-filled site aimed at promoting the WeightWatchers brand. The cooking and exercise material on the site is every bit as well done as what you'd find on the site of any traditional magazine.
Then take a look at Waterfront Media, which has more than a dozen sites in the exercise/health field -- each of them tied to a well-known brand such as the South Beach Diet or fitness guru Denise Austin.
It should be clear that content marketers have mastered the consumer space. And it would surprise me to no end if this part of the Web world doesn't continue to expand. There are jobs here, and opportunity, and I expect many of today's journalism students will find themselves working in this subset of the industry.
To read why I see opportunity in content marketing for B2B publishers, read Part II of this article.
tags: journalism, b2b, media, trade press, magazines, newsletters, business media, content marketing