Friday, July 29, 2005

SIIA Brown Bag - Reading the Tea Leaves More Clearly

The latest SIIA Brown Bag event in New York City focused on research from Outsell, Inc. into content user habits. The initial 2005 results for this series of ongoing studies were compared to a wider body of data from 2001 to build market trends. Some of the data from this study echoes findings on user habits found in Shore's study on Small to Medium Sized U.S. businesses, indicating the overall popularity of Web search engines and the continuing strength of paper media in spite of strong electronic services growth. While there are a few oddities in the data that may draw attention (have independent purchases of scientific and engineering content dropped 82.5 percent since 2001 while most other sectors show far more middling declines?), overall there's a good amount of useful data in this study. Some of the interpretation, though, seems a bit off.

The emphasis in the Outsell presentation seemed to be on corporate users turning away from the Web as a source of content, relying more on colleagues and corporate intranets, while an increase in the ratio of time spent gathering information versus analyzing it is supposed to represent research efforts heading in the "wrong direction." But this doesn't seem to jive with other data in the study. Users were indicating a strong desire to integrate external content sources, also reflected in Shore's research, and also indicating significant increases in intranet usage - yet also believing that the open Web delivers high-quality information that few avoid. There's an obvious connection to all of this data: more external content is being accessed via corporate intranets equipped with powerful search tools and analytical tools than ever before. At the same time desktop tools and Web search engines make it easier than ever before to find high-quality content in useful contexts, reducing the percentage of time spent analyzing content. These trends place enormous pressure on external suppliers to provide content value in the context of both intranet environments and in materials on user desktops and forwarded to colleagues. The New Aggregation, the process of individuals and institutions becoming the centers of defining the value of today's content, is in full bloom, placing more emphasis on extracting value from high-quality content available on the open Web and from other sources.

Although there was no overall budget data presented in this research - hard to gather in a user-level study - the anecdotal evidence collected in the study pointed to a high level of concern about restrained budgets for external content. Since this is a user level study it's a little difficult to interpret this as a trend: it could reflect frustration with overall freezing of content acquisition budgets in large corporations or it could reflect the trend towards more centralized content purchasing in large corporations peeving individual purchasers. It certainly points to the importance of paying attention to small to medium sized businesses, where our research shows strong current and projected increases in content spending, strong both in breadth and intensity. When you lack the enormous staff and technology assets of major corporations, content services can be a major source of intellectual capital that can give your company a market advantage. It may also point to the importance of tuning sales pitches: if individual users are losing budget to make purchases, it becomes more important to devise sales strategies that help these users make their case to those who hold more centralized purchasing strings, so that their needs receive appropriate attention in annual budget struggles. Just because economic buyers may be shifting doesn't mean that your user buyers are no longer important.

It's fun to look at interesting data but more fun to crunch it into a picture that translates into actionable advice and forward-looking insight. We hope that you find value in the latter part as much as we do.
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