Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dun & Bradstreet Aims to Engage SMBs with is clucking a bit at the USD 55 million price tag for Dun & Bradstreet's recent acquisition of, noting that it's well off the mark of deals from just a few months ago for business media properties. There's certainly a lot of bloom off the rose for online plays trying to find traditional media partners, with the whistling-past-the-graveyard optimism of M&A specialists of this spring giving away to a more sober view of where advertising revenues are headed in the short term. But I think that this negativity tends to bypass the fact that Dun & Bradstreet has found a media outlet that complements its other holdings very well - and promises to help transform them sooner rather than later.

The key issue that D&B needs to address is the declining media audience for its Hoover's business information product, a platform that single-handedly defined the Web business information market a decade ago but which has lost much of its media mojo as it focused on building a stronger presence in enterprise subscription sales. Hoover's online strategy helped it to get a strong base of small and medium sized businesses that it continues to mine. But with an increasing range of online business services gaining audience attention, including business media companies seeking to increase audience engagement through business information services, getting the attention of SMBs is a tougher game. is a good match for helping D&B to address many of these problems. It's a nuts-and-bolts "how to" portal that is designed especially to appeal to the SMB crowd needing practical advice and input on the key challenges facing business professionals. also has a core of blog content from leading business experts that helps to give the portal a conversational tone. That's in line with research from Shore and other outlets which shows that business professionals are likely to respond to advice from peers as a key source of business information. Combining this content with Hoover's core business information and analysis tools is likely to increase the engagement of SMB professionals who want both easy-to-use business information and peer advice to solve business problems - engagement which in turn should lead to more successful marketing of their subscription products.

The real question, though, is whether this combination will giveDun & Bradstreet enough online engagement to counter increasingly strong business information media competitors. With Zoominfo growing as a media presence far more rapidly than either Hoover's or and traditional business media outlets like Forbes improving its audience share is it enough to marry high quality business information with high quality media content? Perhaps not, but the marriage is nevertheless essential for Dun and Bradstreet to build strong long-term engagement with SMB markets. But the Zoominfo model reminds us that business professionals have come to trust the Web as a key source of business content and look strongly towards companies that can help them to organize unstructured sources of information as data in more useful formats.

I think that we can expect to see many deals that parallel the D&B/AllBusiness paradigm in 2008 but I think that we'll also be on the lookout for transformative plays like Zoominfo that challenge traditional business information suppliers to make sense of the Web as a business information resource. Marrying business information and business media is a hot ticket these days, but make sure that you're looking at its hotness through the perspective of audiences who are more likely to embrace Web-based sources of content as a source of business insight along with traditional information and media content.
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