Thursday, March 6, 2008

Corporate Video for B2B Publishing: Missed Opportunities?

The ABM Digital Velocity event had a typically insightful array of B2B trade publishing specialists talking about the block-and-tackle world of helping print publishing brands become electronic more effectively. There was also the usual frustrating mix of people who really "get it" seeded into a general industry outlook for B2B publishing which may be looking for better answers but which oftentimes has a hard time framing the right questions.

One good example of this problem can be seen in the realm of video production for B2B publications. The panel focusing on this topic acknowledged that video was important but to them the cost of getting telegenic people and high-level production standards expected for professionally produced videos was not worth the expense. Yet a corporate marketer on the same panel was pointing out how they had whipped up some nifty promotional footage on their industrial products that was getting some good play when they uploaded it to YouTube. It sure sounded to me like these were two ships passing in the night - one assuming that their job was to produce all of the content that a marketer needed and the marketer saying that what they really needed was context.

Yet when I suggested to the panel that perhaps B2B publishers could help marketers place their corporate video footage on their sites for a fee this was shrugged off quickly as a suggestion of "advertorials." I'm trying to be charitable here, since there is a good amount of use in B2B publishing of user-contributed videos, but have these people ever looked at their Google search results and seen that little column off to the right labeled "Sponsored Links?" Has it occurred to these people that audiences understand the difference between sponsored content and unsponsored content and now are open to having clearly labeled mixes of these available on a Web page?

It would seem that corporate video is an ideal way for publishers and marketers to solve a mutual problem. The publishers see the production of video footage as distracting them from their core editorial function (which is, as I understand it, telling a story the best way possible, but we'll leave that one alone for now). The corporate marketers spend lots of money producing such video and are learning how to make them both informative and appealing. Instead of spending money on old-fashioned "creative" for ads that sell brands the old-fashioned way why not let marketers allow their prospects to step inside their brands via topic-oriented videos embedded in B2B sites? Instead of trying to flag down people with an instant's worth of attention via advertising have them hang around with your brand inside the topical video in the same space in which you'd normally put an ad - and, of course, pay the B2B publisher for that right.

There are certainly services such as TheNewsMarket that are already flush with corporate video and which could with just a little imagination be combined with a contextual ad network service such as ContextWeb to make it easy for this footage to be monetized in spots where normally ads would run. Alternatively, of course, publishers' ad sales forces could offer better deals to marketers for premium placements and special creative to enhance its ability to provide sales leads.

B2B publishers are moving far more rapidly to put the right technology in place to be successful in online publishing but more than ever they are butting up against long-established job functions and business roles that need to be rethought dramatically. It's not just a matter of combining online and digital sales forces or going digital-first in your content production. It's also about understanding that the nature of your pie that your trying to slice online is fundamentally different and changing rapidly.

As B2B marketers succeed increasingly in creating their own valuable content and using "prosumer" channels such as search engines and YouTube to reach those audiences traditional B2B publishers have to accept that the essential nature of their editorial function has changed irrevocably. These publishers have to look to their marketing clients for contextual content as well as brand messaging if the more conversational nature of online publishing is to reap its full rewards under their umbrellas. Similarly they have to become more adept at enabling both their own content and content from marketing partners to be contextualized elsewhere on the Web.

I saw a number of very hopeful signs at the Digital Velocity event which tell me that B2B publishers are investing in digital publishing more aggressively but their fundamental issue remains rethinking what their industry is really about. Just plain missing the opportunity to make good use of corporate video seems to be one important example of this disconnect. These companies have the resources to invest in change but in a marketplace in which publishing brands are becoming far less focused on the "mystique" of established titles and more on how they help people get things done new opportunties seem to be arising that will allow new players to engage B2B publishing as a market sector more effectively. If established B2B publishers aren't willing to rethink their pie then others will certainly be very glad to reslice it for them.
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