B2B Media: A Massive Market that’s Ripe for Disruption

Updated: July 26, 2010

To answer these questions, it's important to understand the key dynamics that have dominated B2B media for decades now. Those dynamics span a value chain that can be broken into four components: the creation, publication, distribution, and consumption of media. Here are a few thoughts on the state of each component.

Create - While user generated content is a rightfully hot topic in consumer media, the creation of B2B media is still a fairly closed affair. It's the lone analyst at a market research firm or the unassailable editor at a trade publication that are entrusted with the creation of B2B media. Why is this? In a nutshell, the big B2B media companies have made a lot of money by creating the perception of scarcity around the content they create. It's this scarcity that has allowed these firms to attract audiences which in turn allows them to attract advertisers and clients alike.

Unfortunately, it's also resulted in the creation of media that delivers sub-optimal value to the professional community. When you take the time to ask business and technology professionals what kind of information they want, this much is clear: first, when it comes to sources, they trust their peers over industry analysts, editors, consultants, and vendors; and second, they covet content and expertise that accounts for the specific requirements of their particular business situation. The current models of creating B2B content are simply too closed to be effective at either of these things. The analyst or editor all too often lacks the practical expertise that a network of peers so often possesses. And, a single analyst or editor simply does not have the time to produce content that is tailored to the particulars of specific business scenarios (as opposed to the network or "crowd" which has an abundance of time to create business "micro media" that are highly relevant to the audience).

Publish - "Create once, publish many" is one of those clever refrains you'll hear from media executives. For those on the B2B side, that refrain usually involves creating an article for the legacy mothership, e.g. the print version of the trade publication, and then republishing that same article online. This print mindset frames the internet in simple, easy terms - it's a great place to republish magazine articles! Sure, some B2B media companies have embraced rudimentary internet features like blogs, but they have failed to conceptualize the internet as a place where entirely new forms of publication can take place. The real opportunity here is to leave behind the historical fire (or publish) and forget model that publishes truly static content (again, the metaphor of the magazine article) and leverage the internet for what it truly is - a place to publish media that others can interact with so that it becomes more relevant as it is augmented, remixed, repackaged, and rated.

Distribute - Distribution is where the rubber hits the road in most media businesses. The quality of a media operation's content garners most of the attention, particularly in B2B media, but without effective distribution, even the highest quality content won't see the light of day. Effective distribution techniques ensure that content finds its intended target. That's no small feat when you're talking about hyper-targeted B2B audiences that tend to number in the thousands to hundreds of thousands.

There's a fundamental distribution choice that most media businesses have to make sooner or later: are we going to be closed or open? The new consumer media companies tend to embrace open distribution techniques. Think of the Facebook like buttons that we see popping up everywhere today. Or the number of YouTube videos that we now encounter on all manner of sites. These are simple forms of open distribution, taking something from YouTube.com or Facebook.com and distributing it on to third party sites. It's an attempt to capture a highly fragmented audience that consumes media on dozens of different websites each week.

The typical B2B media company chooses more traditional forms of distribution. Media stays within the four corners of publisher's domain/title. And instead of the media company finding the audience, the opposite is required. That's no small task given the proliferation of content/media that the internet has created and the classic "attention scarcity" challenge that most professionals face today. It's hard for the audience to find your content. While it seems like more open forms of distribution would solve this acute targeting challenge, B2B media companies have been slow to think about proliferating their content over networks beyond their immediate control. Maybe it's a fear that open distribution will erode the perception of scarcity that so many of these firms have spent decades trying to create.

Consume - Ultimately it's up to the audience to decide whether they will consume a piece of media or not. Here again, the consumer precedents outpace what's happening in B2B. B2B media consumption is a lonely, highly impersonal affair as evidenced by two examples. First, the business or technology professional typically consumes content that can't be personalized. The classic example of this is the IT professional who wants product recommendations based on the specific requirements of his business, but can only download the market research firm's off the shelf report. Compare that to the case of a consumer shopping for a new car on a site like Edmunds.com where the consumer receives specific recommendations based on requirements they provide. Second, most B2B media consumption occurs in isolation. There's no ability to share, rate, state preferences, or otherwise apply metadata to the content that makes it more valuable to other audience members. Compare that to the experience that a consumer can have on a site like TripAdvisor and you start to understand the isolated nature of B2B media consumption.

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