Digital Directions: The New Marketing Framework
A year ago, I wrote a column examining the problems that occur when publishing organizations place marketing departments in technology silos, without access to digital assets and tools that would otherwise make marketing programs more effective.
The situation seems only to have gotten more dire. As digital media becomes increasingly important, so does the strategic potential of marketing organizations. Yet, often, marketing groups still are relegated to secondary status within the publishing organization.
Marketing organizations have never been busier—with activities that have vaguely defined strategic objectives:
• Web sites. Web marketing programs generally have uncertain goals and metrics (incremental revenue? brand development?), and therefore get minimally funded. Publisher's Web sites oftentimes resemble lonely junkyards of once "important" and now ignored technology fads. Audio podcasts anyone?
• Print catalogs. Works of art though they may be, annual print catalogs are a poor way to represent publishing activities that occur throughout the year. Woe to the book that does not make the catalog "deadline"—it might have to wait for the next cycle. The print catalog model needs to be rethought to support more dynamic distribution of this information.
• Distribution of metadata. Is the distribution of catalog metadata to channel partners the dynamic delivery model we need to replace the print catalog?
Not exactly. While metadata distribution in standard formats such as ONIX is required to integrate with both retail and digital distributors, this data does not "sell" the title in the same way the catalog does. Further, this type of data syndication diminishes the role and value of the publisher's brand and represents a strategic risk for publishers.
The Need for Change
The digital transformation of the publishing landscape demands a fundamental rethinking of marketing's strategic role, and the methods by which it achieves its goals. Otherwise, its value will become increasingly nebulous, notwithstanding an increased level of activity.
The axiom is old but true: In order for digital media initiatives to be most effective, they must fully exploit unique "digital" characteristics. This is as true for marketing as it is for product development. Putting a PDF of a print catalog online just doesn't cut it anymore.
Three essential aspects of the digital landscape will redefine marketing's role:
1. Dynamic Delivery: Digital media can be dynamically delivered, enabling both timeliness and relevance of information. Annual distribution of static media—such as printed catalogs—is becoming increasingly irrelevant to audiences accustomed to real-time information access. The annual print catalog production cycle needs to go the way of the daisy-wheel printer.
2. Social Interaction: A key characteristic of digital media is its ability to support social interaction: Audiences can talk back—and talk to each other. The age of social media has challenged many long-held assumptions regarding marketing. Audiences want more than access to information: They want to participate.
To provide a venue for this type of social interaction, publishers will need to develop Web presences focused in those subject areas (the so-called "verticals") in which they are especially strong, and to actively engage with their audiences in these communities of interest. These Web experiences need to be more than e-commerce interactions. Audiences demand value from all Web experiences whether or not they actually buy content. Publishers that do not have dominant presences in a subject domain may find it difficult to successfully generate audiences for such a community.
3. Disintermediation. Traditionally, marketing has reached its audiences through intermediaries: mass-media channels and distributors. Published reviews got the word out, and distributors got the product out. Networked, digital media allows publishers to engage directly with their audiences, without necessarily the need for intermediaries. While published reviews and distribution partners are still critically important, publishers can—and should—directly engage with their customers. If they don't, someone else will.
The New Marketing Framework
These aspects of digital media require a fundamental shift toward a new marketing framework:
This shift has significant operational implications. Among other things, budgets need to be restructured to support the ongoing, direct digital engagement with the marketplace. New areas of expertise will be needed.
Even more fundamentally, without the dependence on their traditional intermediaries to the marketplace, publishers may need to reacquaint themselves with actual customers. "Every publisher needs to know how to market directly to the consumer," says Ted Hill, of publishing consultancy THA Consulting. "With [the exception of] a few rare cases, this has become a lost art."
The shift to this new marketing framework will no doubt be accompanied by growing pains. However, organizations that are able to successfully execute this change will find it easier to sell to the consumer with whom they are already interacting.
Andrew Brenneman is founder and president of Finitiv, a provider of digital content solutions. He has been leading digital media initiatives at major media and technology organizations for more than 20 years. Contact him at Andrew@Finitiv.com.