I wrote frequently in the year 2000 about the trend toward direct mail discipline in Internet marketing. I wasn't talking about technology, but real marketing disciplines - better pitches, better targeting, better merchandising and better fulfillment.
Today most Internet companies are being evaluated right alongside their real-world counterparts. Internet ad agencies are ad agencies. Internet merchants are retailers. Internet b2b plays are distributors. Your finances have to add up next to the competition and if they don't you're worthless.
For 2001 this discipline is going to enter the content space. Content Web sites need to either make money of get out of town.
I've been having this out for a week with my friend Andy Bourland, who is also my boss at ClickZ . Andy insists content sites need new revenue streams, that they can't make it on advertising alone, and that my idea of getting inside industry transactions just won't work. He challenged me to make a profit on A-Clue.Com.
Well, A-Clue.Com makes a lot of money, Andy. It represents my entire marketing expense, and I pulled in a six-figure income on columns and speaking engagements last year. Best of all, A-Clue.Com has established my brand, which makes me less likely to suffer egregiously this year. It's also a lot more fun for me to sell myself by doing what I do rather than by selling what I do.
But the challenge brings up a serious point and deserves more than a flip response. Here's where the discipline of the real world enters into it.
Readers of paper publications do pay for what they get, and they pay with more than time. Consumer publications have a cover price, which pays only for their distribution costs. Business publications have a qualified readership - you don't get it unless you're the kind of person their advertisers want to reach.
ClickZ is a business publication. It competes directly with Advertising Age, among others. So discipline suggests it should qualify its readership. The key to that is an up-sell. Last year the site produced some fine books on online advertising and marketing, with a library of stories in the front and a directory in the back.
Expand that directory into a database. Link to all available information on the companies in the directory. Research to get more data, like the correct names and titles of the officers. Access to that directory is your up-sell. To gain that access you have to fill out a form, and that form must be approved. If you're not a player in that industry you don't get in.
Now you've got a circulation list that can be audited, which puts a nice floor under your ad rates. You can cash in on this credibility through training courses and industry events - ClickZ has already done some of this. Andy thinks the price of registration should be that you take his marketing e-mails. I consider that short sighted. The price should be data and verification. Sure you can rent your list to direct mail companies, but the e-mailings must still be opt-in.
With an audited list, with paper addresses you can rent, you're now ready to capitalize on the fact you're not killing trees. Members deserve direct access to your board of advisors, which includes real insiders. They deserve high-quality, private conferences. Anything a paper publication can do, you can do faster and better because of your Internet experience.
It's time these battles were joined directly. So Andy Bourland, meet David Klein . And may the best man win.
The future will be slightly delayed. I don't want to send A-Clue.Com daily if it increases the workload on Audettemedia, which has hosted our e-mail deliveries since way back in the 20th century. When I get the power, we'll increase our frequency.
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My Clues come from daily writing for ClickZ. I write monthly for Crain's B2B, and Boardwatch. I write weekly for WorkZ and Internet Content . My monthly column has launched in Publish Magazine . I have written for Advertising Age and others as well. Yes, I'm very busy, but you can still buy my book. (Yes, I am working on a new one.)
Remember that it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...
Takes on the News
The Internet is Evolutionary
Now that the whole world has gotten a taste of the Internet it turns out that grandma's reaction is just like those of the pioneers from 1985. (Yes, some of them are now grandmas too, but we'll let that pass.)
The Internet is mainly about research and e-mail. It's not about entertainment and shopping. This came from a December report by the Pew Internet Center.
This does not mean that the Internet is useless for shopping, for games, for news, or for anything else. It simply describes the headspace most people come to the Net with most of the time. We bring a purpose to each online session, and efforts to deflect us from that purpose are mainly useless.
What does this imply for your strategy? It implies that you can't force change, and you can't get too far in front of it either. You have to move with it, providing products and services in context, when people are ready for them, and otherwise simply reminding people, through branding, that you're ready when they are. It's just like the real world.
If technology is evolutionary, it pays to look at how people's product tastes are evolving. NPD Intelect reports that the hottest products of the last holiday season were personal video recorders, PDAs, DVD players, home theaters, digital cameras, and CD-Rewritable drives . Do you notice a pattern here? People are being empowered to create broadband files. Eventually they're going to want to share them.
The Fall Continues
Fall and winter provide new opportunities for growth . It's just hard to believe if your money is on a philodendron and not a pine tree. (We left a philodendron outside this winter. It is very dead.)
Doubleclick is not out of the woods, but it's closer to the clearing with news that Engage is cutting back sharply due to stock problems at parent CMGI . Just as many ad-dependent Web sites are cutting back their own sales forces and moving to networks, the networks cut back their own efforts - it's a double-whammy.
The fact is most Web sites have yet to understand their audiences or their business opportunities in the way that paper-based publications have. They still have huge advantages in terms of immediacy and interactivity, but I'm afraid a lot of these leaves will fall as well before the industry gets the message.
Fox Never Got It
Rupert Murdoch proudly says he doesn't understand the Net. He didn't get it on the way up, nor did he get it on the way down.
Murdoch's Fox sites, run as online adjuncts to his TV networks, were always non-starters. They could have, should have, organized their conservative audience and interacted with it. Instead they just rewrote the same garbage they were putting on TV, and expected to be paid for it. That trick never works, and now Murdoch has acknowledged it .
What is the purpose of a general news site? If it has a well-defined audience, if it interacts and advocates for that audience, if it brings that audience unique products and services they can't get anywhere else, then a Web site with general news can succeed. But it's not TV. It was never TV. I say, good riddance to bad rubbish.
Clued-in (maybe half a Clue) to eCompany's Erick Schonfeld . He claims Internet time is dependent on capital, so less capital means Internet time will slow down. That's half-right. But it's human capital that's the key, and human capital is abundant even when financial capital is short.
Clueless is Network World . They front-load their site with useless flash, they claim a piece of obvious Canadian trash is hot stuff, and I'll bet the site isn't making money either. If IDG wants to have a test-bed for new technologies and concepts, admit it's a test bed - don't expect clued-in readers to sleep in it.
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