Selling fewer containers

After posting a summary of Johanna Vondeling's "top ten trends shaping the future of publishing", I am returning to each of the trends in separate posts appearing on Mondays for the balance of the summer.

Vondeling is Berrett-Koehler's vice president for international sales and business development. The third trend on her list, "content marketing is king", challenges publishers to rethink their use of distribution-driven marketing techniques:

Content is still king. And content marketing is edging out traditional push-marketing practices. It can be defined as “marketing without marketing, or building soft power and social gravity for a brand through shared values and interests,” or (as Deltina Hay noted in the April Independent) as “getting your content in as many different forms as possible, on as many different platforms as possible, in front of as many different eyes as possible.”

By disseminating great quality and immersive content through social platforms, content producers can market themselves without interrupting consumers with more explicit advertising. Content marketing facilitates reader engagement. Engagement, in turn, produces strong brand ties, leading to increased purchasing, product loyalty, and customer advocacy.

But there is no standard definition or metric for engagement, and most organizations don’t fully understand the migration from engagement to revenue. The challenges are (1) understanding what’s happening within the dynamic ecosystem of content and social media and (2) being able to make tactical changes to increase conversion and revenue.

Beyond the point made last week (that the new role of editors includes figuring out how "what is published" will be discovered), I'd support Vondeling's argument here with a reference to "Community organizers". In it, I made this argument:

A shift to networked publishing lowers barriers to the creation of content, but it amplifies the return for content providers who can leverage two-way communication and create, refine and evolve content products around the needs of the readers they serve. Rather than focus on filling shelves full of books, in physical or digital form, we can open up new markets by filling those shelves with solutions.

Some of those solutions will remain what we have come to know as books, but many more will be conceived, developed and delivered in forms and for purposes that we have yet to fully grasp. If agile affords an opportunity to improve discovery, it also supports the ability to deliver what Helmut von Berg called “the quality of usability in non-predetermined user environments.”

I agree with Vondeling's view that marketing increasingly becomes a function of the content itself. That belief led me to "Disaggregating supply", which said in part:

But the web isn’t a community of millions; it’s millions of communities, even inside a platform like Tumblr. It’s hard to keep track of millions of communities, unless you start with the idea that you’re not going to bundle them. That’s part of the power of a company like Google.

No one buys “Google”; they buy access to ad hoc communities defined by the searches people perform, the e-mail they send, and other contextually relevant activities.  For its part, Google invested in understanding what users are doing so that it can effectively serve them in the moment.

Yes, this means we'll probably sell fewer containers. That's not something I'd work hard to prevent.

One additional note: I quote Vondeling's use of "king" here in the spirit in which it was used: a new priority. Generally, I refrain from phrases like "context is king", as I've found that they create a debate about what is "most important" rather than what we need to consider. No one thing is the most important factor in all markets all the time.

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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