Are Magazines Missing the Boat?

I am reading the latest issue of Communication World, which is the official publication of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). Near the front (admittedly, I haven’t gotten very far), managing editor Sue Khodarahmi offers her take on a report from The Bivings Group that shows magazines slower to adopt Web 2.0 technologies.

Her supposition, which the research does not appear to support directly, is that magazines’ readers view them as entertainment and not news. And that “most readers seek a different experience from print than they might find online.”

Huh?

I have a different take – most of the magazines haven’t put enough effort into finding ways to bring the two worlds together.

The research included the 50 most circulated magazines in the United States and determined:

  • 64% of their associated websites offer RSS feeds, compared to 97% for newspapers
  • 34% offer content tailored to mobile devices; newspapers, 53%
  • 60% include video content, far behind the 92% of newspapers
  • 36% offer bookmarking features, which is close to newspapers at 44%
  • 58% have reporter blogs versus newspapers at 95%

Of course, one obvious observation from these results is that magazines and newspapers are different. It makes sense that the respective presence on the internet will differ as well. That doesn’t mean that magazines can’t have a fully-integrated site that complements published content.

Magazines, by their very nature, are limited in what they can offer in an issue. On the web, however, the opportunities to supplement content are enormous. Have about a dozen more photos from that shoot that wouldn’t fit? Put them online. Can’t get that graph to show all the variations? Make a flash presentation. Want to do a follow-up report but don’t want to wait until you can get it in an upcoming issue? Create a special section on the site.

Use your website to cross-promote the magazine by offering online content readers access only if they have a hard copy in hand. It doesn’t matter how they get it, as long as the mag is there.

From there, the additional possibilities are endless, through the judicious use of widgets.

The beauty of technological developments like web 2.0 is that you are not locked in to following the herd. That would be downright boring. Instead, you have the opportunity to take that technology and use it in a manner that actually meets your needs and those of your readers. To do otherwise would be downright foolish.

I find it odd/coincidental that reading that article led me to write this post after seeing this post from Mark Luckie at 10000words.net and the two posts from Russell Davies you can find here and here.

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Affinity Marketing is a Double-Edged Sword

Running for office is, sadly, a massive marketing campaign, where the candidate is the brand and the election is the final sale. The problem with politics, though, is that there are no refunds and the rules for exchanges are onerous (but not impossible, as California’s former Governor Davis learned).

Affinity marketing, with respect to political campaigns, works better when a respected individual, usually from business or politics, campaigns on behalf of the candidate. It works best when that individual continues to do their “day” job, building their personal reputation and garnering greater respect.

Unfortunately for Sen. Hillary Clinton, her husband has spent too much of his time openly campaigning against Sen. Barack Obama. Let me say that I am a fan of the former President, which is why I am so disappointed.

The way for him to successfully support his wife is by focusing on what she will bring to the office not on the foibles of her opponents. At the same time, he needs to generate more news focusing on his work with humanitarian causes. You can’t buy that kind of affinity anywhere.

President Clinton left office with the highest approval ratings of any president leaving office since World War II. That approval remained high in the years following his departure from the White House because of his continued work.

Now, the Bill Clinton brand represents a smear campaign. And I would imagine that his approval rating over the last couple of months would have dropped. If Sen. Clinton wins the nomination, I hope the former President takes a better approach, building positive affinity for her brand.

Stepping away from politics and looking at marketing in general, ask yourself about what affinities you have. What are those brands/individuals doing to support your brand? What are they doing that could bring it down and diminish its value? What are you going to do about it?

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Are Hoaxes and Scams Killing Testimonials?

As I was “stumbling” through some websites this weekend, I came across one called infomercialscams.com. That got me thinking about the e-mail hoaxes that litter our inboxes on a regular basis, many coming from well-intentioned, blind faith friends and family forwarding them happily along.

I am a skeptical guy by nature, and I tend to suspend belief until I can investigate further. Snopes and Wikipedia are my favorite starting points. (Oddly, as I am writing this, I see this post from Seth Godin.) So here’s my question: are the proliferation of hoaxes and scams signaling the end of legitimate testimonials?

For a testimonial to work, it has to be from someone people can trust, for whatever reason. Viewers must believe that the person giving the testimonial honestly believes in the product. Doubt creeps in when it seems too scripted, when it’s accompanied by fine print or when stories like this one appear.

Testimonials rely on authenticity. For an endorsement to work, it has to be a real user with a real reason to use it. The key word here is “real”.

Look at an ad for a diet program that includes testimonials about how much weight people lost (and nearly all of them do). The advertiser puts in small print “results not typical”. Why? What’s wrong with small victories? What about people failing to succeed and the reasons why? Without addressing those issues, it’s no better than the average scam. And this can go for just about anything.The problem with most testimonials is that the seller is putting up only the people and scripts they approve. And their argument would be “there is no way I would take the chance that someone would say something bad about my product”. They want to control the message you hear. We all do. I have often said that all communication is a form of manipulation.

But I have another point. If people don’t expect you to be perfect, then they won’t be disappointed when you’re not.

Be real. Deliver on your promises. These are simple concepts often lost in greed and a desire to control.

As an aside, when I wrote the posts “Think Twice about that Endorsement” and “A Desire for Authenticity”, I didn’t think I would be closing the loop on those ideas in quite this way.

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Penalized for Loyalty

I have been a loyal subscriber to Sprint for my (once) cellular and (now) digital/mobile/smart/PDA phone service for almost ten years now. And what do I get for sticking with them all this time? How about being charged 3 to 5 times more than a new customer for the same phone. Yes, that’s right. If I become a new subscriber to Sprint, and agree to a two-year service contract, I get one price. If I simply upgrade my current phone, while agreeing to the same two-year contract, I must pay substantially more.

So, if I understand their pricing strategy correctly, their priority is to acquire new customers, not retain existing ones. Wait! Let me rephrase that. They have a retention strategy in the form of locking software on the phones (so I can only use my phone with them) and cancellation fees.

Oh, yeeaaaaahhhhh…I’m feeling the love.

I’m sure this is not isolated to Sprint (in fact, there have been several stories in the past related to this and similar issues, such as this one that appeared last week). And some providers have taken the occasional step to actually treat customers as customers and not indentured servants. Still, cell phone providers price as though they are a virtual monopoly.

When an organization establishes a pricing plan that includes a variety of restrictions, they are essentially saying that they do not have enough faith in their product or service to give people the freedom to take their business elsewhere. If I am free to leave, yet choose not to, there is a reason why and an investment I will make to keep it that way.

While consumers typically want to spend little and get a lot, they will, for the most part, pay a fair price for a quality product or service. Your pricing strategy must reflect your actual quality, delivery and customer service as well as what you think of your customers. When you try to fake it, customers will leave, and people will write nasty stories about you.

See my other two posts about pricing, The Pricing Game Part 1 and The Pricing Game Part 2.

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A Desire for Authenticity

Two nights ago, my wife and I attended a formal dinner for an organization to which we belong. Two of our table mates began discussing the TLC show “Miss America Reality Check”. Briefly, the show is about changing how women participate in the Miss America pageant by making it more real.

Our discussion shifted to a growing desire for authenticity – a move away from slickly-produced, overly-hyped things to stuff that is real and honest and attainable.

When you strip away the buzzwords, the gimmicks and the polished messages corporations and governments want you to hear and get to the truth, then you engage people on a whole new level. When we see your faults and imperfections, we can relate. Yes, we still want to aspire to be something more. But it is a journey we can take together when you stop trying to portray yourself as more than what you are and start a discussion of what is possible.

That is what filmmaker Nic Askew is creating at monday9am.tv (soon to become soulbiographies.com). And it seems to work. See a stunning example here.

Ask yourself: How authentic am I? How authentic is my organization? What’s real and what’s fake? Am I making promises I can never deliver?

And when you don’t deliver on that promise, are you prepared for the consequences?

Taking a hard look at what we are doing, and making the necessary changes, is difficult. And scary. But when we do it, the rewards are immense.

Give it a try.

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Think Twice about that Endorsement

With the primaries getting into full swing, we are sure to hear a slew of endorsements for one candidate or another. Some fairly notable ones (Sen. John Kerry endorsing Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. Joe Lieberman for Sen. John McCain) have come already. But endorsements are not limited to politics. In the real world, we see celebrities endorsing everything from underwear to hair color to automobiles to, yes, politicians.

The question, though, is why?

Let’s start with politics. NPR aired a story on the day of the Michigan primary probing whether political endorsements actually work. There wasn’t a definitive answer, other than “it depends”. Which means, in the big scheme of things they probably are not overly effective. It appears that endorsements tend to help the endorser when it’s time to ask for a favor down the line. They also, sometimes, help the endorsee raise some extra money. There is no research, however, showing that endorsements lead to votes.

Mike Huckabee, in a separate story on NPR that aired the next day, publicly lamented some of the support he was receiving in South Carolina. Apparently, a so-called 527 organization by the name of Common Sense initiated a push-polling campaign on his behalf, much to Mr. Huckabee’s dismay. It wasn’t the style of promotion he wanted, even if it did lead to votes.

Turning to products, consider shoes and underwear. Michael Jordan has endorsed both. When he was still playing, and even for a time after, having Jordon’s seal of approval on basketball shoes made perfect sense. Having him push t-shirts and underwear? Not so much. Someone working long hours under difficult conditions requiring comfort would go a lot further.

Peyton Manning is another one. He and Gatorade are a perfect match. I can’t say the same for Manning and MasterCard or Sprint.

Even when you have the right match between product and endorser, the individual’s life off the field can have ramifications on your bottom line. For instance, when Michael Vick was arrested as part of his dog-fighting scandal, millions of dollars invested in endorsements went down the drain.

The lesson: find the right people to endorse your products and for the right reasons, even if they aren’t celebrities. And be prepared in case good endorsers go bad.

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The Pricing Game Part 2

Setting a price, in and of itself, is pretty straightforward. It cost A, you want to make profit B, so you set price C. There. You’ve set a price.

Developing a pricing strategy, on the other hand, takes a bit more work. It is a step-wise process, that, when done properly, puts you in the best position to hit the right sales volume, revenue and profitability.

  1. Get a sense of the appropriate price range for your product (value, mid-price, premium).
  2. Establish a few price points within that range to test.
  3. Test your different price points against your competitors and with potential consumers.
  4. Set your price.
  5. Give it time, then repeat.

The most challenging part of this process involves the testing. Ideally, you’ll be able to predict how your competitors will react to your various prices—undercut you, go head-to-head, move prices up, do nothing. This would require you to know your competitors pretty well. You know, that whole keep your friends close and your enemies closer sort of thing.

Failing that, try different prices over various periods. For instance, use price X for two weeks, price Y for the next two weeks, then price Z for the two weeks after that. Evaluate your sales and profit and decide on a price.

Alternatively, you can set your price high on your range from step 1 above and discount it to various prices below that, finding which price level works best.

While this approach to pricing takes time and effort, it will give you greater confidence that your price is targeted to your consumer and matched well to the product itself.

Read The Pricing Game Part 1.

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