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Q&A: B2B Marketing Editor Joel Harrison

Joel Harrison
Joel Harrison is Editor of B2B Marketing, a media partner of our B2B Conference on 14 March. Where are B2B marketers seeing the biggest opportunities at the moment? Social media still represents a massive opportunity for B2B brands and marketers, although it's a huge challenge as well, representing a potential huge drain on resources – both in terms of man hours and budgets. It has opened up whole new worlds of opportunities in the B2B space, and marketers have to really scrutinise the different opportunities that are open to them to ensure that they investing in the right ones. Not only does this involve organisations creating their own presence on social media (LinkedIn Groups etc.) but also working with media organisations, leveraging their close ties with the target audience and where appropriate, in terms of advertising, lead gen and thought leadership. Trying to manage both types of activity can be a significant challenge.  There are also significant opportunities around devising content marketing strategies and using marketing automation tools to manage the flow of content to prospects, and the handover of leads to sales in a timely fashion. Brands are increasingly thinking of themselves as publishers of information, which in turns sets up challenges for media organisations.  And in terms of learnings and developing clear marketing strategies, where are the biggest gaps? There are significant learning gaps around social media and content marketing, as these are new skills and disciplines which are evolving fast, and consequently there are relatively few success models to follow. There are also significant learning gaps around new forms of digital media, measurement and how to make best use of these for your marketing objectives.  If cross-media marketing (digital, print, events) is one of b2b publishers’ key strengths, how would you say this weighs up against a competitor like LinkedIn, which might offer increased opportunities for targeting users? Without doubt, LinkedIn is fast becoming a major potential competitor to most publishing organisations. However, what LinkedIn lacks is objectivity and integrity – the best groups are those moderated and catalysed by reputable third parties: in other words, media. In many cases they are an extension of an existing brand relationship, and leverage the credibility which these brands have built up elsewhere. Despite the strength of LinkedIn, I believe that B2B publishers can still provide significantly higher quality and more valuable cross-media services, leveraging their potential for bespoke product design, integrity and focus. While the power of LinkedIn is worrying in the long term, at the moment I believe it is still a useful additional weapon in the armoury of B2B media organisations, by providing additional reach.  As a B2B publisher yourself, what do you see as the main challenges and obstacles around getting users to pay for content? Driving users towards paying for content is one of the most significant challenges facing B2B publishers. The issue is that, rightly or wrongly, web users expect content to be free. They are consequently very reluctant to pay for anything. It's well documented that this is the same in national consumer media as it is in B2B. Despite Rupert Murdoch's best efforts with the Times, this is unlikely to end any time soon. In the absence of any profound shift in behaviour, personally I believe the 'freemium' model provides the most viable option for publishers, commoditising low end content, and maximising its visibility via social media, encouraging user generated content and seeking to create more high-end content with a premium price tag. For some publishers this will be easier said than done.  And the main opportunities, or key areas which have proved a success? Our business has changed dramatically over the last four years, since we first saw a decline in our ad revenues with the credit crunch. The biggest shift – which we've also seen many other publishers embracing – has been to leverage opportunities for lead-creation services for advertisers (through webcasts/webinars and whitepaper downloads) instead of simply providing media. We've also started creating more high-end 'premium' content and have developed a membership proposition. The business model continues to evolve, to reflect changing buyer preferences and audience behaviour, and this will continue for the foreseeable future.  And where do you see your top opportunities as a business going forward? Most of our key opportunities going forward will be in the digital space, focused around lead services and building a vibrant community. However, we've not stopped thinking about the offline world, and while our magazine has always been central to our brand, we're now seeing online publishers venture into print, now that there are physically fewer magazines around. Physical events are also increasingly valuable, as face-time with prospects become rarer and rarer and is therefore more in demand.

All attendees to the AOP B2B Conference on 14 March get a 20% discount to B2B Marketing membership - benefits also include a free place for an agency colleague and a copy of Circle Research's B2B Barometer Report.

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